Changes for Perez start with being single again

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 14, 2012
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.'' --- BIG HITTER: Zach Johnson received a text message from the PGA Tour on Friday morning that he most likely will never see again. The tour sends updates to its players all the time on various statistical matters, such as Ryder Cup standings and their FedEx Cup points. Johnson was informed that after one round of the Sony Open, he was leading the PGA Tour in driving distance. That's a fact, Zach. For official driving distance, the tour picks two holes to measure tee shots. Last week at Kapalua it was par-4 third hole (typically into the wind) and the par-5 15th. So even though there were 41 drives over 400 yards last week on the Plantation Course, the leader in driving distance was Bubba Watson at 296.4 yards. For the Sony Open, the holes are No. 1 and No. 9, which run in opposite directions on both sides of the driving range. In the opening round, before the wind picked up, Johnson hit a 342-yard drive down No. 1. With the wind at his back a few hours later, he hit a 326-yard drive on No. 9. That's an average of 334 yards, the best of the opening round, better than Watson's average. For a guy who was 177th in driving distance last year, imagine his surprise. ''First time that has ever happened,'' Johnson said. ''And probably the last, unless ...'' Unless what? ''Well, unless we had a five-man field with four Corey Pavins,'' he said with a laugh. Alas, Johnson had plunged all the way the way to 11th after the second round, and the slide most likely is just beginning. --- RYO'S ROAD: Ryo Ishikawa has never started his season this early, playing in the Sony Open for the first time. It's the start of what figures to be a long year, even by the Japanese star's standards. Ishikawa is interested in taking up PGA Tour membership. He is one of the biggest draws, especially on the West Coast, and he already has received exemptions to the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, along with the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook. The first three months are pivotal. Ishikawa was No. 48 in the world ranking before missing the cut at Waialae. He should be safe for the Match Play Championship at the end of February (top 64), but he is not yet in the Masters, and will have to be in the top 50 after Bay Hill. Along the way, there will be plenty of trips across the Pacific Ocean. ''I'll be going back and forth,'' Ishikawa said. ''It's a hard schedule.'' He expects to play about 34 tournaments this year.
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