The Everyman: Pat Perez
Posted by: mike October 20th, 2017
By Jeff Shain
Golf Insiders contributor
Will success bring about change in Pat Perez? Probably not. And truth be told, there’s a certain charm to the unvarnished way he goes about life.
“I’m still not going to work out,” Perez told reporters after capturing last week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia. “I’ll still have a bad diet and I’m going to enjoy myself.”
One caveat, though. If the 41-year-old pro keeps talking about how wonderful life has gotten, he’s going to besmirch a persona that was years in the making.
“I can’t really explain it,” he said. “Everything is just going unbelievable. My wife is unbelievable. (Swing coach) Drew Steckel, my caddie ‘H’ (Mike Hartford), everybody – our circle. … It’s just been a lot of work and a lot of dedication and it’s all come together.”
So much for Golf’s Angriest Man.
Then again, there’s far less to be angry about when you’ve just enjoyed the best year of a solid but otherwise unexceptional career. Sunday’s victory at TPC Kuala Lumpur was his second in the past 48 weeks – double the count from his first 15 PGA Tour seasons, before shoulder surgery sat him down for eight months.
And get this: The guy who was once the equal of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on the California junior circuit – dusting Woods by eight shots to win the 1993 Junior Worlds – is up to No.20 in the world rankings. Until this past spring, he’d never cracked the top 40.
Yeah, life is good.
Or as Perez has said to anyone who will hear: “I’m a late bloomer.”
He’s always had the game, sparking Arizona State to an NCAA title in the ‘90s and taking medalist honors at PGA Tour qualifying finals in 2001 (back when that outlet existed). He nearly won in his fourth rookie start, the 2002 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, until hitting two balls into the Pacific at No.18.
Matt Gogel won, but that’s practically a footnote. The lasting image from that day actually came from the 14th fairway, when a front-running Perez hit a fairway wood out of bounds and proceeded to further gouge the turf by using the club like an axe.
Already known as something of a rebel, with a chip-on-shoulder attitude and penchant for playing ‘80s metal on the range, this added hothead to the picture. Perez acknowledged it’s taken him more than a decade to find the proper competitive balance.
“I’m such a different person than I was 17 years ago – even five years ago,” he said. “I’m learning how to play the game and learning how to play my own game and stay within myself, that kind of stuff.”
Finally, perhaps, it seems he’s reached a happy medium where all the puzzle pieces have fallen into place.
He’s healthy again, apparently rid of any swing flaws that may have crept in to compensate for his shoulder woes. Dropped by Callaway during the injury layoff, he hooked on with PXG – which not only found him an additional 30 yards off the tee, but also embraces a take-on-the-establishment persona.
Home life is good, too. After his first marriage ended in divorce, he remarried 20 months ago to the former Ashley Pendley, who was instantly attracted to his free spirit but also knows how to cool his chili.
“My whole circle in life is just really good right now and it's carrying over into everything,” he said.
It really started at the CIMB Classic a year ago, when Perez teed it up for the first time after surgery. He wasn’t sure he’d make any fall starts, but that invite from halfway around the world proved a springboard.
He tied for 33rd in Malaysia, grabbed a share of seventh in Las Vegas and putted lights out at Mayakoba to win the OHL Classic. When the calendar flipped to 2017, he took third at the Tournament of Champions and added two more top-15s before the tour left the West Coast.
Unlike other years, too, his game didn’t slide once the tour headed east. He was runner-up at the Wells Fargo Championship, with top-20 finishes at Bay Hill, the WGC Match Play and the Masters.
It all led to his first berth in the Tour Championship – something of an odd feat in that he endured a 15-year wait despite not once losing his card.
“The fight that I had last year was so good,” he said. “I played hard enough to try to stay in that (top) 30 the whole year so I could get to the Tour Championship. That’s my main goal every year. One, to win. And then two, to get to the Tour Championship. Now I’ve got half of it (for 2018).”
Somewhere along the line, too, he’s moved from hothead to one of the tour’s “colorful characters.”
As a fortysomething middle-distance hitter, Perez understands there are certain courses where he’s hard-pressed to keep up with fearless bombers like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka, etc.
“They go after pins and they make putts,” he said. “They're really good.”
Given the right layout and a good week, though, Perez has shown he can hold his own with sharp irons and short game. Thomas was in the field at TPC Kuala Lumpur, as was Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen and two-time CIMB runner-up Gary Woodland.
“They’re just different type players than I am,” he said. “I try to get mine where I can, and that’s what it is. That’s basically what it is.”
At long last, it’s working in his favor. Here's hoping it never dulls his edge.
Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.