Kenny Perry withdrew from the U.S. Senior Open last year after two rounds with a swollen knee and doubts about whether he would ever play again. A year later, he walked away with a gold medal around his neck and a silver trophy.
“I thought I was done. I thought, `Retirement felt pretty good,”’ Perry said Sunday after shooting a 2-under 68 at the Salem Country Club for a record 264 total and a two-stroke victory over Kirk Triplett.
“I didn’t think I would ever be holding a trophy again,” said Perry, who claimed his fourth major on the senior tour and his second U.S. Senior Open. “That’s how golf is: When you win you never think you’re going to lose. And when you lose, you never think you’re going to win again.”
Starting the day a stroke behind Triplett but five ahead of the next-closest competitor, Perry pulled away from his faltering playing partner on the front nine and closed with 12 straight pars to finish at 16 under.
Triplett, who tied the tournament record with a 62 in the opening round, had four bogeys on the front nine and another on the back. He shot 71, saving par on No. 18 after hitting his tee shot into a flower pot along the fairway.
“It was definitely match play,” Perry said. “Once I got three up on him, I knew if I kept pounding fairways and greens, he was going to have to catch up with me. My play was flawless. I played just the way I pictured it in my mind.”
Brandt Jobe, who shot 62 on Saturday to pull into third, had a 70 to finish seven strokes back. Tom Lehman and Fred Couples each shot 69 to tie for fourth at 8 under.
Perry’s 264 was three strokes better than the U.S. Senior Open record set by Hale Irwin at Saucon Valley in 2000 and matched by Perry in Omaha in 2013. Perry was the only player to shoot under par in each of the four rounds at the 6,815-yard Donald Ross-designed course.
“That’s Kenny Perry. That’s the kind of player he’s always been,” Lehman said. “When he gets going, he really gets going. He makes a lot of putts. He hits it so long that he shortens up every golf course that he plays. Therefore, if his putter is working, he’s going to make a lot of birdies.”
Salem also hosted the tournament in 2001, when Bruce Fleischer won at even par. But overnight rain before the first three rounds softened the greens, and Triplett and Jobe each took advantage with rounds of 62 _ matching the lowest score ever in a PGA Tour Champions major.
“Today was probably how they wanted the golf course to play all week,” said Jobe, who played his other three rounds at a combined 1 under. “It was hard out there.”
Perry won 14 times on the PGA Tour and eight more on the senior circuit _ none in 2016, when he finished in the top 10 just three times and didn’t break the top 20 in a major. He played just once more after the U.S. Senior Open in August.
“I was upset because I was playing mediocre golf. I can’t stand it,” he said, adding that he was close to quitting for good. “I had six grandchildren and a lot going on at home, and I guess I felt like I had more to prove.”
Triplett started the final day with a one-stroke lead but it didn’t last long. Perry birdied the first hole and then took the lead for good when Triplett dropped a stroke on No. 5. By the ninth hole, Perry’s lead was four strokes, and Jobe had closed within two shots of second place.
Triplett had two total bogeys in the first three rounds before making five on Sunday. Told that his 266 was the lowest score for a non-winner, he shrugged, seemingly unsure whether it was something to celebrate.
Perry played bogey-free, with a pair of birdies.
“He had control of his ball right from the get-go. I did not, so it was a real struggle for me,” Triplett said. “Quite frankly, after the middle of the round, I’m thrilled that I had a chance to force him to make that putt on the last hole. I mean, it was looking like I was heading down into the pack. So I was glad to kind of resurrect it and at least make him earn it.”