NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Jerry Kelly emerged from the scoring tent Friday at Newport Beach Country Club looking dazed and defeated after one of the more peculiar days during his three-plus years on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 53-year-old Madison golfer began the first round of the Hoag Classic by making three consecutive birdies and seemed destined to break out of his first prolonged slump since turning 50. Unfortunately for Kelly, he went on to make six bogeys before recording his fourth birdie – getting up-and-down from a gnarly greenside lie with a mighty flop shot to within a foot on No. 18 – and ended up in a tie for 62nd after a 2-over-par 73.
This madness occurred on the same day Canadian David Morland IV made 10 birdies in a bogey-free 61 that left him with a two-stroke lead over Ken Duke and 2018 American Family Insurance Championship winner Scott McCarron.
It was Morland's first start on the senior circuit since September and just his fourth since turning 50 last April. He played on the PGA Tour off and on for more than a decade before a 2011 car accident led to back and neck surgeries and, for nearly eight years, a competitive hiatus from the game. Morland earned a spot in this week's 78-player field after shooting 33 on the front nine at Goose Creek Golf Club in Jurupa Valley in Tuesday's open qualifier and winning a scorecard playoff over three others for the last of two spots among those who finished the front before nearby wildfires forced an evacuation of the course.
"It was the craziest thing," Morland said. "I've got video. We were on the 18th hole (at Goose Creek) ... and the chopper was picking up water (from a pond) right in front of us and dropping it on the fire. The flames looked about 20 to 30 feet and they said you've got to evacuate the property."
Kelly looked ready to evacuate the property Friday at Newport Beach CC. Instead, he opted for a little father-son time on the practice green because that part of his game needed the work and, quite frankly, Cooper Kelly suddenly has the time to lend a hand and a budding interest in the game, enough to offer an opinion or two to his dad related to his short game.
Cooper Kelly, 21, a junior at the University of Colorado, was set to spend the semester on a study-abroad program in Italy. He arrived in Florence at the end of January and said he felt as if he had no sooner unpacked his belongings than concerns over the coronavirus prompted Colorado to order its students home.
"We did one (activity) out in Bologna and got a notification that some of the coronavirus stuff was about 50 to 100 miles north of that so they called us back," the younger Kelly, a psychology major, said Friday. "Syracuse and a couple of other schools got pulled out. Right after that, we got pulled out.
"With the sheer number of emails we got the first three days (he was there), it didn't look very good. Colorado was pretty understanding of the whole situation. They listened to the Italians, who weren't too worried about it so we stayed longer than most people. At the end of it all, it's a better look if everyone leaves so we couldn't stay."
His plan now is to finish online the coursework that he was scheduled to take in Florence. He said he will likely do so while traveling with his parents on the PGA Tour Champions, when they are not at their winter home in Phoenix.
It will mark his first extended time on the road watching his father compete since before high school. Jerry Kelly said his son, an only child, chose baseball over golf growing up because Cooper Kelly saw the latter as "a solitary sport and he was drawn to the locker room."
An appreciation for golf, however, began to develop after Cooper Kelly graduated high school from Madison Edgewood and left for Boulder. Cooper Kelly has started to play more with his father and his uncle, Jim Schuman, a charter member of what is now the Korn Ferry Tour and a long-time teaching professional in Wisconsin and Arizona, not to mention the reigning Wisconsin PGA player and senior player of the year.
"I play a lot with my dad and Jim," Cooper Kelly said. "Jim has honestly helped me a lot with my swing. I was dialed in at school and I lost it when I had finals and stuff like that. It takes up a lot of time and you don't play. He's helped whenever I've gone and played with those two. I've played with him in Arizona. I've played with him in Hawaii.
"I've played a lot more than I ever have. I'm getting there."
While admitting the idea of playing competitive golf is in the back of his mind, Cooper Kelly's chief focus after the first round of the Hoag Classic was helping his dad figure out what went wrong after his sizzling start. Jerry Kelly, who finished second to McCarron in the 2019 Charles Schwab Cup points race, came to southern California in 37th place in the 2020 standings having broken 70 just three times in his first 12 starts with his best finish a tie for 22nd.
"I know he's having a rough time chipping," Cooper Kelly said. "I can drill into him a little bit with his chipping. All in all, it's just about staying after it, getting out on the range and dialing it in. He knows it, too. Whatever I say is just going to be adding on to what he's been thinking the last 15 holes."
Golf has always been a family affair for the Kelly family, but never quite like this.
And as much as Jerry Kelly wanted to drop-kick his putter across the Pacific Coast Highway toward the ocean, he knew he was better off taking it to the practice green. He also knew that he had a willing helper in son Cooper, whose genuine interest in the game put the hint of a smile on his dad's face Friday as he spoke to exactly what that means.
"Oh, yeah; he likes it a lot," Jerry Kelly said. "He likes hitting it 30 or 40 yards past me. He's a great putter. I'll look forward to playing with him next week (at home in Phoenix) and learning something from him."