U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Kenny Perry’s Old Kentucky Home
June 25, 2018
By Mike Trostel, USGA
“I've seen it all in a small town,
Had myself a ball in a small town”
– “Small Town,” John Mellencamp (1985)
About 45 miles north of Nashville, off Highway 65, a sign welcomes you to Franklin, Ky. It’s a small town with just five traffic lights – there were only three until a few years ago – but it has been a big part of Kenny Perry’s life for as long as he can remember.
Perry’s family roots in Franklin go back several generations. His grandfather, A.M. Perry, was the mayor there and his parents, Ken and Mildred, raised Kenny and his four siblings – three older sisters and a younger brother – in Franklin, save for a brief stay in nearby Paducah, Ky.
A drive through Franklin’s downtown is a trip down memory lane for Perry. There’s the school he attended in fourth grade. The Frosty Freeze where he bought milkshakes after his Little League baseball games. The golf course, Franklin Country Club, where he spent every waking hour in the summer learning the game. And the spot where an arcade used to stand, owned by his brother-in-law. That’s where Perry worked as a 19-year-old and where he asked Sandy, now his wife of 36 years, on their first date.
OK, it wasn’t exactly their first date.
“She broke my heart in eighth grade,” said Perry, laughing. “Dumped me for my best friend.”
Sandy doesn’t dispute that version of events. She just smiles and talks glowingly of a short, chubby kid with braces and glasses who had a heart of gold. They started dating again and never looked back, getting married in 1982.
Perry secured his PGA Tour card four years later and when he and Sandy discussed where they wanted to settle down and start a family, the decision was unanimous.
“Franklin is just home to us,” said Perry. “There is no other place I’d want to live; it’s a part of me. I’m just Kenny here, I’m not the pro golfer. I’ve been to all the big cities, but this is where I want to be for the rest of my life.”
In 1995, he built Kenny Perry’s Country Creek, an 18-hole public golf course located a short drive from downtown Franklin. He was adamant about building the course – not to earn a profit or embark on a career as a course designer – but because there were no other public courses in Simpson County.
“The nearest public course was more than a half hour away,” said Perry. “I wanted to build a place where the community could come together and beginners could have a place to learn and play the game.”
It’s also a family operation. When Perry was deciding what to name the course, his eldest daughter, Lesslye, was the one who suggested Country Creek. His father, Ken, was like the mayor there until his death in 2014. He would ride around on a golf cart with words of encouragement and applause for well-played shots by beginners. And his nephew, Marty Sharer, is the director of golf operations.
“The course is very special to our family,” said Sharer. “In fact, it’s like a family member itself.”
Over the past year, Perry displayed the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy at Country Creek, giving visitors an opportunity to take a photo with it. And on an off-week, they might even get a chance to chat with the two-time U.S. Senior Open champion himself.
Though weeks off were rare during most of Perry’s busy playing career, the time spent at home with his family – and his hobby of collecting cars – kept him focused and recharged. Franklin served not only as his home base, but his escape.
Perry has been fascinated with cars since he was 9 years old, when his dad bought a 1969 Chevy Camaro for Kenny’s sister. He began collecting and building cars himself in the late 1980s, starting with a blue Chevy II Nova. Three decades and two garages later, Perry maintains a collection of about 10 cars, buying and selling several per year based on what piques his interest at the time.
Why does he do it?
“I’ve played golf my whole life and it’s tension, pressure, trying to make 4-footers,” said Perry. “I love golf, but to get out there on the open road and cut it loose, it makes me feel free.”
While going from a sport with placards mandating silence to one with revving engines and g-force speeds may seem odd, two things draw him to both crafts – camaraderie and a love of competition.
Perry is a fierce competitor on the golf course, collecting 14 wins on the PGA Tour and four senior major championship titles. He’s had to be patient to reap the benefits of his hard work, though: 23 of his 26 professional wins came after the age of 40.
“As you get older in your career, you realize you’re closer to the end and it motivates you to work a little bit harder,” said Perry. “My best two years on the PGA Tour were 2008 and 2009, when I was 48 and 49 years old.”
And he kept tallying up the victories after age 50. In the 2013 U.S. Senior Open, Perry made a late charge (sound familiar?) with rounds of 64 and 63 on the weekend to win at Omaha Country Club.
Last year, Perry achieved arguably his greatest feat yet – winning the Senior Open for a second time. He closed with a bogey-free 68 at Salem Country Club to edge Kirk Triplett by two strokes.
“If you win a USGA championship, you’ve beat the best in the game on a great golf course,” said Perry. “The names on that trophy are the legends of the game: Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Trevino. To have my name on there twice brings me a lot of joy. I still can’t believe it.”
Just a humble guy from a small town, getting better with age. Just like his cars.
Mike Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.