Friday , January 24, 2014

SD Union-Tribune, “Torrey Kid Rises”

Some great ink from Tod Leonard at the San Diego Union Tribune on Friday morning after Pat Perez fired an opening round 67 on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Online press is always great, but something about going old school and seeing the action front and center on the front sports page of the long-time hometown newspaper.

by Tod Leonard, San Diego Union Tribune

Pat Perez turned to his left and looked through the glass of the media center door to the Torrey Pines driving range.

What a view, sitting in an interview chair after scoring an opening 5-under-par 67 in the Farmers Insurance Open. That he was the only player among the top 16 on the leaderboard to have done his day’s work on the more demanding South Course made it all the sweeter.

It didn’t matter one bit that Perez was three shots behind leader Stewart Cink. This was a day to revel in for the 37-year-old who grew up in San Diego and worked in high school washing carts and driving the ball picker on the range at Torrey Pines.

Even risking his life at times, Perez recalled with a grin, retrieving balls from the trees on the range’s west side as more hackers’ shots whistled by his head.

“It feels awesome,” said Perez, taking another peek outside. “Every time I come back here I see the picker going, I logged a thousand miles on that range picking that thing and cleaning carts to 11 at night.”

He was never more excited than when the PGA Tour pros came to town.

“I’d steal a lot of those Titleist balls that were on the range. I’d go home and have this huge bucket of balls, never hit them, never played them, you know, just stared at them. I just thought that’s got to be the greatest job in the world. So cool to be here and do that.”

Torrey Pines is where Perez scored the greatest victory of his junior career, beating Tiger Woods when they were 17-year-olds in the Junior World. Actually, Perez smoked his longtime junior buddy by eight shots.

“Best day of my life,” Perez deadpanned.

The two have remained friends who constantly needle each other, though Woods can do some really nice things, too. Perez said that on Thursday morning the world’s top player emailed him with a link to a story regarding some of the swing work Perez was doing.

“Tiger is awesome,” he said.

Perez beat Woods, the tournament’s seven-time champion, by five shots Thursday on the South. Woods was asked if he was surprised by Perez’s score.

“Why?” he said. “He grew up here. This is his home course.”

Well, it used to be his home course. Perez couldn’t wait to play the tournament as a pro, but then in the same year that he got his tour card in 2002 the South was redesigned. He lost all of his advantage, especially on the greens.

In 12 starts at Torrey, he only has one top-10 finish, though he hasn’t been gaining on it in the last three years, placing 20th, 22nd and 21st.

Looking relaxed and satisfied on Thursday, Perez has rarely spoken more optimistically. He has a new swing coach, Joe Mayo, he picked up last fall; he’s working with a new club company, Callaway; and he’s engaged to be married.

He asked Ashley Pendley to marry him on stage at the MGM Grand before a Stevie Nicks concert on New Year’s Eve.

“Everything is just kind of coming together,” Perez said.

That includes his golf game. He’s never been way off track, finishing in the top 100 on the money list in six of the last seven seasons. He’s never lost his tour card, but Perez has won only once, in the 2009 Bob Hope Classic.

Mayo has reached into his head like no other coach. After 30-some years playing, Perez said he finally understands the nature of ball flight and what that means to each swing. Knowing where it’s going sure helps a lot in the game.

Perez feels like he’s only beginning what could be a long, good run that began on the Torrey Pines range.

“I don’t even feel like I’ve played 12 years,” he said. “I feel like I’ve played 12 weeks.”

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