ST. LOUIS – It’s not unusual for the PGA to pair friends in the first two rounds of its tournaments. That’s why Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran played together in the first two rounds of the 74th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.
The results, though, don’t always come out they did on Thursday and Friday. Perry and Cochran both shot 69 on Thursday and 66 Friday. They stand at 7-under-par 135 at the top of the leaderboard heading into today’s third round of the season’s first major on the Champions Tour, so they’ll be playing together again.
Cochran and Perry went to high school together in Paducah, Ky., They played the PGA Tour together, and now – in their fifties – they remain friendly competitors.
“It’s near when childhood friends pick up again on the Champions Tour,’’ said Perry. “We’re very comfortable together. We’ve had a lot of laughs and good times.’
“A great couple days,’’ chimed in Cochran. “Plus, my son (Ryan) was my caddie and one of my best friends, Freddie Sanders, caddied for Kenny.’’
Both players won on the PGA Tour in Illinois. Cochran, winner of the 1991 Western Open at Cog Hill, is 54 and two years older than Perry, winner of the 2008 John Deere Classic.
Perry plays right-handed and has had a slightly better professional career. He shifts between the PGA and Champions, and was in the field at the premier circuit’s Byron Nelson Classic last week. Cochran plays left-handed. Together they put on an annual outing for the course they grew up on, Paxton Park in Paducah.
Paducah is a three-hour drive from Bellerive, and Perry and Cochran had considerable friends and family members in their gallery as they opened a two-stroke lead on third place Kiyoshi Murota of Japan. First-round co-leaders Jay Haas, who grew up in nearby Belleville, IL., and Duffy Waldorf are three back along with Loren Roberts.
Haas, selected for induction into the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame earlier this week, has played Bellerive more than any of the 156 starters. His first-round 66 was a career best on the layout, which was the site of the 1992 PGA Championship and 2004 U.S. Senior Open.
“I was in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier here when I was about 16,’’ he said. “I’ve probably played 30 rounds here. I don’t know if that gives me an advantage. Maybe it let’s me know where to miss it on certain holes.’’