Perry and Cochran thrive on Kentucky comfort
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
ST. LOUIS – Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran have known each other and played golf together since they were kids growing up in Kentucky.
Decades later, the pair who count one another as great friends, share the halfway lead at 7-under 135 in the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented KitchenAid after playing the first two rounds in the same group along with Dan Forsman.
The duo is two shots clear of Kiyoshi Murota and three ahead of Duffy Waldorf, Jay Haas and Loren Roberts.
The outstanding play shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider the comfort-level between Perry and Cochran, which might be second only to the Bryant brothers – Bart and Brad – of the players in the field at Bellerive.
Perry, 52, and Cochran, 54, matched each other pretty much shot-for-shot over the first two rounds with identical scores of 69-66 each day.
“It's incredible,” said Perry when asked what it was like for two guys who played junior golf together to be tied for the lead in the Senior PGA Championship. “It really is. We got a huge gallery out there. Paducah, Kentucky, is not too far from here, it's probably a three-hour drive at the most. I’ve actually got friends here from Franklin where I'm from, I only spent four years at Paducah, so I went to high school there only. But I know a lot of people there. And it is neat. It’s neat when you got a childhood. We’ve shared a lot of laughs and a lot of good times.”
Perry said that since Cochran is a few years older, he was always the player that Perry worked hard to emulate.
“Russ is kind of the guy I always looked up to,” Perry said. “I was a freshman at Lone Oak High School when he was a junior there at St. Mary's there in Paducah, Kentucky. Russell was the man. He was the guy that ... he was the big guy on campus as you would say. And he was one of the big reasons why I got as good as I did. I got better, because I tried to aspire to be a lot like Russ.”
Cochran, on the other hand, said it was incredible to watch Perry grow. Like so many in their teenage years, Perry had quite a growth spurt from when Cochran went away for college to just a few years later when he saw Perry again at a college event.
“I got to see all that progression and he kind of turned my head a little bit, to be honest, because when I left him, he was a sophomore to be I guess in high school and then the next time I saw him I think was at a college event in West Virginia maybe or somewhere, Virginia yeah, and he walked across the green and he looks like he does now,” Cochran said. “Six-two and a man.”
To say Perry blossomed would be an understatement. Over the course of his PGA Tour career, where he still plays part-time, Perry racked up 14 total victories. He was a member of the last U.S.-winning Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky, which is also the place where he lost a playoff in the 1996 PGA Championship. And since joining the Champions Tour in 2010, Perry has two wins.
As the weather gets warmer, it also seems to be the time of year that Perry plays better. On the PGA Tour, the Colonial or the Memorial have always been held right around Memorial Day weekend. Perry won the Colonial twice and the Memorial three times.
“I always played better in the summer in the heat and humidity, which we didn't really have today,” said Perry. “I wore my sweater all day today. We had a north wind yesterday, so it's been a funny spring. But in the pro-am, it was very warm and humid and hot. So hopefully it will work its way back in that direction. I always played better in the heat. Colonial I played great, yeah, I've always enjoyed the heat. I like to sweat a little bit out there.”
Cochran, meanwhile, had one win on the PGA Tour in a career that was interrupted by a wrist injury. He’s made up for some lost time on the Champions Tour with three victories thus far.
As if their roots and friendship weren’t enough to make Perry and Cochran as comfortable as can be on the course together, the way they hit shots is very similar.
Perry, a right-hander, loves to hit a draw. Cochran, a left-hander, likes to hit a fade. Since they stand on opposite sides of the ball, the shot shapes are nearly identical.
“It's funny, I hit a hook and he hits a fade, so our balls are curving the same direction all day too,” Perry said. “So we're looking at the same golf shot. And we hit it about the same distance. Our irons are about the same. It's just a matter of who gets the putter hot.”
The way things are looking at Bellerive, it seems as though the Kentucky State Championship is breaking out in St. Louis, Mo.
And if that continues over the weekend, you can bet Cochran will be trying like heck to win… but he’ll also be pulling hard for his buddy.
“I'm the kind of guy that I'm going to pull for Kenny,” Cochran said. “I know Kenny wants to play as hard as he can. And I like to play as hard as I can. But I truthfully do pull for Kenny. And I always have.”