2021 SCHWAB CUP | Day 1 | Jerry Kelly

Madison's Jerry Kelly tees off during Day 1 of the 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix CC.

PHOENIX — There was a void in Jerry Kelly's gallery Thursday during the first round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, which meant a piece of the Madison golfer's heart might have been someplace other than at Phoenix Country Club even if his head was clearly in the game from start to finish.

Kelly teed off in the final event of the mammoth 2020-21 PGA Tour wraparound season this week without wife Carol here to cheer him on. She was at the couple's nearby winter home recovering from surgery to remove her right kidney after doctors found a cancerous mass was as big as the kidney itself. 

The surgery was three weeks ago, opposite the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Virginia, prompting Jerry Kelly to withdraw from the PGA Tour Champions playoff opener. Kelly, who spent seven weeks atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings earlier in the season, still had a mathematical chance of catching No. 1. Bernhard Langer entering last week's Timber Tech Championship in Florida, but that vanished after he shot 79-68-76 and finished 44th out of 46 golfers.

"It's so much easier knowing I'm going to go (home to) see her, rather than being on the road and going back to my hotel," Kelly said after he birdied the 18th hole to shoot 4-under-par 67 and move within two strokes of co-leaders Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Kirk Triplett after 18 holes of the 72-hole season finale. "This is fine. It's been really hard leaving her and flying somewhere else ... but she wanted me to get playing and see what I could do."

Kelly was near-perfect off the tee and into the greens on a near-perfect day in the valley of the sun.

He hit 13 of 14 fairways (T-1 in the 35-player field) and 16 of 18 greens (T-2) in a bogey-free round. Kelly made birdies at Nos. 1, 5, 10 and 18, burning the lip on a handful of other birdie putts and nearly holing his chip shot from just off the 17th green before rolling in a 20-footer for birdie on the final hole.

"I'm working on something with the putter and it was coming toward the end," Kelly said. "I didn't know how to use it in competition. I learned how (Thursday) and the last three or four putts were really good."

Then again, a few missed putts are nothing to get too worked up about after his wife's recent health scare. Kelly described it as a "head turner" when doctors found a cancerous mass on his wife's kidney. "They knew right away it was cancer," he said. "They didn't even do a biopsy. It was just as big as her kidney."

Kelly said doctors told them that the form of cancer they found on Carol's kidney is rare among adults, will not require radiation or chemotherapy and has a high survival rate. "She has a better chance of dying in the car with me than she does of cancer," Jerry Kelly joked in one breath Thursday before admitting "it's still really scary" in the next.

Indeed, this is his wife's second bout with cancer. Kelly said Carol previously had Stage 3 melanoma in her leg and doctors told them the two cancers "kind of run in the same circles." 

However, Kelly was buoyed by the hope his wife, saying she is feeling well enough to entertain the idea of making an appearance this weekend at Phoenix CC, might turn out to see some familiar faces and enjoy what is supposed to be a spectacular weather weekend. He admitted it wasn't the same Thursday without his wife of 27 years come Jan. 7, but — with son Cooper and swing coach Jim Schuman (Carol's brother) in the gallery — it was as close to normal as a day at the office has felt in awhile.

"It's still golf; it's still a four-letter word and it still (ticks) me off," Kelly said. "But afterwards (when) I come back to her, I'm not going to be feeling as sorry for myself at that point."

PGA Tour Champions: Madison's Jerry Kelly at Charles Schwab Cup Championship | First-round results (Phoenix CC-Phoenix, Ariz.)

Pos. Player Total Thru Today R1 R2 R3 R4 Score
Wisconsin leaderboard
T9 Jerry Kelly -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
Full leaderboard
T1 Kirk Triplett -6 F -6 65 -- -- -- 65
T1 Phil Mickelson -6 F -6 65 -- -- -- 65
T1 Jim Furyk -6 F -6 65 -- -- -- 65
T4 Brandt Jobe -5 F -5 66 -- -- -- 66
T4 Steven Alker -5 F -5 66 -- -- -- 66
T4 Fred Couples -5 F -5 66 -- -- -- 66
T4 K.J. Choi -5 F -5 66 -- -- -- 66
T4 David Toms -5 F -5 66 -- -- -- 66
T9 Dicky Pride -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
T9 Wes Short, Jr. -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
T9 Brett Quigley -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
T9 Stephen Ames -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
T9 Scott Parel -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
T9 Jerry Kelly -4 F -4 67 -- -- -- 67
T15 Kenny Perry -3 F -3 68 -- -- -- 68
T15 Doug Barron -3 F -3 68 -- -- -- 68
T15 Darren Clarke -3 F -3 68 -- -- -- 68
T15 Mike Weir -3 F -3 68 -- -- -- 68
T15 Ernie Els -3 F -3 68 -- -- -- 68
T15 Bernhard Langer -3 F -3 68 -- -- -- 68
T21 Colin Montgomerie -2 F -2 69 -- -- -- 69
T21 Gene Sauers -2 F -2 69 -- -- -- 69
T21 Vijay Singh -2 F -2 69 -- -- -- 69
T21 Paul Broadhurst -2 F -2 69 -- -- -- 69
T21 Rod Pampling -2 F -2 69 -- -- -- 69
T21 Steve Flesch -2 F -2 69 -- -- -- 69
T27 Paul Goydos -1 F -1 70 -- -- -- 70
T27 Glen Day -1 F -1 70 -- -- -- 70
T27 Robert Karlsson -1 F -1 70 -- -- -- 70
T27 Retief Goosen -1 F -1 70 -- -- -- 70
T27 Miguel Angel Jiménez -1 F -1 70 -- -- -- 70
T32 Woody Austin E F E 71 -- -- -- 71
T32 Alex Cejka E F E 71 -- -- -- 71
T34 Tim Petrovic 1 F 1 72 -- -- -- 72
T34 Kevin Sutherland 1 F 1 72 -- -- -- 72

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