For top-notch golfers, consistency is a constant desire. While a low score is always palatable, the best players, for the most part, pride themselves on their ability to keep even their worst rounds from really hurting them. In that way a player develops a certain stability to his game, never venturing far into red numbers but also proving almost immune to any score more than a couple over par.
Then again, such monotony can be quite the menace. After all, too much of the same thing can be nauseating. A string of scores in the low 70s is reassuring at first but it doesn't take long for a player to miss those rounds that go well into the 60s. Frustration can set in as, every time a golfer appears ready to go low and take charge in a tournament, he fails in his attempt. This common either-or relationship between consistency and low scores is but one of many of the rubs in the game of golf.
Yet, Jack Perry, at least for one tournament, decided to effortlessly toss that concept aside.
Playing on Northwestern's home course (the Glen Club) on Monday and Tuesday for the Northwestern Spring Invitational, the junior consistently stalked birdies, producing seven of them alone in round one to open in 67 and take the early lead. He didn't stop there. Perry fired another 67 in round two, growing his lead to seven in the process, and came in at 66 over his final 18, more than enough to secure his second victory of the season.
This strong play helped carry the Wildcats to a 12-shot win over the field at the Glen Club, and it was an individual performance for the record books. Perry's 16-under-par 200 total was the lowest in school history, breaking the previous mark of 202 held by Luke Donald and David Lipsky. In addition, the junior's final margin of victory of eight just beat out the best the four-time All-American Donald had to offer in his college career — a seven-shot triumph.
It was a truly remarkable three rounds of golf. Perry birdied 20 of his 54 holes (that's almost a 40 percent clip), and it wasn't like conditions were incredibly ideal throughout. In fact, the junior's second-round 67 only came to fruition when he refused to give in to the rainy weather down the back nine and promptly birdied five of his last six holes.
Even if the event's home tilt did give Perry a distinct advantage, this was the exact kind of play he had been looking for. Up until two tournaments ago, the junior had been stuck in a maddening consistency, never shooting above 74 the whole season but also failing to break 70 even once. This was of course solid enough to lead the team, but left Perry with the potential to do plenty more.
The potential exploded into reality in recent weeks. After shooting 70 or higher in his first 22 competitive rounds of the season, he has broken the threshold in each of his last five. And if it wasn't for a double bogey on his last hole of the first round at the U.S. Intercollegiate, that number would be six. (Granted the Glen Club may have been the easiest setup he has faced this year, but nonetheless it was a step in the right direction.)
Needless to say, Perry is in a good place with his game right now. The high scores are nowhere in sight and the lower ones have finally arrived. The question now becomes, will his recent performance propel him down the stretch run of the season?
Big Ten Championships kick off in less than two weeks and NCAA Regionals are only a month away. The team could use some days where all five starters are clicking, something that has yet to occur, but an extra boost from Perry could also do wonders.
To be fair, although a great feat, the junior's eight-shot win this week came at the expense of a field that included the No. 33 Wildcats, the No. 86 Buckeyes and that was about it.
The upcoming contests certainly provide much more in the way of tough competition. The courses will also be far different from what the Glen Club had to offer this past week. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick, site of the Big Ten Championships, is not likely to be conducive to another Perry birdie barrage. This layout is 8,102 yards at the tips and it doesn't have to be nearly that long to be frightening. The course "only" played to 7,152 yards last year at the Big Ten Championships and the result: just two players finished under par for the tournament and NU produced exactly one round in the 60s among its five starters.
So Perry will have to adapt if he wants to carry his strong home performance with him down the stretch. Barring something truly miraculous, don't expect him to whip out a bunch more 67s and 66s and win tournaments by large margins. Actually, a return to that low-70s consistency, at least for the Big Ten Championships, may be just the thing he needs to build on his performance from the Glen Club.
That's easier said than done, but Perry has displayed a knack this year for not allowing potentially disastrous rounds to materialize. With that in mind and the fact that he put everything together over 54 holes this week, Perry is primed for a fierce closing kick to his junior season.
Golf is largely a game of confidence, and Perry has loads of it right now.
If he can carry that self-belief with him during the stretch run it may just spark the rest of the team to follow suit, and that is a dangerous proposition.