(Reuters) - Reigning champion Kenny Perry, the hottest player on the Champions Tour over the past year, is banking on Oak Tree National in Edmond, Oklahoma being a quick study as he prepares for this week’s U.S. Senior Open.
The 53-year-old American will be bidding for his fourth seniors major victory when he launches his title defence in Thursday’s opening round but he is a little apprehensive having never previously seen the par-71 layout.
”I am a little concerned this week,“ Perry told reporters at Oak Tree on Tuesday before setting off for an afternoon practice round. ”I’ve never been here. This is the first time I’ve set foot on this property.
“I‘m going to have to kind of learn this golf course really fast. I was able to do it in Omaha. Hopefully we can figure it out and get a good game plan, good course management ... go out there and try to defend the title.”
Perry sensationally won last year’s U.S. Senior Open in Omaha, Nebraska by five strokes with a closing 63, coming from 10 shots behind at the halfway mark of the tournament to claim a second successive senior major.
He had won his first major on the over-50s circuit two weeks earlier in the Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh.
”That will be a summer I won’t ever forget,“ said Perry, who went on to clinch a third consecutive seniors major at the Regions Tradition in May. ”I shot some incredible rounds.
“To shoot 63-64 on the weekend ... I was 10 behind at one point in that tournament, and to be able to gather it all back in and win the golf tournament was pretty neat.”
Perry has come close to replicating that form this season, having recorded six top-10s in 12 starts on the 2014 Champions Tour.
He won the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek by one shot over fellow American Mark Calcavecchia and was in the title hunt for the Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel last month before falling back into sole fourth place.
“I was one up with five to play and didn’t finish it off very well and Bernhard (Langer) won the tournament,” Perry, a 14-times winner on the PGA Tour, said of the German’s triumph at Fox Chapel.
”So my golf game is good. It’s in order. The strength of my game has always been my driver. I hit it far enough and I hit it pretty accurate that it gives me the opportunity to attack a lot of the holes most of the guys can’t get at.
“I am always streaky with my putter and my chipping. That’s always what gives me the most trouble. If my putter will wake up a little bit, that’s when I’ll start shooting 63s and 64s or whatever and low rounds.”
However, Perry does not expect to see the same level of low scoring this week at Oak Tree.
“They say it’s a very difficult, very demanding course,” the Kentucky native said of the 7,219-yard layout, the third-longest to host a U.S. Senior Open. “Anything under par each day, that’s kind of going to be my goal.”
Two sets of brothers are in this week’s U.S. Senior Open field - Brad and Bart Bryant, and Jay and Jerry Haas. Brad Bryant lost out in a playoff with Jay Haas for the 2006 Senior PGA Championship held at Oak Tree National.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue