Omega Dubai Desert Classic

EXCLUSIVE: Pat Perez set to bring his brand of PGA Tour pizzazz to 2018 Omega Dubai Desert Classic

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Pat Perez backed up his win in Mexico with T-3 and T-2 placings at the SBS Tournament of Champions and Wells Fargo Championship respectively en-route to 15th place in the final FedEx Cup standings.

By Kent Gray
PGA Tour cult-hero Pat Perez has been confirmed to headline January’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

In a major coup for the “Major of the Middle East”, the 41-year-old American will bring his signature mullet, flamboyant personality and born-again game to the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club for the 29th edition of the $3 million European Tour event.

Nicknamed the “Volcano”, Perez is managed by the same team as reigning U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia who has also been confirmed to defend the Desert Classic’s famed dallah (arabic coffee pot). It’s a marquee double-billing to start the customary drip-feeding of player announcements ahead of the now split Desert Classic which will begin the previous week in Abu Dhabi.

Related: Muscat event added to 2018 European Tour schedule as the Desert Swing is split in two

Getty Images/Garcia salutes the Majlis galleries after winning last year’s Desert Classic.

There are few more popular players inside or out of the ropes in pro golf than Perez who won his second PGA Tour title at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba at the start of the 2016-17 season and went on to finish 15th in the FedEx Cup with $4.36 million in season earnings.

The win in Mexico came eight years after the world No.31 captured his only other PGA Tour title at the 50th Bob Hope Classic hosted by Arnold Palmer and just three events after an enforced eight-month layoff due to shoulder surgery.

Perez feared the torn labrum in his left shoulder may end his career but instead rattled off six top-10s and 14 top-25s in a breakout season. Despite 16 years on tour without losing his card, the six-footer reached the Tour Championship for the first time and eventually placed 16th, nine shots adrift of Justin Thomas, after flirting with the top of the leaderboard early on at East Lake.

Related: Pat Perez is antithesis of young successful tour players, but still hanging with them on leader board

Perez was the oldest player at East Lake, a throwback to a bygone era who is enjoying taking it to the “young punks” now overpowering golf’s professional ranks.

As well as being a fan favourite, he shapes as a PR boon for the Desert Classic. Perez is a certified pressroom funny man as this quote from the Tour Championship, when he was asked how he’d spend the FedEx Cup’s bonus pot (of which he had only a mathematical chance of winning), illustrates:

The full answer revealed even more of his fun personality: “Quickly. Yeah, quickly. I might not live that much longer. I’ve got to start spending it now!”

Here’s another classic interaction with the press corp from East Lake where Perez was quizzed on his intention to play the Champions Tour – even though he’s still nine years shy of the over-50s circuit:

Rest assured Perez can walk the talk as well as this holed shot highlights. We love the reaction almost as much as the 147-yard cup-finder.

The Desert Classic will be Perez’s fourth regular season start on the European Tour after T-66 and missed cut performances at the 2012 and 2015 Alfred Dunhill Championships respectively and a DQ at July’s Porsche European Open when he signed an incorrect second round scorecard.

He signaled his intention to play in Dubai earlier this year after joining the European Tour as an affiliate member courtesy of his top-50 status and now career high Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).

“I’ve always stayed in the US. So I figured, after I won and got to the top 50 in the world, I might try and travel a bit and see some new parts of the world and play against other great players. I wanted to play the European Tour and become more of a global player,” he said.

“I am going to try and broaden my horizons, go to places such as Dubai and Malaysia, and see where I fall.

“This time last year I was in a sling. I had surgery in March last year and I hadn’t played at all and I didn’t really know what to expect coming back, so winning my third event back kind of changed my second half of my career. So now that that has happened, I have a whole new position in the game and I am going to try and take full advantage of it and be part of the European Tour, like a lot of great players have from the US and Europe, and I am excited to do it.”

The feeling is most definitely mutual for Desert Classic Tournament Director David Spencer who describes the PXG staff player as “very Dubai”.

“I think every tournament promoter is looking for something different and something that can help them with sponsors and fans. We’ve heard so many good reports, actually mostly from other players as to what a character Pat Perez is, how good he is with people,” said Spencer.

“He’s very Dubai, bright, bubbly, he’s exciting and this year in particular – I mean the big story for us is when we agreed to bring him he was 118th in the world and now he’s 31 so it’s just one of those great luck stories.“

While Spencer is not afraid to enlist players capable of pushing ticket sales and PR, he’s also supremely confident Perez will shine where it really matters after making 22 cuts in 26 starts on the PGA Tour this season. The Desert Classic could certainly do with its drawcard making the weekend at least after Tiger Woods’ ill-fated return to the Majlis last February.

Perez, in fact, already has a tenuous and perhaps unwanted link to the Desert Classic after saying Woods “knows he can’t beat anybody” following Tiger’s opening 77 on the Majlis and resulting WD with the back injury that has kept himself out of the game ever since. He later admitted the comments earned the ire of Woods and while the pair quickly made up, Perez told Golf Digest he was frustrated by the coverage of his comments, particularly on social media, which he says were taken out of context. He had taken down his Twitter account even before the comments had aired on a radio show he co-hosts in the U.S.

“I’m tired of the trolls and people not having the facts,” Perez said afterwards.  “I’m worn out.”

Thankfully the Volcano seems to be rejuvenated and back to his quotable best. He’ll also be one of the players to beat in January, at least as far as Spencer is concerned.

“Like any of them will tell you, Pat’s not coming to make up the numbers,” Spencer said of the Scottsdale, Arizona resident who has $21.75 million in career earnings.

“He’s coming to win and I think he’s done a fair amount of research into what the course is. It’ll suit his game being the fact the course is over sown with winter grasses and he comes from an area where that is prevalent. That’s one of the things we said to him, that playing the Majlis in late January is very Arizona [like] in its playing surfaces.

“The Majlis suits all great players and he is a great player.”

It is understood Perez will travel to Dubai with his wife Ashley who caddied for him in the par 3 contest at Augusta National before he finished T-18 at the U.S. Masters.

It’s so awesome to always feel such unconditional love… on and off the course 😘😘😘 such a fun day caddying for my pro at #augustanational ! #masters #luckygirl #caddie #dufl

A post shared by Ashley Perez (@therealashleyperez) on

It was Perez’s best performance in this year’s majors after he missed the cut at Erin Hills and Royal Birkdale in the US and Open Championships before a T-28 at the PGA Championship, His best finish in the bigs was a T-6 back at the 2005 PGA although he’ll bring good vibes from a solid finish to the FedEx Cup with T-6 and T-12 places at the Dell Technologies and BMW Championships before East Lake.

 

Kent Gray

Kent Gray

Editor of Golf Digest Middle East. Has written about golf since 1989 and owned a suspect short game even longer.

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