LOUISVILLE — Boisterous applause and Kentucky pride followed Kenny Perry everywhere he went Thursday.
The Franklin resident and former Western Kentucky University golfer fired a 1-over 72 in the first round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, tying him for 79th in front of a Louisville crowd partial to one of its native sons.
“It’s a lot of love,” Perry said. “It’s 30 years. It means I’m old. It means I’ve fought hard for a long time, and Kentucky has been good to me. I’ve had a lot of history here, and they know that. It was great to get out there and fight and try to make something happen, which I didn’t do, but I enjoyed it.”
As Perry stepped to every tee box and approached every green, the cheers of “Go, Kenny!” and “KP!” were a certainty.
There was no denying who was the favorite in the afternoon pairing that also featured Henrik Stenson (5 under) and Ryan Moore (2 over). Lee Westwood, Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer are tied for the lead at 6 under.
“I enjoyed all the applause on every hole,” Perry said. “I’m sure Henrik and Ryan got tired of listening to that on every hole, but I enjoyed it. This is probably my last (PGA Tour major). It’s a good way to enjoy it.”
Between the applause, Perry spent much of the day scrambling to save pars, dealing with a few obstacles that were downright strange.
He opened with a birdie on the par-4 No. 1, but gave it back on the next hole after missing a par putt of about 4 feet.
He rattled off six straight pars after that, although they weren’t all exactly ordinary.
Perry nearly chipped in for birdie on the fifth hole after hitting his second shot long of the green, but tapped in for par. On the par-5 seventh, his approach shot landed on a drain just in front of the green and ricocheted off to the right, below the green and a bunker.
Although the bizarre bounce caused Perry to throw his hands up in confusion, he hugged a pitch shot close to the hole and saved par.
“Man, it was kind of weird, what happened,” he said. “That shot on 7, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Perry tried to putt from the rough on the par-3 eighth, but the putt got caught on the lip of the green. He still managed to sink a long putt for par.
His par try on No. 9 lipped out to send him to 1 over after the front nine, but he got it back on the 10th by sticking his approach to about 2 feet, then tapping in for birdie.
A long putt on the slope between two tiers of the 11th green tripped Perry up and dropped him back to 1 over, and that score held until he drained a long birdie putt on No. 15 to thunderous applause.
He had another strange occurrence on No. 16 when his drive landed on a cable wire in the rough along the left side of the fairway. Perry was allowed to drop his ball after the guard rope and wire were moved, and after a brilliant second shot from that rough that ran up and just off the green, he got up and down for par while once again relying on his chipping game.
“I can’t really hold the greens like I used to,” Perry said. “I can’t spin the ball like I used to, so I’ve got to rely on my chipping, and that’s not my strength. My strength is driving, and now I’m way back. It’s a big man’s golf course, that’s all it is.”
Perry left a par putt just short on 17 to drop back to 1 over, and his birdie try in front of a big crowd on the 18th green curled right away from the cup.
>He postured that today’s cut, which is the top 70 players and ties, would be somewhere around even-par. He was originally scheduled to tee off at 7:25 a.m. CDT today on No. 10 with Stenson and Moore, but that start time was pushed back 50 minutes because play was suspended this morning due to rain.
“I’ve got to shoot under par tomorrow,” Perry said. “I didn’t look at the scores, but probably even par will be the cut, I’m guessing. I’m at 1 over, so it’s possible. It’s doable, but I’ve got to play perfect golf.”
If Perry advances to the weekend, he’s guaranteed to play Sunday on his 54th birthday.
But if he doesn’t find magic today, and it is indeed his final round in a regular-tour major tournament, one thing is for sure - the fans will make sure he gets a hero’s exit.
“I’m excited to be here with the opportunity to play and to represent the old guys, represent Kentucky,” he said. “It’s a good way to say goodbye.”
Perry’s fellow Kentucky competitor, J.B. Holmes, is tied for 11th after carding a 3-under 68.
The Campbellsville native and former University of Kentucky golfer had six birdies, including his final opportunity on the 18th.
“It’s round one, so a lot of stuff can happen,” Holmes said. “It’s just nice to get a solid round under my belt. There’s a whole lot of golf left.
“The support was awesome. It was really great. I was very comfortable out there. It was nice to be in a place I’m so familiar with and the fans cheering me on. It was a lot of fun.”