PHOENIX — Thirty-six starts over two years. Fifteen top-10 finishes. One major championship. One successful title defense (in his hometown, no less).
And many, many other highs and lows — on and off the golf course — during the longest "season" in the history of the PGA Tour Champions.
As the sun set Sunday on the senior circuit's unprecedented 2020-21 wraparound season, however, it was too soon for the Jerry Kelly to fully wrap his mind around all he had accomplished over the previous 23 months. The Madison golfer was still trying to process the final 18 holes in that body of work, an even-par 71 in the final round of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship that began with the promise of a birdie on No. 1 and ended with the solace of another birdie on No. 18, but offered little in between to help catapult Kelly into one of the most compelling finishes in the 32-year history of this season-ending event.
Phil Mickelson, 51, who went to college and met his wife Amy at nearby Arizona State, birdied three of his last four holes to shoot a 6-under 65 and win the tournament title with a 19-under 265, one shot ahead of Australian Steven Alker. It marks Mickelson's fourth win in six career starts on the PGA Tour Champions, matching Jack Nicklaus' 1991 mark for fewest starts needed to secure four victories.
Bernhard Langer, 64, shot a final-round 69 and held off Jim Furyk to win the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points competition with 3,655,999 — 156,477 ahead of Furyk. It marks the sixth time Langer has won the Charles Schwab Cup, a trophy no other golfer has hoisted more than twice.
Charles Schwab Cup winners
|2020-21||Bernhard Langer (6)|
|2018||Bernhard Langer (6)|
|2016||Bernhard Langer (4)|
|2015||Bernhard Langer (3)|
|2014||Bernhard Langer (2)|
|2012||Tom Lehman (2)|
|2009||Loren Roberts (2)|
|2008||Jay Haas (2)|
|2005||Tom Watson (2)|
|2004||Hale Irwin (2)|
Kelly, who will turn 55 next Tuesday, held onto the No. 5 spot in the final Charles Schwab Cup standings with his T-24 finish, his 25th top-25 showing during the 2020-21 wrap-around season. It took him five starts in 2020 to record his first top-10 finish — a T-8 at The Ally Challenge following a five-month shutdown of the PGA Tour Champions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — and he finished outside of the top 10 in each of his final five starts to close out the 2021 portion of the schedule.
"It started bad and it finished bad," Kelly said. "I did a lot of good things in between. But now I've got to do what I always do and reassess and start working (toward 2022) in about two days."
The obvious highlights in the unique wrap-around season were his victory at the 2020 Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, the only major championship contested during 2020 due to the pandemic, and his successful title defense at the 2021 American Family Insurance Championship in Madison. A smile came to his face Sunday when he was reminded of the immense Kelly family photo behind the 18th green at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison following the AmFam Championship trophy ceremony.
"Those (two victories) and having (wife Carol) come out back out (Saturday)," said Kelly, whose wife followed up Saturday's stroll through the front nine — three weeks after having a cancerous right kidney removed — by walking the back nine with son Cooper Sunday so they could be among the first ones to greet him and celebrate the end of another successful season on the senior circuit.
"Those are about the three best moments of the two years, no question."
When Kelly was reminded that Sunday's finale also closed the curtain on his fifth year on the PGA Tour Champions, he joked that it "feels like 10 years," but admitted it "has gone by in a hurry."
In those five years, Kelly has never finished worse than seventh in the Charles Schwab Cup standings, recording 50 top-10 finishes in 103 starts. "I keep on losing that side of 50 percent; I'd like to get it back," he deadpanned.
That might explain why Kelly will start looking forward to next year even before the Thanksgiving turkey is carved or the Christmas presents are opened.
"I'm just trying to fight for everything I can get," said Kelly, who plans to start 2022 with a PGA Tour cameo at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January before teeing it up in the PGA Tour Champions opener at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship Jan. 17-22 at Hualalai. "I'm getting older. I feel it. But I just have to ward off the injuries and I'll be OK."