- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2008

There’s never been a cage Tom Pernice couldn’t rattle. Tiger Woods‘? Heck, Tom once asked the PGA Tour to check Tiger’s driver to make sure it was legal. (It was.)

Maybe his concerns were legitimate, or maybe he was just getting back at Tiger for complaining about “hot drivers” himself a couple of years before. After all, Tom said at the time, “the difference between [conforming and nonconforming] drivers is so small, it’s a joke.”

Pernice has also tweaked Tiger - and Phil Mickelson, too - about his highly selective schedule. When the world’s two best players went as far as to blow off the Tour Championship a few years back, he called it “a slap in the face to the PGA Tour.”

In the “quiet please” sport of golf, Pernice is the camera click in the middle of your backswing - the tour curmudgeon, the guy who says what others don’t dare. That doesn’t mean he’s always right, but he’s unfailingly fun to listen to, and he was again Friday after shooting a Congressional record-tying 63 to share the halfway lead in the AT&T National.

Actually, he said, clarifying the shot he took at Tiger and Lefty, “It wasn’t their fault” they were truant from the tour’s final event. “We need to mandate that they need to play. We can’t just let players play any 15 tournaments they want.”

The way Pernice sees it, “Michael Jordan didn’t get to skip playing in Madison Square Garden when the Knicks were good because he didn’t like playing there or whatever. Maybe we need to play more than 15 events [minimum a year]. Maybe we need to play 20. And if you’re eligible for the Tour Championship and the tournament of champions [the Mercedes], then maybe you’re supposed to play.

“I have a lot of respect for our title sponsors and the volunteers and the amount of effort and time and money they put into these events. It would be nice for Tiger to play all over, not just 15 or 20 venues in his career.”

Point well taken. Especially since Woods’ AT&T National came into being last year, rather hurriedly, after the International lost its backing… in large part because Tiger stopped coming to Castle Pines.

That’s Pernice for you. When everybody else is biting his tongue over the course changes at Augusta National - lest they disturb the ghost of Bobby Jones - Tom is saying, “I don’t think they need the rough anymore. [Not having rough] was unique in the old days. [But] today, the rough saves you from rolling into the pine straw and the trees.”

(To which the Greencoats no doubt replied, “Thanks for your input, Mr. Pernice. It’s great to see you every five years.”)

Tiger, Phil, Augusta, Commissioner Tim Finchem (“He’s done a great job on several things and been very weak on several things”) - they’re all fair game to Pernice. It’s not that he respects them less, he’ll tell you, but that he respects golf more.

“I love the game and love the tour, and I don’t want anything to not be as good as it can be,” he says. (Sounds like an ideal candidate for the tour’s policy board - on which, in fact, he recently served a term, no doubt kicking up plenty of dust.)

Speaking of something “as good as it can be,” Pernice’s second round in the AT&T came pretty close. He did have a bogey, just one, at No. 4, but he quickly undid the damage by rolling in long birdie putts at Nos. 6 and 7. When he added it all up, he had his second 63 in his last eight competitive rounds and had joined Jeff Overton atop the leader board at 131, 9 under par.

This isn’t a position Pernice, who turns 49 in September, has been in much in his pro career. He has a modest two victories, the last in 1999, since first qualifying for the tour 22 years ago. He’s a journeyman, a grinder, a player who tees it up 30-plus times a year to keep his card. That might be why he looks askance at stars like Woods and Mickelson, who play half as often and don’t feel the need to support … well, did Tiger ever show up at the Kemper/Booz Allen?

It’s hardly surprising, given Pernice’s contrarian ways, that one of his buddies is Vijay Singh, who’s never been confused with Chi Chi Rodriguez. Tom got to know Singh when they played the Asian Tour in the 1980s, and he appreciates Vijay’s working class approach, his willingness to play 27, 28, 29 even 30 tournaments a year. “Right now,” he said in early 2005, “Vijay is doing more for the PGA Tour than anybody.”

Don’t agree with him? Then maybe you’ll agree with his stand on drug testing, his belief the tour needs to be Cleaner Than Clean to “send a message to young [players]” that “short cuts” aren’t the answer. Some pros, he says, are “upset about the fact that they have to go pee in a cup and somebody has to watch them do it,” but to Pernice, it’s all about policing the game “the right way and the most credible way.”

But because he’s 66th on the money list and doesn’t have his own clothing line, Pernice’s words will never carry the weight of Tiger’s or Phil’s. He’s just a veteran pro, barely a year away from the Champions Tour, with an achy left hip and a physical therapist who’s never very far away. Here’s hoping the hip continues to hold up - if only so Tom can pontificate a little longer. This gentleman’s game needs some stirring every now and then.



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