It’s an explanation not necessary for the true golf enthusiast who spouts stats ad nauseam, or easily recalls epic moments from their mental sports Rolodex—but for the casual observer, why was a fall series event just outside Cancun such a game-changer for William Murray Golf’s first-endorsed athlete, Pat Perez?
It starts with the fact that these under-the-radar fall series events carry as much weight as the muscle that’s around the corner in January when the PGA Tour’s west coast swing gets rolling. Perez’s victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba brought a hefty payday ($1.26M) as well as the standard allotment of FedExCup points; 500 for the winner.
Fall will forever be synonymous with football season, but that doesn’t change the fact the PGA Tour created the ultimate game-changer—a mini-season for pros who want to get a leg up on the competition before things get popping in January. Lots of great players signed on for events in Malaysia, Napa, Las Vegas, Playa del Carmen and Sea Island, but few seized the moment like Perez.
For those not completely familiar with the William Murray ambassador’s backstory; the Cliff Notes’ version.
Perez turned pro back in 1997, a year after winning a national championship with the Sun Devils at Arizona State. From there, a few years on the Web.com Tour (formerly the Nationwide and Buy.com prior to), where Perez nabbed his first professional win in 2000.
After failing to earn his Tour card at Q-school months later, Perez vowed to never come up short again—stuck grinding on the Canadian Tour in 2001 and playing just about any event he earned a invite to; at one point driving from San Diego to Vancouver, hooking a u-turn when getting a spot in an east coast tourney and flying across the country immediately. From early on, the work ethic was undeniable.
When Q-school rolled around the following year, Perez showed up in South Florida and won the whole thing, earning medalist honors. In his fourth event on the PGA Tour, he almost won Pebble Beach and settled for second. Winless for his first seven seasons, that inaugural win came in Palm Springs back in 2009. Until a few weeks ago, he hadn’t won since—but impressively kept his PGA Tour card 15 consecutive season; damn near an impossibly feat when winless for so long.
A torn labrum sidelined Perez in March; a gnawing pain that plagued him last year at Mayakoba—though a cocktail of stubbornness, pride and determination had him sticking to his standard formula of pressing on and grinding away. After a rough west coast swing and one Florida event, the pain proved too much to bear. Perez finally sought treatment, learned the degree of his injury, put his season ice and scheduled surgery days later. A lengthy recovery process followed; leaving a newly 40-year old seasoned veteran wondering what was in store.
Nine months on the shelf and a lot of down time with self—hardly the norm for a professional athlete who spends over half his year living out of a bag on the road. An identity somewhat lost, the obsessive Perez needed to rediscover himself—alone on a desolate range and a seemingly a lifetime away from the weekly competition necessary to keep the juices flowing. Perez hunkered down in quiet Payson, Arizona—a second home purchased years back for practice purposes as the higher elevation results in a 20˚ temperature drop from hometown Scottsdale when summer temps reach triple digits.
The hard work and solitude only lasts so long; eventually it’s time to tee it up again—which Perez did, having earned a sponsor’s invite to the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Nerves were firing during Thursday’s opening round, despite playing this quirky game professionally for the majority of his life.
Truth be told, one isn’t human if the adrenaline isn’t at an all-time high. Even the great Tiger Woods will feel the same thing when teeing it up in the Bahamas next week.
Perez carded a 74, but responded with a strong 67 on Friday and went 71-68 per the weekend for a T33 finish. Weeks later, a trek to Sin City for the Shriners Hospital for Children Open at TPC Summerlin; distraction-filled Las Vegas always making for an interesting Tour stop. This time around—on the heels of nine down months—Perez was laser-focused and all business.
Back-to-back rounds of 66 got things moving and a 69-68 weekend resulted in a T7 finish; Perez flirting with the top but unable to catch the leader. Still, five consecutive rounds in the 60’s (dating back to Malaysia) confirmed to Perez that he was closer to back then he expected to be two events in. With one more fall event on his schedule—the laid-back OHL Classic at Mayakoba—a balls-out approach would be in full-force; something the veteran touched upon after closing strong on Sunday.
“I had an attitude that I can’t really repeat, but I had a lot of thoughts going on,” Perez explained in the media room. “I had an entirely different attitude than I would have had a few years ago. It was definitely a different win than last time. Last time, I was a little more scared coming down the stretch. I didn’t really believe and this and that. This time, I really had like this calmness, kind of like a madness to get it done.”
Those in-the-know regarding William Murray Golf caught the ZFG wink and nod regarding the attitude comment and newfound motivation. Perez changed the entire course of next year over four days and 72 hours south of the border mid-November.
Without the recent victory, Perez would’ve kicked off 2017 in Honolulu with a medical exemption and only 13 guaranteed starts where he needed to bank at least half a million bucks to earn back his Tour status.
With the win, the season will start with a smaller field of winners from 2016 and Perez’s status is secure for three years. Elusive WGC (World Golf Championship) events are now a reality—as is a trek to Augusta next April when Perez will return to The Masters for third time in his career (and first since 2010). Perez also wraps the fall series 3rd in the FedExCup standings, with a 112th Official World Golf Ranking.
A dream scenario for a gutsy player doing a lot of soul-searching as recently as a month ago. Congratulations, Champ.