CROMWELL, Conn. -- At 49 years old, tournament golf can be an uphill battle. So it was for Jerry Kelly yesterday, although you'd never know it from looking at the leaderboard at the Travelers Championship.
Kelly is barely three months away from joining the Champions Tour, which he plans to do after he turns 50 on Nov. 23. He hasn't won a PGA event in seven years and that win, the 2009 Zurich Classic in New Orleans, is his only one in the last 14 years. He is the essence of a tour professional. He plays for dough but not often for the win anymore.
But once it was Jerry Kelly's time. Back in 2002 he won twice and finished fourth on the money list and if you look up the University of Hartford graduate's career earnings, you'll find a lot more familiar names than his well behind him on the list that counts the most.
Still the fire burns inside Kelly, which is why he is still competing against men half his age. It's also why he was hot yesterday after following up an opening-round 64 with a pedestrian even-par 70 that reflected both the struggles with a newly altered golf swing and a pair of legs protesting too many rounds of golf this summer.
"Legs weren't under me today as well as they were yesterday," Kelly said as a partial explanation for finishing with three bogeys in the final four holes after a 1-under front side to put himself a shot back. "Had a real solid base and I was able to swing my club around me (Thursday). Today I was whipping it all over the place. I just did not hit the ball well.
"I'm tired. I'm not going to go to the range. I'm going to go watch a movie and see if I can rest a little bit and see if the old bones will work for two more days."
The home crowd would love it to happen. Although Kelly was born in Madison, Wis., where he played hockey as much as golf, he graduated college right down the road from the first tee in Hartford and has become as much a fixture at the Travelers as the red umbrella logo.
This is Kelly's 19th Travelers in 20 years with his best finish a tie for fourth in 2005. He would love nothing more than to best that mark on what will be his final appearance here before he goes off to the Champions Tour. That doesn't mean he won't be back. In fact, he's quite sure he will be if those old bones cooperate, but wouldn't it be something if he could leave TPC River Highlands with an unexpected win in his final summer as a PGA Tour regular?
It would, but if you're in Kelly's position this is no time for sentimentality. It's time for some rest and recovery, but unfortunately there will be too little of that. Because thundershowers are predicted, the tournament directors moved up tee times today to 7-9 a.m., playing in threesomes from both the first and 10th tees. That is a circumstance so unusual on tour that a week ago at the PGA Championship they risked a chaotic finish some felt might drag until Tuesday to avoid such pairings.
Normally, Kelly would have been able to sleep in. With four golfers ahead of him by a single stroke, he would have normally had a mid-afternoon tee time and a chance for a late breakfast. No chance of that now but Kelly has never been one to complain.
In fact, he was feeling blessed last night because, despite his disappointment at his ball striking, no one pulled away from him as he feared. At his age, you take your golfing blessings where you can find them.
"Very surprising," Kelly said of his position on the leaderboard. "I certainly thought it was going to be at least 10 (under). I didn't think it was playing very difficult."
It wasn't except for him. After missing four straight cuts, Kelly instituted a swing change three weeks ago with which he is still wrestling for control. Any change is difficult and takes time, but Kelly knows he doesn't have time. He and the old Washington Redskins coach George Allen agree on a basic philosophy: The future is now.
The change resulted in a decent T26 finish at the RBC Canadian Open two weeks ago and now here he sits 1 shot off the lead behind Marc Leishman, Russell Henley, Daniel Berger and Tyrone Van Aswegen, who all had subpar rounds yesterday. In a sense, so did Kelly, but not the kind he'd hoped for.
"There are just some issues that pop up," Kelly said. "It comes from the swing. It's not swinging poorly because all of a sudden I felt something. I get hurt from swinging bad and I was swinging bad today. I was off all day.
"I was missing shots that I don't normally miss. Still the same old problems. I get loose with my legs and my body flies all over the place. This is probably the worst day I've had with the (new) move. I didn't understand it until the 18th hole. It was painful to see how obvious it was. But I'll be back tomorrow. I'm not fine with how I finished but, hey, I'm fine with where I am."
Where Jerry Kelly will be when he tees off today is on home court with a friendly crowd behind him, with three others just 1 shot off the lead. Just think where he might be if his legs wake up and his swing settles down?
"There is no strategy," old Jerry Kelly said with the frank, unvarnished honesty of his Midwestern roots. "You just got to go beat everybody. That's all there is to it."
Simple enough . . . if his old bones get the message.
This article was written by Ron Borges from Boston Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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