HARTFORD, Conn. – Jerry Kelly solidified his stature as one of the best athletes in University of Hartford history on Aug. 7.
Kelly birdied the first playoff hole to defeat John Huston and win the PGA Tour Champions Shaw Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows Golf and Country Club in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Kelly two-putted the par-5 18th hole, making a 4-foot putt for birdie after Huston had missed from 14 feet. It was Kelly’s third PGA Tour Champions title in his last six starts and moved him to second in the Charles Schwab Cup points standings behind Steven Alker, the only other three-time winner this year.
“I love coming to Canada, and to get a win up here is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Kelly, an all-city ice hockey selection while playing for Madison East High School in Madison, Wisc. “I couldn’t do it in the Canadian Open (on the PGA Tour), but I got it done today.”
The 55-year-old Kelly played in the Canadian Open 13 times but finished in the Top 10 only twice. He got into the playoff thanks largely to holing a 40-foot bunker shot for birdie on the 15th hole to tie Huston for the lead. He then parred the final three holes for a 3-under-par 67 and a 72-hole total of 9-under 271.
“On 15, I said I wanted to close it out with birdies to win,” said Kelly, who had five birdies and two bogeys on the way to his 18th victory worldwide. “I got one there but couldn’t get any more until the playoff.”
Kelly missed a 15-foot birdie putt to win on the final hole of regulation but made a good two-putt from 45 feet on a return to the 18th hole. Huston, 61, had six birdies in a 65 as he was attempting to notch his first PGA Tour Champions win in 11 years.
Jerry Kelly’s latest success had he and the love of his life, wife Carol, sharing more smiles than usual.
“I actually just had my six-month scans, and I got really positive news at my halfway point of treatment,” said Carol, who had a cancerous kidney removed in the fall. “There are a lot of positives going on right now, and I think maybe he’s stopping and recognizing a little more than he used to.”
Jerry certainly has. As he chatted with reporters, John Daly yelled from the clubhouse patio: “Hey, Jerry, can you give somebody else a chance?”
Kelly had a simple explanation for his recent tear, which also included wins at the Principal Charity Classic and the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, the second major title of his career at famed Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
“If you want to know the truth, it all started with Carol’s six-month scans and everything being really cool for her,” Kelly said. “That gave us such a positive outlook. We were just like, ‘Hey, let’s just have fun with life and go on, because we’re going to have a whole lot more of it now.’ That gave us those great vibes, and we’ve been continuing it on the golf course, which you know is kind of strange for me.”
Positivity is now one of Kelly’s strong suites.
“You have to treat yourself really good out here,” Carol said. “Like I told him earlier this week, I dropped him off and said, ‘OK, how about you work on better body language or not hanging your head after you missed a really great putt?’ How about thinking, ‘I just hit a really good putt. You know, take a positive spin on things and use that?’ So I’m hoping, maybe, he thought about that once or twice this week.”
Kelly began the day one stroke behind Kirk Triplett but took the lead with a 2-under 33 on the front nine. But he trailed the fast-closing Huston by one before making the shot of the tournament from the sand on the 15th hole. Triplett missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to get into the playoff, settling for 69 and a tie for third with U.S. Senior Open champion Padraig Harrington (66), Joe Durant (62), Dean Wilson (66) and Alex Cejka (66), who was coming off a victory last week on the Legends Tour in Europe.
Kelly had to make a 4-foot comeback putt for par to get into the playoff and harkened back to his wife’s words earlier in the week.
“In the past, I don’t think I would have been positive enough to make a great second putt to go into that playoff,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t have been in the playoff if I didn’t make a really good putt for my second putt. And I had three three-putts out there today, so trust me, the second putts weren’t the most fantastic out there. It was just stick to it and be positive and know your stroke is going to be good enough. That’s what (Carol) has given me this year.”
On Sunday, Kelly had six birdies in a closing, 9-under 207 to finish sixth in the Boeing Classic at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge in Snoqualmie, Wash. He now has nine Top-10 finishes in 17 starts this year and has moved to second on the money list with $1,862,128. It was his 11th PGA Tour Champions title after three wins on the PGA Tour.
Kelly graduated from the University of Hartford in 1989 with a degree in finance and insurance and turned pro later that year but didn’t reach the PGA Tour until 1996. That followed a successful 1995 season on the Nike (now Korn Ferry) Tour when he won twice. He registered two of his three PGA Tour wins in 2002 in the Sony Open in Hawaii and Advil Western Open and finished fourth on the money list. He also won the 2009 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Kelly made his PGA Tour Champions debut at the Chubb Classic in February 2017 and gained his first victory six months later in the Boeing Classic, which is the next stop on the Tour in suburban Seattle, Wash. He had three wins in 2019 in the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, Wisc., The Ally Challenge and the SAS Championship. In August 2020, Kelly won his first senior major title, the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, earning $450,000 and a spot in the 2021 Players Championship on the PGA Tour.
In June 2021, Kelly defended his hometown title in the American Family Insurance Championship a year after the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly’s victory Sunday tied his most in a year after he had said his hockey background might have hurt his golf early in his career because of the aggressiveness it encouraged him to bring to his game. And now he leads the PGA Tour Champions in driving accuracy at 82.17 percent and is more thankful than ever.
As a tournament-record crowd dispersed, Kelly stood on the 18th green at Canyon Meadows, swarmed by photographers, a Cowboy hat on his head, holding the trophy with his right arm and squeezing Carol with his left in a perfect ending to the week.
“She is the one who has been there for me a lot more,” said Kelly, who is as competitive and intense as anyone in the game. “If I can just be there for her, that’s great. But she has been an absolute rock through this.”
On the web: Jerry Kelly @ PGATour.com