Jerry Kelly: A look at the man behind the Zurich Classic champion

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Jerry KellyIn this day of money lists, records, rankings, strength of field, I went to cover the media day at Drago’s Restaurant at the New Orleans Hilton to get to know the person, our champion Jerry Kelly.

What got my attention last year at the awards presentation on the 18th green, in the background, I noticed a person in blue jeans, tennis shoes, polo shirt (not tucked in) and a baseball cap. This person was Steve Stricker, presently the #2 ranked golfer in the world. I am sure not too many people noticed.

On Monday, I found out that they both live in Madison, Wisconsin, and their children carpool together and their families are close. Jerry said, “We are always there for each other.”

Jerry is the volunteer assistant golf coach for the University of Wisconsin Golf Team. Last year he gave a lot of credit for his success to the coach, Jim Schuman, who also happens to be Jerry’s wife Carol’s brother. Coach Schuman is a PGA Member, University of Florida All-American and winner of the Wisconsin Open twice.

The ten member Wisconsin Badger team consists of eight student athletes from Wisconsin and that speaks volumes for developing in state talent. Since Jerry lives in Madison, he works with the team often and likes to just hang out.

Jerry cares about people who serve and need assistance. In 2006, he went to the Persian Gulf to be with our troops and in 2008 he started the PGA Tour Flood Relief for the victims of the midwest floods.

If his game at times appears aggressive, it may be because he was a high school all-city hockey player.

While the press conference was winding down and the media had left, Jerry and a few people were hanging around. Yes, he really, really, does like the Drago’s grilled oysters and that was why he was still there.

I wanted to ask this question but I was not going to do it in front of the New Orleans’ media elite, “Jerry, did you know Chris Farley?” I knew Chris was from Madison and about Jerry’s age. I had my Lakewood name tag on and he said, “Jimmy, we grew up together five houses apart. My wife and Chris went to the same Catholic high school together (a cast mate at Second City said that Chris never missed Mass) and I went to public high school. We played many rounds of golf together in junior tournaments.”

Chris graduated from Marquette in theater. When he started comedy at the ARK Improvisational Theater in Madison, Jerry said that Chris would invite them all down to be in the front row to be sure he got the laughs. When Chris moved on to the Second City Improvisational Theater in Chicago where many Saturday Night Live stars got their start, Chris made sure they had front row seats.

We started talking about one of my favorite movies, “Tommy Boy.” Jerry said, “Chris was like Tommy Boy in real life, always in that character.”

In the scene where he was at the pool and walked past this Bo Derek 10 type, he said “Do you know where the weight room is? I will check it out.” If you can picture Chris in that muscular walk with his physique, Jerry acted out the walk in the Hilton. He said that Chris did this all the time.

Sadly, we talked about right before Chris died in December of 1997. Jerry saw Chris in December in Madison and discussed how he wanted him to get the rehab he needed; he was not the only one who tried. Jerry still keeps in touch with Chris’ brothers.

“You know, I was going to get him to play in the AT&T Pro-Am. He was a really good golfer. He would have been the next Bill Murray.” Chris would have loved it. Chris Farley was my favorite comedic actor, and I can only imagine what could have been.

You go to media day wanting to get to know the person behind the title, 2009 Zurich Classic Champion. I can say that I know Jerry Kelly a little more than I ever imagined, and I left the New Orleans Hilton impressed.

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