Golfing Greats from the Most Unlikely Place
Few states are as maligned or the butt or more jokes than my home state of Kentucky.
Aside from the first Saturday in May or a few weeks in the college basketball season where the Louisville Cardinals or Kentucky Wildcats are playing a big game, Kentucky is largely viewed as a state of rednecks, hicks, hayseeds, and rubes.
However, over the past year Kentucky has also been known as the home of two of the biggest stories in golf.
One at the end of his career who raised his game for perhaps one last surge before entering the Champions Tour, the other just three years out of college with a bright future ahead of him.
Kenny Perry and J.B Holmes weren't raised in the ultra competitive junior circuits of Southern California or Florida, they didn't play in exclusive country clubs, or have parents willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on the best teachers in the game.
These two stars of the PGA tour learned and developed their game the rural Kentucky way.
Having grown up in rural Kentucky there is certain values instilled in you from a young age; values of humility, hard work, faith and family.
For Holmes the dyslexic kid from a small college town in south central Kentucky, the golf course was the one place he could find himself totally in control. With an learning disability that was undiagnosed until his freshman year of college Holmes struggled in school for the first twelve years finding solace only on the golf course.
During his freshman year at the University of Kentucky, Holmes was diagnosed with dyslexia and worked hard not only on the course (where he was two time SEC individual champion and a member of the 2005 Walker Cup team) but in the classroom where he ended his studies with a 3.25 GPA.
In three years Holmes finished first at Q-school, has won four events, has a Ryder Cup championship, and was the fastest player in PGA history to earn $1 million.
For Kenny Perry the road to golf success was never as quick as Holmes' however over the past year it has been just as rewarding. Perry grew up in the southwestern Kentucky town of Franklin, and played college golf at Western Kentucky University.
Unlike Holmes, Perry failed to qualify during his first two trips to Q-school blowing a lead to finish one shot back his first year, and allowing his game to fail him during his second year during the fourth round when he learned his wife had went into labor with their second child.
Perry was considering a third trip to Q-school but lacked the funds when a fellow member of the Franklin Church of Christ gave him a $5000 loan with simple terms. If Perry didn't qualify he didn't have to pay the loan back, however if he did qualify he had to pay a percentage of his earnings to the benefactor's alma mater Lipscomb University until the $5000 total was reached.
Kenny Perry has been giving a percentage of his earnings (totally around $1 million over his career) back to the school ever since.
In his first five seasons on tour Perry found life on tour difficult and barely managed to remain exempt until 1991 when he broke through with his first victory at the Memorial.
Over the next sixteen years Perry would be a contender for the title "King of the B's" as a player good enough to stay comfortably exempt every year and win an event every now-and-then, but never a serious contender to do anything special.
Heading into the 2008 season Perry was thought to be winding down a profitable but unspectacular career, and heading into the season the only major he was qualified for was the PGA Championship.
However, not only was 2008 a good season for Kenny Perry, it was the best season of his career.
With wins at the Memorial (an event he's won three times and only Tiger has more victories at Jack's tournament), the Buick Open, and the John Deere Classic, Kenny Perry found himself at an unbelievable position for somebody who had only played one major.
Kenny Perry was on the Ryder Cup team.
However, for Perry and his fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes this wasn't just any Ryder Cup but rather a Ryder Cup held in their home state.
Representing their nation, in their home state Perry and Holmes helped account for 5 of the U.S team's 16-and-a-half points and both won their critical Sunday matches leading the U.S to their first Ryder Cup victory in nine years.
The top story of the 2008 Ryder Cup might have been the fact that the U.S won without Tiger, or the emergence of Anthony Kim as the golf's next superstar.
However, I doubt that bothered J.B. Holmes or Kenny Perry much because after all humility is part of the rural Kentucky way.
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