Tom Pernice Jr.: Why his Schwab Cup Championship victory matters

Did you see the Schwab Cup Championship Sunday? Played on the Cochise course at the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, it was a thriller. I was following the twosome of Jay Haas and Colin Montgomerie all day. I followed Haas on Friday when he shot his 62, Saturday for nine holes until it was clear that he was having a very bad day and his record string of shooting par or better would be broken the very next day, and again on Sunday because I wanted to see if a day of reflection would allow him to bounce back to the genius I saw demonstrated on Friday.

When he had his bad day, he was playing with Tom Pernice in the last group. But as good as Pernice was playing, he wasn’t enough of a draw to keep me after Haas headed south. We’ve all heard his name, right? But did you know that he’d won three Champions Tour events before Sunday? He turned 50 on September 5th, 2009 and won the only event he played in that year on September 27th, the SAS Championship.

He was still playing the regular Tour at that point and did productively enough in 2010 and 2011 to play a dual schedule on the Champions Tour. But in 2012, he was so far down the money list on the PGA Tour that he had to go to Q-School where he finished T87. That was the signal that it was time to play full time on the Champions Tour.

He won in 2013 and made $1.4 million in 25 events. He won twice this year and made $1.6 million in another 25 events. Quite a bump up from his last year on Tour where he only scraped in $190,000.

Why should we care about Pernice’s four-hole playoff victory over Jay Haas, a big-time, big-name player? Because in his victory is hope for all the rest of us in our outmanned and outgunned struggles. And Pernice obliquely referred to that in his media center session:

Well, you know, I was just thinking last night, it’s such a privilege to be able to be out here, first and foremost, to be out here playing with Freddie Couples and Jay Haas and Kenny Perry and Bernhard Langer and Hale Irwin and Tom Watson. To be able to do that and compete and do what we do at our age is pretty amazing that this is here for us. I just feel it’s an honor to be able to be part of it.

I came out here today and was trying to stay relaxed and whatever’s meant to be would be and the good Lord willing, had a plan and it worked out.

This is also a guy who Seve Ballesteros thought enough of that they played numerous practice rounds together and was somewhat of a mentor to Pernice:

I was lucky enough to play a lot with Seve when I was first on the tour. We played practice rounds, I got to pick his brain, I got to watch him. I got to figure out why he did things and was able to learn a lot.

And getting into that playoff with Haas was just as big-league as playing with Seve. They began on the par-5 18th and both made birdies. And then again on 18 with two pars. Pernice’s will long be remembered for the shot he had to hit backwards out of a washout in the desert to save a par and hopefully keep the playoff going; which he did. And then again with a par 3 on 17. He finally bested Haas on the 4th playoff hole, the 18th, with a birdie from the jacket pocket of a barefoot woman lounging right of the green. After he took relief — to her relief — he hit a Seve pitch shot all the way across the green and close enough that the putt wasn’t much in doubt.

So hooray for Tom Pernice and, too, for the consummate player and gentleman, Jay Haas, who took the time to come into the media center even though he was pressed to make a connection in LAX for a flight to Korea as the next Presidents Cup captain. There were two expedited questions, the second of which concerned Haas’ opinion of how Pernice played:

Yeah, we played yesterday on a real tough day and he ground out an even par round or 1-under yesterday. That’s the way he plays, he’s a grinder, never gets upset. Hit it up in the desert there on our, whatever, second playoff hole, looks like he’s out of it. I knew he was going to make a par and I was kind of over there, I didn’t have the greatest of shots into the green.

But that’s just Tom, that’s the way he plays. And when he’s on tee to green, he’s very, very good. But this was, you know, a week that he would excel, just a tough grinding type week. Hats off to him, obviously he’s down there on the green holding the trophy, so good stuff.

Holding the trophy for himself and holding out hope for dreamers everywhere.

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One Response to Tom Pernice Jr.: Why his Schwab Cup Championship victory matters

  1. Lee Garcia says:

    Great coverage of the drama of this wonderful Schwab Cup Championship Bill. Looked to me like you were in your element following Tom and Jay. Two technical observations that I am sure you had both a better view of and a better understanding: 1. The majority of these tour players’s caddies were unfamiliar with the pronounced “Valley effect” on our greens and in particular, Langer’s caddy. He rolled the ball great but missed a whole bunch of 8-15′ putts with many befuddled looks from both player and caddy. 2. Playing explosion shots from the waste areas is quite different than normal bunker shots. I was surprised that Jay did not learn anything from his first waste recovery shot on 18. Question: seeing many of their hybrid tee shots travel 250-275 yards, what kind of club head speed are these top tour pros generating on average?