IT DOESN'T TAKE long to drive through Franklin. Start on the outskirts of town where the old-fashioned drive-in is cut into the fields. Across the street is Jim's Bar-B-Que, where the rib meat tumbles off the bone and Perry chews the fat twice a week on average. Years ago Hall of Famer Nick Price came to Franklin to visit his friend, and he still remembers the quality of the barbecue and how Perry knew everyone in the joint. "He's like the mayor there," says Price. Crossing under Interstate 65, you pass the Wal-Mart where Perry likes to do his shopping. ("Actually, he usually does more talking than shopping," says Sandy.) Across the street is a Zaxby's Chicken fast-food franchise owned by his future son-in-law, Justin Harris, its walls covered with memorabilia from Perry's career. A little farther up on the lefthand side is the Church of Christ that Perry attends. "There's always a little extra buzz in the air during services when Kenny is playing well at a tournament," says Ferguson, a church elder. Then you come to the picturesque town square, where someone is always sitting on a bench eating ice cream and live bands play every weekend in the summer. On Friday and Saturday nights the local teens cruise around the square, just as Kenny and Sandy did when they were young and restless. Just past the square is the pleasantly greasy Randall's Service Station, where Perry likes to hang out and talk shop with the owner, Carver, who looks after Perry's fleet of six vintage muscle cars plus the full-blown dragster he occasionally races. (Carver is also fixing up a 1967 fastback Mustang for Price.) Among Perry's most prized possessions are a '67 Chevy 2Nova with a big-block 454 juiced with nitrous oxide ("wicked" is Carver's scouting report) and a '69 Camaro with a 505-horsepower engine borrowed from a Corvette Z06 ("sucker's mean"). Carver keeps in his cluttered waiting area the oversized cardboard winner's check Perry earned at the 2005 Colonial, but Perry would "much rather talk about cars than golf," Carver says of his friend. "He's just a hot-roddin' son-of-a-gun who loves his horsepower, like all us good ol' boys do."
One block off the square is the Franklin Boys & Girls Club. It is a gleaming facility that opened last year, with a gym big enough for two basketball courts; a state-of-the-art computer room; a learning center piled high with books; a game room with air hockey, Foosball and two pool tables; and a flat-screen TV in the lobby where the Wii video-game console is in constant use. In the afternoon, buses arrive from every school in Simpson County, and so far 500 kids have become members for the princely annual fee of $12. Perry has been one of the Boys & Girls Club's principal boosters, tirelessly fund-raising and donating $125,000 of his own money. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of the Potter Children's Home & Family Ministries, a facility in nearby Bowling Green for orphans and families in need. Country Creek could also qualify as charitable work. Every dollar generated gets plowed back into the course, and, says Perry, "this winter was the first time I didn't have to dip into my own pocket to pay the salaries, about $5,000 a week. I was like, Thank you, Lord."
Perry has a very specific way of paying back the Almighty—throughout his career he has donated 5% of his Tour earnings to Lipscomb University, a Christian school in Nashville from which his wife and his friend Ronnie Ferguson graduated. How this arrangement came to be says a lot about Perry, and Franklin.
Perry has always been a late bloomer, spiritually and athletically. He was baptized by Sandy's father, Earl Ware, when he was 22, just as he was finishing up at Western Kentucky. In sending Perry off for his pro career, Ferguson told him, "If you ever need any help, just ask."
After four years of struggling on the mini-tours, Perry was back in Franklin, broke and bleakly assessing his future. With a child to provide for and another on the way, he was thinking of asking Ferguson for a job in his dry-cleaning business. "But I had this burning to succeed as a golfer," says Perry. "I come from this tiny little town, and lots of people said I wouldn't make it on the PGA Tour. I always wanted to prove them wrong."
So he went to see Ferguson and reminded him of his offer to help from years before. "I had kind of forgotten," says Ferguson, "but I told him to keep talking." Perry then took a deep breath and asked if he could borrow $5,000 for one last shot at making it to the Tour through Q school. "I knew I was asking a lot of him," says Perry. "Ronnie had two kids in college and by no means did he have $5,000 laying around."
Ferguson went home, talked to his wife and spent the evening praying. He came up with an idea that he calls "providential." He would give Perry the money. If he failed at Q school, Perry owed Ferguson nothing. But if Perry succeeded he had to pledge 5% of his winnings to Lipscomb. "I didn't want the money hanging over his head," says Ferguson. "What was important was to give him another shot. What better role model could America's youth have than Kenny Perry? I knew he would use golf as his ministry, as a way to help others."
Perry blitzed through Q school and has never been back. Now that his contributions to Lipscomb are approaching $1.5 million, doesn't he think he's repaid his debt? "Oh, no, never," says Perry, aghast. "A deal's a deal. What Ronnie did for me, that was a tremendous life lesson. Shoot, yeah, that changed me. I've tried to honor that spirit of giving, but whatever I've given, I've gotten back tenfold." Invoking Luke 6:38, Perry says, "God's shovel is a lot larger than mine."
Perry will receive $200,000 in charity money for playing in the Ryder Cup, and he's already looking forward to dispersing it in and around Franklin. "You don't forget where you've come from," he says. "Golf is my job. It's what I do. Honestly, it doesn't mean that much to me. Lots of players lose perspective. It's all about themselves. I want to be about other people."
At Valhalla he will be playing for his teammates, his country, his home state and, most of all, his little hometown. Speaking of Franklin, Perry says, "I don't want to let 'em all down. I don't ever want to do something to disappoint the people here."