NEWPORT BEACH, California -- The poa annua greens at Newport Beach CC tested Jerry Kelly's patience most of the afternoon Friday, as they did just about everybody in the field at the PGA Tour Champions Toshiba Classic.
And when his birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th hole went charging by the hole just far enough for the Madison golfer to miss the putt for par coming back? Frustration reached a boiling point for Kelly, the Charles Schwab Cup points leader who was clearly irritated at ending his round with a bogey.
His opening-round 70 left him in a seven-way tie for 24th place with the likes of Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jiménez — six shots behind first-round leader Tom Pernice Jr., who played bogey-free golf in shooting his 7-under 64 to lead by three. Kelly was three shots out of a seven-way tie for second.
"Obviously, the putting," Kelly said, when asked why it was no day on the beach for the 78 golfers in the field on the seemingly benign 6,584-yard layout a veritable pitching wedge from the Pacific Ocean. "The greens are difficult; it's poa annua (grass). They're going all over the place. I hit good putts that didn't go in. I finally hit a bad putt (on No. 18) and paid for it."
Indeed, these were not chamber-of-commerce conditions a visitor from Wisconsin expects in Los Angeles. It was cool. It was breezy. Rain is in the forecast for the next 24 to 36 hours, which might soften the greens but it won't do anything minimize the bounce in them, typical of poa annua.
"You just have to accept that they may bounce or they may not," said Pernice, who got used to the putting surfaces while in college at UCLA. "It's not different than playing on bent (grass) that's bumpy. Everyone complains about them all the time, but they're just difficult. That's just the way it is."
To his credit, Kelly shouldered much of the blame for not positioning himself closer to the lead. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, but only 11 of 18 greens and his 28 putts were more a reflection of his scrambling proficiency — or grinding prowess — than any command of the greens with a putter in his hand.
"I just didn't hit it close enough," Kelly said. "I just didn't hit my wedges close enough or spin 'em correctly. As I told (wife Carol) earlier in the week, it's an easy hard course. That's just the way it is. Hit it like (crap) and it's going to be hard. If you hit it good, putt it good, it's going to be easy. "
All things considered, Kelly made it look as easy as anyone on the front nine. He birdied Nos. 2 and 6 to climb into the top 10 before a bogey at No. 7 knocked him back. Six pars later, he returned to the top 15 with a birdie at No. 14, but his efforts to climb finish Day 1 inside the top 10 were foiled by his poor third shot out of a bunker about 20 yards short of the 18th green, leaving the ball on the fringe, which is where his putting adventures began.
Then again, the greens were a mystery to him much of the day.
In fact, they revealed little on the par-4 16th whole where Kelly and playing partner Blaine McCallister, who is subbing for defending American Family Insurance Championship winner Fred Couples (back), had essentially the same 10-foot putt. Kelly's broke left; McCallister's stayed out to the right.
"That's poa annua," Kelly said. "That's why I love it so much."
On the next green, a myriad of undulations at the end of a 185-yard par-3, Kelly found himself putting up a steep ridge and barely got the ball to stay on the upper tier with his first putt. But he jammed the next one into the back of the cup from about 8 feet away, an aggressive putting strategy he decided to employ with his putt from the fringe on the last hole only to have it backfire.
"I don't know if it changes my game plan," Kelly said, when asked if his wild ride on the greens on Day 1 might alter his thinking the final two days of his debut in this event, which was not played in 2017 after it was announced the event was moving from October to March. "You're just wondering what the ball is going to do. These guys have all played this course numerous times. That makes a huge difference. I mean I'm thinking I know where to hit it, but I'm not really sure so then I inch it toward the hole and the next thing you know it's 20 feet left. I did not trust 'if I land it here, it's going to be close.'"