Golf fans show Perry overwhelming support

Kenny Perry never took pity on himself for losing a two-shot lead with two holes to play in the Masters. Everyone else did that for him.

Among the first to call when Perry returned home to Kentucky were Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, who know from experience what it's like to lose a major. He also got a call from Scott Hoch, one of his best friends on tour, who 20 years ago missed a 3-foot putt that would have won the Masters.

Among the letters was one from former President George W. Bush.

"It was just incredible the outpouring of support," Perry said. "I had so many people just proud of the way I handled the loss."

Perry, who returns to the PGA Tour this week at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, would have been the oldest major champion at 48. It could be that his popularity soars even more by the gracious way he handled his playoff defeat to Angel Cabrera.

He answered every question with brutal honestly. He didn't make excuses. And he didn't beat himself up.

The amount of fan mail he received was reminiscent of when Norman blew a six-shot lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters. The Shark was revered for handling the loss with grace and was inundated with fan mail the following week.

"I received almost 600 e-mails. I received hundreds of cards and letters. People who genuinely cared," Perry said in a conference call Tuesday from New Orleans. "And the letters all started out, 'I've never written a letter like this, but I just felt compelled to write to you.'

"It's been tough, and it's been hard," he said. "But the outpouring of fan support was mind-boggling to me. It really was very uplifting."

Perry said he went over the final two holes during a reflective drive home to Kentucky, especially the chip that he bladed on the 17th hole, and even the three-putt par on the 13th hole.

He figures the turning point came during the walk from the 16th green to the 17th green, after a tap-in birdie to build a two-shot lead. Perry told himself he was two pars away from winning the Masters, instead of concentrating on only his next shot, which he had been doing the previous 70 holes.

"I stuck my neck out, thought I was going to win," he said. "But I just came up a little bit short. As an athlete, or a player, that's all you can ask of yourself."

The emotions came from his family, particularly his oldest daughter. And he had a quiet chat with his 85-year-old father. But he didn't shed any tears of his own, except when he was reading the letters.

"That was more emotional to me than me just sitting and reflecting on what went on, what was happening," Perry said. "It was the outpouring of love and support from everybody that was really more emotional to me than anything."