LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kenny Perry worked his way slowly along the railing just off the ninth green at Valhalla Golf Club, patiently signing everything that came his way for nearly 45 minutes.
Hats. Balls. Flags. Programs.
Even a Kentucky license plate.
If this is to be his final major championship, it's quite a farewell.
"I'm just excited for the opportunity to go out the back door one more time, as they say," Perry said, breaking into a big grin that just won't go away.
"One more time."
At 53, he got a special invitation to play in the PGA Championship because, well, this is home.
He was raised and still lives in Franklin, Kentucky, a hamlet of less than 10,000 residents about a two-hour drive away, down in the southern part of the state near the Tennessee line.
Valhalla might as well be his home club, a place where he has experienced enormous heartache (losing a playoff to Mark Brooks at the 1996 PGA Championship) and exhilarating joy (he was part of the last U.S. team to win the Ryder Cup in 2008).
These days, it feels like a little bit of heaven.
"Being a Kentuckian," he said, "it made me pretty proud."
Perry's career on the PGA Tour was filled with plenty of accomplishments, including 14 victories and two Ryder Cup appearances. But he let two major titles slip through his fingers, including the 2009 Masters when he had a two-stroke lead with two holes to play. At 48, he would've been the oldest player ever to claim a green jacket, but he bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes, then made another in the playoff and lost to Angel Cabrera.
But the one that really stings is that PGA Championship nearly two decades ago.
Perry went to the 72nd hole with a two-stroke lead. All he needed was a par on the second-easiest hole on the course.
He made bogey.
It took a while to get over that one.
"I always think about the 18th hole," Perry said. "It's a par-5 that's very gettable and you can make eagle on it. That's pretty disappointing to have a hole where I struggle to make par on it, much less make an easy birdie."
He still remembers the drive, hooking left into the thick rough. He remembers laying up, not very well. He remembers standing over a 10-foot putt that still would've clinched the Wanamaker Trophy, sliding by the right side of the cup.
"It taught me a lot about finishing and not getting ahead of yourself and thinking about the prize at the end," Perry said. "It took me about a year, year and a half, to get over that loss. I played very poorly and was thinking about that event. But then once I got through it, the loss at the Masters really didn't bother me that bad."
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