Organizers of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship didn’t need to use a hard sell to get Jerry Kelly to sign on for this week’s event.
With a history of solid showings at Akron’s Firestone Country Club, Kelly wasn’t just eager to get into the field, he was looking to preserve the tournament for the future.
During Wednesday’s pro-am event, Kelly was pushing sponsors to extend their deal at Firestone, talking up the course and the conditions.
“It’s a treat. I feel really lucky we are able to play this golf course at this stage. It’s a fantastic golf course,” he said. “I played with the Bridgestone guys yesterday, and I was like, ‘Come on, sign for another five years out for this one, too.’ I love coming back here.”
Kelly was talking on Thursday, too, but with his play. Despite a pair of bogeys after the turn, he righted the ship and finished with a 68, good enough to end the day atop the leaderboard, tied with Miguel Angel Jiménez, Steve Stricker, Rod Pampling and Wes Short, Jr.
In the past, Kelly played four events at Firestone during its World Golf Championship days. Kelly made all four cuts, finishing as high as 11th, and amassing over a quarter-million dollars.
“I had my chances with good finishes, but Tiger won every time,” Kelly joked on Thursday. “So that’s all there was to it.”
Kelly is still seeking his first major championship victory, but this is the second time he’s led after the opening round in a major. The first was the 2018 U.S. Senior Open Championship when he finished T-2.
But his game is where he wants it to be — he played well at the PGA Tour’s Workday Charity Open in Columbus, overcoming an opening-round 75 to finish T-22, then finished T-7 at the Champions Tour restart in Flint, Michigan, last week. That’s in contrast to how he entered the pandemic break, struggling to get a handle on new irons and dealing with nagging injuries.
He said a bad back forced him to the sidelines for a few weeks, and he’s still seeking post-round treatments, but it didn’t hamper his play.
“I felt better today. Yesterday was rough, working with the guys in the trailer, and they really got me unstuck,” Kelly said. “So, I’m not going to the range, I’m going right to the trailer and see if I can stay unstuck all week.
“And then I can build off of that. But I couldn’t do what I did today yesterday, so it was nice.”