Jerry Kelly’s victory in the American Family Insurance Championship on Sunday was an exceedingly popular one, even as it came at the expense of tournament host Steve Stricker.
Kelly and Stricker are residents of Madison, Wis., where the PGA Tour Champions event is played, on the University Ridge Golf Course, and were involved in a three-man playoff that also included Retief Goosen.
Stricker, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, bowed out on the first playoff hole with a three-putt bogey, and Kelly holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole to win.
It was the rarest of professional victories, a player winning what is tantamount to a home game. Twice, Kelly finished second in Milwaukee's PGA Tour event, in 1996 and 2006.
"It really is truly awesome," Kelly said. "Those [Greater Milwaukee Open] days, that first playoff was tough, and never getting it done, so this was really big for me. It's about friends and family, and to be able to do it in front of everybody, closest I ever came was Chicago, but this is pretty sweet. It makes me feel great to do this in front of my hometown fans and family."
Kelly, 52, acknowledged a comfort level playing in his hometown, one further boosted by the crowd support. After holing the winning putt, Kelly turned toward the crowd and took a bow, then walked off the green and embraced his mother, Lee, who for only the second time in his career was on hand to see him win .
“They’ve been fantastic,” he said on Saturday. “I appreciate on every single hole what they give me. It really feels great while I'm going forward. I feel like all the love that they can give me, it’s working.”
The victory was the fourth of Kelly’s senior career, but first in a season spent mostly in contention. In his previous three starts, he finished fifth, third and tied for seventh, with the U.S. Senior Open on deck. He has seven top 10s in 11 starts this year.
The playoff was set up by Kelly bogeying the 18th hole in regulation and both Stricker and Goosen missing eight-foot birdie putts.
Kelly and Goosen each shot final-round six-under par 66s to finish at 15-under 201. Stricker closed with a five-under 67 and a 201 total. Steve Flesch, the 36-hole leader, shot a one-over 73 and finished 12th.
For Goosen, a South African who two weeks ago was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, the T-2 was the best finish in his 10th start in this his rookie season on the PGA Tour Champions.