PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Jerry Kelly eager for another crack at THE PLAYERS
March 09, 2021
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- March 09, 2021
- Jerry Kelly earned a spot in THE PLAYERS by winning the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS. (Getty Images)
The only person in the field with more starts at this week’s THE PLAYERS Championship than Jerry Kelly is Phil Mickelson.
Kelly is making his 23rd PLAYERS appearance. It’s No. 27 for Lefty.
Kelly, 54, played his way into the field in August with a victory at the PGA TOUR Champions Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. The biggest perk of the victory besides a sizable winner’s check – and the first major of Kelly’s career – is an automatic invite to TPC Sawgrass for THE PLAYERS.
“You just kind of draw off your past here,” Kelly said in anticipation of his first crack at the Pete Dye Stadium Course since a missed cut in 2017. “I’ve played it so many times. It’s nice to see it back in March. The weather is tough, but you kinda hope it is. I should be careful what I ask for. I don’t hit it as long as I used to.
“Even though it’s not a bomber’s course, it can still play pretty tough. But I feel good about going back there. I really do.”
Kelly’s long history at TPC Sawgrass includes 12 made cuts and five top-20 finishes. As recently as 2015 and ’16 he made the top 20. His best result was a solo fourth in 2001 in which he led entering the final round and played in the final pairing with Tiger Woods. Woods won his first PLAYERS with a final-round 67.
It’s a tournament Kelly remembers well.
“To go back and play one of the biggest tournaments we have on the PGA TOUR … I’m extremely blessed and lucky to do that at 54,” Kelly said. “THE PLAYERS has always been the players’ major, and we understand what it takes to win there. I came close against that Tiger man. ‘Better than most’ year. 20th anniversary. I’ve seen that putt he made on me quite a few times. I’ll be thinking of him quite a bit when I’m there, too.
“We heard that roar (Kelly was on the 14th hole on Saturday when Woods made the long, twisting birdie putt on the island green at 17 memorialized by NBC’s Gary Koch repeating the phrase “that’s better than most”). One of those many times with him and you’re like, ‘Really? OK. Nice job. Golf clap.’ He did that a lot to us. He really did. I can smile about it now. I wasn’t then.”
Kelly sits sixth in the PGA TOUR Champions Schwab Cup standings in this elongated, COVID-interrupted, wraparound season, thanks in large part to his win at Bridgestone. He’s off to a great start through the two events played on Champions so far in 2021 – a solo third at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai and a T6 at the Cologuard Classic. He also has played in two PGA TOUR events, including a made cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii, the only other event Kelly has played as many times as The PLAYERS Championship.
THE PLAYERS began offering an invite to the winner of the SENIOR PLAYERS in 2007. Only one has made the cut – Mark O’Meara in 2011.
Can Kelly be next?
“Even when I was in the midst of my career, I thought too much about that cut,” Kelly said. “You come in thinking about winning. But I was always a guy who hovered around the cut and then would tear it up on the weekend trying to get to the top 10. That place (TPC Sawgrass), I’ve come out of the gates well. I’d like to come out of the gates well and scare the place a little bit. … It’s in there for me to play well there. It hasn’t been elongated to impossibility for me. It’s a placement golf course, and that bodes well for me.
“You always want that second major. I’m not a player who shows up to make a cut. I’m there to win a golf tournament every single week. I got myself too hyped up for regular-tour majors. My job this week is to relax and have fun. Still take adrenaline into this tournament but not put too much pressure on myself. Keep it light and let good things happen.”