With his disdain for fitness regiments, love for fast food, and penchant for plain-speak, Pat Perez is winning on his own terms.
It’s not often that you hear a top PGA Tour professional speak his mind without bothering to couch it in language that will not risk offending anyone. It’s the sanitised new shiny tour pro that is in prevalence today: a la Jordan Spieth—someone who kids can look up to; a paragon for model behaviour, on and off the course. I don’t mean to belittle Spieth: by all indications he is quite the gentleman that his demeanour suggests. But the trouble is, unlike him, the bad boys in golf get no encouragement. Burdened by golf’s reputation and hallowed values, the premier practitioners of the game, with global visibility, are expected to uphold the finest standards of publicly acceptable behaviour. No cussing, no unparliamentary language, and utmost sportsmanship, are very much par for the course in professional golf. At least that’s what’s expected of these guys. And with good reason—it’s a small cross to bear for being able to make a fantastic living playing the game.
Off the course, it’s often another story, but they’re expected to be discreet. Sometimes when things go awry, as they did with he-who-I-don’t-need-to-name, the chasm between the on-course and off-course personas can be so vast that, if and when exposed, can literally destroy a career, if not lives. Strangely though, this pressure on pros to be near-perfect human beings isn’t as old as you’d imagine. In fact, it’s come about almost in tandem with the exclusively modern pursuit of the perfect golf swing. There’s an obvious co-relation: the modern power game era, inaugurated by Tiger Woods’ decimation of Augusta National in 1997, opened the floodgates for professional athleticism that’s come to dominate the game today. And there’s no way your personal trainer is going to authorise pub crawls, certainly not during tournament weeks.
Up to the early 1980s, players like Seve Ballesteros and Corey Pavin ruled the game primarily on the back of exquisite touch and a free-ranging imagination that manifested effectively on the high-spinning balata ball. These guys were artists; Ballesteros, in particular, almost looked like he relished getting into tough spots (on account of his infamously errant driving) just so that he could pull off these magical recovery shots. In those days, going to the gym was gauche, at least for golfers—spare a thought for the incessant ribbing the great Gary Player faced for his punishing physical regimen. Heck, you could even smoke a cigar on the greens if you liked.
None of that in the 21st century. Sure, you might still see a rare Miguel Ángel Jiménez puffing away merrily, but the evergreen Spanish veteran is an obstinate Baby Boomer who refuses to fade away. And then there’s John Daly, who’s defied doctors and prudes equally to still grip-it-and-rip-it with as much aplomb as he did as a 19-year-old winner of the 1995 British Open. By no means has Daly won a percentile of what he may have had he walked the straight and narrow, but two majors and an 18-win career haul is enough for some. It certainly is for Daly who’s also launched a rather successful golf clothing line, and continues to delight in his many vices.
We won’t talk about Woods here out of respect for all the bad boys of golf who had the courage to come out of the closet like the CIMB Classic-winner Pat Perez—no coincidence that Daly was Perez’s idol growing up. In Perez’s words, “Daly was Tiger Woods before Tiger Woods…” In a gripping piece that Perez has recently penned online, the 41-year-old, who won the Tour Championship just before his win in Malaysia, tells it all with an abandon that would make Daly proud. It’s by far the most entertaining piece of golf writing you’re likely to read and I highly recommend that readers seek it out online and judge for themselves.
Much like Daly, 41-year-old Perez has long been chastised for not delivering to his ‘potential’. In the monochromatic success reel defined by victories on tour, Perez hasn’t delivered on the promise he’s shown from his days as a junior. In this candid piece of writing, Perez puts his success in perspective when he describes his struggles as a kid from a modest financial background to even play the game for leisure let alone for a living. His goal, he says, was to keep his card on the PGA Tour once he fought his way in. Perez has kept that going for over 15 years now—no mean task in the dog-eat-dog world of professional golf.
Sidelined by a major shoulder injury last year, Perez writes that the off-time gave him a great deal of clarity. Callaway refused to renew his sponsorship deal and Perez says he realised that he had few genuine friends on tour. That’s when he decided to work hard at his game and quit trying to fit in.
What’s been reinforced besides the comfort in his game is his comfort in his personality. “I’m not going to work out, and I’m not going to go on a diet or suddenly start eating healthy. This is who I am,” he said with nonchalance after his win in Malaysia. Considering the field that he decimated at CIMB included elite athletes like Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele—PGA Tour Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, respectively—Perez is having the last laugh.
Author is a golfer and also writes about the game.