Jerry Kelly

Jerry Kelly

HONOLULU, Hawaii -- Jerry Kelly was reminiscing the other day about one of the defining characteristics that has allowed the Madison native to enjoy 20-plus years on the PGA Tour.

“When they say a grinder, I was a grinder,” Kelly told reporters Tuesday ahead of his 21st career appearance in the Sony Open in Hawaii. “I was fighting for my job every, single year.”

Kelly, now 51, has taken his fight to the PGA Tour Champions for the most part. However, the 2002 champion thought enough of the season’s first full-field event at Waialae CC -- not to mention his chances of winning it -- that he wrote for a sponsor’s exemption, a career first.

After 18 holes, that move appears to have paid off.

Kelly birdied three holes in a row on the front nine and parred the last eight holes on the back to finish off a 4-under-par 66. That left him in a tie for 11th place, three shots behind leaders Chris Kirk and Zach Johnson while four other golfers were another shot back after opening 64s.

That’s not too shabby for a guy who has missed five straight cuts in individual events on the PGA Tour dating to October of 2016, when he finished tied for 35th at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Of course, he was also the only rookie to win on the PGA Tour Champions during 2017 (twice, in fact) and is likely to be named the senior circuit’s rookie of the year.

“If I’m going to give myself three or four shots a year, I’m not going to mess around,” Kelly said after opening with birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 that helped him make the turn in 3-under 32 before another birdie at No. 10 and eight straight pars capped a round that put him in the hunt.

Meanwhile, Middleton native Jon Turcott -- now a regular caddie on the PGA Tour -- is also in the hunt, per say. He is on the bag of Matt Every, who opened with 65 and is tied for seventh.

Menomonee Falls' Mark Wilson, another past champion of this event, opened with a 73.