Golf: Sons of Kentucky playing on pride

Andy Farrell meets two locals shining in a state starved of golf
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It is 44 years since big-time golf came to the Bluegrass State, which is respectively eight and six years before the Kentuckians Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran were born. If the locals of Louisville are enjoying their first glimpse of the Tour for a generation at the US PGA, Perry and Cochran are enjoying the novel experience of playing in front of enthusiastic support.

There were still a couple of hundred people around just before 9pm on Thursday as Perry finished his storm- interrupted first round. With dusk falling fast, the hooter to halt play for the evening had already gone as he approached his second shot to the last. "I really didn't want to come out in the morning just to hit one shot."

Perry hit a four-iron into the front bunker, came out to 20 feet and rolled in the putt. The birdie-four equalled the course record of six- under 66 by the Valhalla designer Jack Nicklaus and Larry Mize. "I couldn't see a lot," Perry said. "With my contacts, when it gets overcast and late in the day I struggle to see the ball and I can't read the greens as well. My caddie helped me over the last few holes and at the last I knew it broke a lot from left to right. I just picked a spot and wanted to lag it down there. It fell in on the back side of the hole."

Born in Elizabethtown, Perry lives in Franklin, a town of 10,000 people around 120 miles south of Louisville, and celebrates his 36th birthday today. A former Kentucky High School student who has won three times on the Tour, Perry designed, built, owns and operates his own course, Country Creek GC, in his home town. He also holds the course record there. "It's a little bit of a different golf course to Valhalla. I shot 60 on it one time," Perry said.

It is also different getting to play in a major championship in front of his home fans. "They are living and dying on every shot you hit, and so am I. It's pretty nerve-racking. It's neat to finally get a tournament in Kentucky. You saw how they all turned out for the practice rounds. This state has been starved of golf. To win a major in my own backyard would be the icing on the cake. I'd probably just quit; it wouldn't get any better than that."

Cochran agreed with the sentiment. After having to go back to the Qualifying School at the end of last year to regain his US Tour card, the left-hander from Puducah only qualified for the US PGA with a second-place finish two weeks ago. Yesterday he started his second round two strokes behind Perry, after the first-round leader added a level-par 72. Perry managed to get to eight under after 10 holes, but slipped back as the putts refused to drop.

"I was right on the deadline for getting in the tournament, so it is nice to be here," Cochran said. "You try to tell yourself that if you miss it is not much of a big deal; you'll get over it. But once you are here and you see so many friends pulling for you, it makes things a little more special. They don't hit any shots for you, but you put your heart and soul into every shot, and it really helps."

A little over 15 hours after holing that putt on the 18th the day before, Perry missed another on the same green which summed up his day. His problems were exacerbated when his group were put on the clock for slow play late in their round, which made for an unsettling finish.

"I was told as I was about to play my second shot at the 18th that I had already had one bad time and another would mean a penalty. That's why I rushed the putt. It was a frustrating way to end the day but I'm proud of the way I played in the round," he said.