Kenny Perry talks about his memories of playing in the Buick Open as he prepares for this week's Ally Challenge. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Grand Blanc — Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club is a special place for Kenny Perry.
That’s easy to understand when you consider two of his 14 career PGA Tour titles came at the course north of Detroit. It was at the Buick Open in 2001 and again in 2008 that Perry finished on top of the field, besting the likes of Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk the first time and edging Bubba Watson by one stroke for the second victory.
But, as he returned to Warwick Hills this week for the inaugural Ally Challenge on the Champions Tour, there is one other memory that sticks with Perry.
“I knew that was coming up,” Perry said with a smile and a quick shake of the head.
Rewind the clock to 2007 and the first round of the Buick Open. Perry was hitting his second shot to the par-5 16th hole and his natural hook had the ball turning toward the gallery. As Perry watched the ball take a left turn as it approached the green, he also saw where it made its initial impact — on the bridge of the nose of Linda Gealy.
She was there checking out the action and the ball nailed her. The blood started flowing quickly.
“You know, out of my 35 years of playing on this tour, I'm sure I've hit people before, but this was the lick that stayed with me forever,” Perry said Wednesday as he prepared for the 54-hole Champions Tour event that begins Friday.
“I was going for 16 in two and I drove it in the middle of the fairway and I hit a 3-wood and I hit a hook going into the green, so it's going to the left of the green. … everybody's kind of lined up left side of the green right there. She was just kind of looking (up) and all of a sudden it hit her square in the nose. I mean, it broke her nose immediately and the blood was incredible, how bad she was bleeding. I thought I killed the poor lady.”
Of course, that’s not what happened.
She was in bad shape, to be sure. Gealy had on a pair sports sunglasses that helped, but her nose was broken and she was taken to the hospital by paramedics, as was recounted this week in a story published on PGATour.com.
Perry signed a sheet of paper Gealy was carrying that had that day’s tee times. It simply said, “Sorry.” The next week, Perry sent her flowers. He went on to shoot 71 that round followed by a 63 in the second. Perry couldn’t get much going on the weekend and finished in a tie for 10th.
But when Perry saw the article on the Tour’s website, it rekindled the memory.
“I was tickled to read that article,” Perry said. “I have not seen her — I did send her a dozen flowers. The article said that she had no effects from the hit or her nose was fine and that made me feel a lot better. She said she was coming out this week, so I hope she comes out. I would like to meet her and personally tell her I'm sorry.”
The News tried to reach Gealy, a teacher at Baker Middle School in Troy, but didn’t hear back. She told PGATour.com she might head to the tournament this week to meet Perry but wasn’t sure.
Reunions aside, Perry will be focused this week on his game.
He’s 18th in the Charles Schwab Cup standings despite missing the first part of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, and he already has picked up a victory at the 3M Championship in early August.
He’ll hope to continue playing well this week at a venue he’s familiar with.
“I just stepped foot on the property today and it looks like it's in a time warp, it looked like nothing's changed,” Perry said. “Everything looks the same.”
There have been a few changes since the last time the Buick Open was played in 2009. Some trees have been removed and there are more skyboxes. But Warwick Hills has a familiar look. No. 17 hopes to be as raucous as it was when it became one of the first par-3 holes on Tour that actually was OK with wild fan behavior. Perry described it as the start of the “crazies” that are prevalent on the PGA Tour these days.
But he’s comfortable here and so are most of the players in the field. Of the 78 teeing it up on Friday, 70 have played in the Buick Open and 10 — Perry included — have won.
“What I like about the Champions Tour, quite a few of our venues are old Tour events that we get to go back to and kind of relive our memories,” Perry said.
“I just think that's special.”
It will be special for Perry if he finishes on top Sunday afternoon. And he’ll be happy if his wayward shots fall harmlessly.