Just when the assortment of injuries that shadowed Jerry Kelly from the end of 2018 into 2019 had finally abated, the Madison golfer was reminded again last June of the physical limitations of a guy in his 50s.
He won the American Family Insurance Championship. And then he let the celebration with caddie Eric Meller perhaps get the best of him.
"It felt really good in Madison," Kelly said of the knee and elbow injuries – the former triggered the latter – that slowed his start to the 2019 season and got a test when Kelly tried to chest-bump and high-five Meller after sinking the winning putt on the second hole of a playoff to beat Steve Stricker and Retief Goosen at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison. "And then I did the high-five and it sucked for another month. But it was worth it."
Indeed, as Kelly gets ready to start his 2020 season this week with a rare appearance on the PGA Tour at the Sony Open in Hawaii, he does so with positive thoughts from another strong 2019 season on the senior circuit.
Kelly won three times, most notably at University Ridge in his hometown event, and finished second in the Charles Schwab Cup standings behind good friend and former AmFam champion Scott McCarron. Kelly, 53, had 14 top-10 finishes and 17 top-25s among his 23 starts and, for the first time since turning 50 ahead of the 2017 season, begins a season as healthy as he has been since his twilight years as a regular on the PGA Tour.
"Once things got healthy, I think I played really well," said Kelly, who also won the Ally Challenge in Michigan in September and the SAS Championship in North Carolina in October. "It doesn't mean that it's an automatic that, if I'm healthy, I'm going to play great, either. But it's really nice to feel that way. It's easier to stay in a positive mindset."
Not that 2020 won't give him an abundance of reasons to stay positive.
His title defense at the AmFam Championship the first weekend in June is, of course, the one that he has highlighted. Kelly agreed that his love for Madison's popular event showed in his spirited playoff celebration with Meller.
"That was totally a Madison high-five," Kelly said. "If you look at the two wins after that, we kind of laugh – we barely touched hands. It was funny; the emotion wasn't anywhere near what Madison was. That was pretty special."
Serving as tournament host of the Cologuard Classic in Tucson – to be played Feb. 28 through March 1 at Omni Tucson National – remains a special week for Kelly, too. His relationship with Madison-based Exact Science, the event's sponsor, has inspired Kelly, who now makes his winter home in the Phoenix area, to keep growing what has become a popular early season stop.
"We just try and make it a really cool event," Kelly said. "We'll try and keep growing it. The (Tucson) Conquistadors do such a great job of running (it)."
There will be two changes to Kelly's routine this year.
His start this week – ahead of next week's PGA Tour Champions opener at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai – will likely be his only PGA Tour appearance in 2020. And Kelly, who has partnered with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the AT&T Pebble Beach (Calif.) Pro-Am, will skip that February event this year.
Still, Kelly hopes to run into Rodgers next month.
"We're coming back from Morocco (after the Saturday finish) and we land in Miami coming back and, hopefully, somebody's playing then," Kelly said with a chuckle, referring to Rodgers. "I'm hoping he's Super Bowl-bound."
The Morocco Champions event concludes Feb. 1 and Super Bowl LIV is Feb. 2 in Miami Gardens, Fla.
The Florida swing is absent one event as the Boca Raton Championship, which Kelly skipped each of his first three years on the senior tour to play at Pebble Beach with Rodgers, has been moved to late October. It is the second stop during the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs, replacing the Invesco QQQ Championship, which had been played in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the week before the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.
"I'm the only one who hasn't played that one," Kelly said.