Remembering the most clinical finish in Sawgrass history as Craig Perks produced his fairytale finish in 2002
Johnny Miller described it as the “three greatest hole-outs I’ve ever seen” as Craig Perks made only two pars in his last 14 holes to win the 2002 Players Championship. It give him a five-year exemption but, as it transpired, it turned out to be his only win in 202 starts.
The Kiwi used his putter just once over the closing three holes as he finished eagle-birdie-par to close out Stephen Ames by two. Perks chipped in twice, at 16 and 18, which bookended a 25-footer at the island 17th.
“I’m not sure that finish has ever really sunk in. I think about it on a daily basis. I was two shots behind going into Sunday the following year and I then realised how difficult it was to actually win this event.
“My mentality when I won was, which I told my wife when I was getting ready to accept the trophy from Tiger, are you ready for Augusta? I never took a moment to stop and think about what I’d accomplished.
“The goal leaving New Zealand was to play on the PGA Tour, now I had won one of its biggest events. I hadn’t even played in a major to that point. People look at me a bit cock-eyed when I say the pressure of being at the Players wasn’t too overbearing. I was always around the cut on a Friday – that was always more nerve-wracking.
“I had a comfortable Sunday pairing with Carl Paulson who had come up through the ranks of the Nationwide Tour and we were just in a little bubble. We didn’t have a huge gallery until we reached the little amphitheatre of the last three holes.”
Sadly the victory didn’t bring an upsurge in Perks’ fortunes as the pressures of new-found fame instead got in the way of things.
“I got some great advice from Ian Baker-Finch at the Deutsche Bank and he said not to change a single thing. I listened, but maybe only half-heartedly. I changed equipment companies but I don’t think it was that big a deal. I stuck with the Titleist ball but I changed caddies and my coach.
“The big thing that really fell apart was my driving. I went searching for the answer. I looked at my stats at the end of 2002 when I finished 36th on the Money List and I saw how bad a ball striker I was. I thought I had to change to get better rather than what I had just accomplished. I got a little wayward with my focus; it was all about the swing.
“I worked with Butch Harmon for a while and one of Hank Haney’s right-hand guys and I lost the art of scoring and just playing golf. I worked as hard as anybody out there and I got very little reward and I lost a lot of trust in these instructors and in myself.”
By the end of 2007 he had called it a day, just five and a half years after his most famous finish.
“I was hitting about 35 per cent of fairways. I was hitting two or three balls out of bounds every round and there was a lot of anxiety every time I stepped on to a tee. By the end of my career I was embarrassed to go out and play. When my exemption ran out it was a very easy decision to bow out. There was no freedom to my swing, I was afraid of where it was going. I was hanging on for dear life.
In one event I played with David Duval and Tiger on Thursday and Friday and it had got to the point where I had difficulty getting to the 1st tee. I was always looking for my ball and I had a rules official come out for three or four holes on the trot and we were two holes behind. So it was easy to step away.”