New season brings big, surprising changes on and off course for Perez

pat perez
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The thick goatee he was sporting at the Sony Open was only one of the many things different for Pat Perez in 2012.
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012 | 8:40 p.m.

Pat Perez was a model of patience over two days at the Sony Open, not usually one of his stronger traits. Then again, he has rarely had so few expectations of his game at the start of a new season.

"I thought I would play well," said Perez, who opened 66-67 and was three shots out of the lead going into the weekend. "But I've changed so many things. There's a lot of things going on in life that ... I'm just trying to enjoy the time being out there a little more."

He has a belly putter for the first time. He has a new coach and is building a new swing. And in a few months, he will be single again.

Perez was caught off guard two months ago when his wife of three years, Athena, said she wanted a divorce.

"She turned 30, woke up one day and decided she wanted something different," Perez said. "It was an amicable split. There's no bad blood. We're still friends. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about her."

His wife is geared heavily toward humanitarian work. She joined the wives of Ben Crane and Webb Simpson two years ago on a daunting trip to southeast Asia to work with young women who had been rescued from sex trafficking. After a devastating tornado in Alabama last year, Athena Perez spent a week helping with the recovery work.

It was a jolt nonetheless. Perez showed up in Honolulu sporting a thick goatee. When asked the significance, he said, "Being single." He said the divorce should be final in March.

Since then, Perez said he spent just about every day on the practice range.

He is working with Mark Winkley at The Estancia Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., the home club of Perez. He is working to clear out his left side more quickly to generate more speed, and while he's not quite there yet, Perez thinks he is getting close.

"It's not like I expect to hit it 5 feet every time," he said. "But I know it's the right action."

Even more exciting is his belly putter.

"I saw Webb made $6.5 million last year and I said, `I'm fixing this now,'" Perez said.

Tommy Armour III had been pestering him to change to a belly putter for most of last year. They went to Mexico for a golf holiday during the offseason and Perez tried one out. The greens were similar to Waialae and he couldn't believe how much better he could control the speed of his putts. He had one shipped to him and he said: "I haven't taken it out of my hands since."

His only other concern is a bulging disk in his back that has been bothering him for years. He worked out daily at Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona with Graham DeLaet, the first-round leader at the Sony who had major back surgery a year ago. There was stretching, acupuncture, ice treatment, and it felt great.

Until he got to Hawaii.

"Now that I'm walking around a lot, it's starting to come back," Perez said. "It's just tight. I can't get it to loosen up. Between the flight and the new bed and all that stuff ... hopefully, it disappears. But it probably won't because the disk is so bulged, so it (stinks). I think that's forever."