At 41, the new CIMB Classic winner is playing better than ever while playing by his own rules.
Thirteen months ago, Pat Perez had one US PGA Tour title, one surgically repaired left shoulder, a chip on the other shoulder, an aversion to healthful habits and about a hundred doubts in his mind.
Whir it in a blender and you have one man’s recipe for success.
After cruising to a four-stroke victory yesterday in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Perez is more than just a comeback story. He’s a throwback story, too. Four of his favourite things are eating, drinking, smoking and swearing, and perhaps his least favourite activity is exercising. He’d have fit right in with Ben Hogan and Tommy Bolt and Lloyd Mangrum, but he plays in an era with fit, young bombers like Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, the tour’s Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, respectively, who were in the field Perez pummelled at steamy TPC Kuala Lumpur.
Even Perez is amazed at what he’s accomplished of late after his third career title and second in less than a year. It took him 182 starts between his first win and his second, at last year’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba. The wait for No.3 was 24 events.
“I really can’t believe what’s gone on basically a year from this tournament last year because Todd [Rhinehart, executive director] gave me a spot, and I was so excited to come over and play to try and further my career,” Perez said. “And I played pretty good here, I think I finished like 33rd, and I finished seventh in Vegas and then I won Mexico. But if he hadn’t given me the spot, the funny thing is I don’t know if I would have started the tour until January.
“So, all those chain of events might not have happened. I really can’t explain it; it’s been an amazing 12 months. I can’t explain it, but I hope it continues.”
The explanation is of the Occam’s Razor variety: the simplest answer is often correct. In the case of Perez, having played golf for most of his life – growing up in San Diego he competed against Tiger Woods as a junior – he’s quite good at. He had little stress Sunday in shooting a three-under 69 and 24-under 264, four ahead of Keegan Bradley, who closed with a 67. Schauffele, after a 72, was another stroke back, finishing T-3 with South Korea’s Sung Kang, who had a 71.
Two-time defending champion Thomas, coming off a five-win season that yielded the FedEx Cup title, started slowly and never was a threat, though his 67 salvaged a respectable T-17 finish.
“Yeah, I was definitely low on gas,” said Thomas, one of six Presidents Cup players (but the only American) in the field. “It’s been a great but a long year, for sure. I really played well the last two days, which was nice to see. I just didn’t make enough putts and didn’t capitalise on enough opportunities to have a really good finish. But I did the best I could, so that’s all I could ask for.”
So relaxed was Perez after his 27th birdie of the week at the par-3 eighth that he asked Golf Channel reporter and former tour player Arron Oberholser if he knew the score of the San Diego State football game. Granted, he was ahead by six strokes by then and simply parred in to claim $US1.26 million and further validation for his approach to his late-blooming career.
Having competed in the Tour Championship for the first time in his career, Perez geared up for the new season in his own inimitable fashion.
“So, I didn’t really do anything. I watched the Presidents Cup, and I drank a lot that week and ate a lot and hit balls … I didn’t really know what to expect when I came over here,” he said. “Then I had a knot in my shoulder from sleeping on the plane, and back problems, and I couldn’t sleep, and I thought I was sick and all these kind of things. I don’t know. I didn’t really have any pressure when I got here, so I was just hoping to kind stay alive in the heat.”
He handled that just fine. He led the field in birdies and suffered just three bogeys. He insisted he didn’t strike the ball with particular efficiency, and yet he shared the lead in greens in regulation.
Before his comeback from surgery, Perez felt extra motivation to succeed when he believed that his Callaway equipment deal wasn’t going to be renewed. But that didn’t mean he was going to change his approach to life or golf. One doesn’t rule the other. He practises hard, but he doesn’t live for golf, even for as much as he enjoys it.
The man has priorities. Good thing he also has plenty of talent.
“Everything is just going unbelievable,” he said in Malaysia, part of a three-tournament run overseas. “It’s been a lot of work, and a lot of dedication, and it’s just coming together. I’m not getting ahead of myself, I’m not going to look in the past. I’m still not going to work out. I will still enjoy myself, have a bad diet. I’ve got my group of friends, and I’m not going to change anything.”
Well, one thing is going to change. He’s expected to move up to 20th in the world rankings. Oh, and there are no more doubts.