For Kelly, it's hip to be in contention
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Less than two years ago, Troy Kelly was recovering from hip-replacement surgery.
Today, he'll be teeing it up in the final group at the Greenbrier Classic, seeking his first PGA Tour victory and by far his biggest pro paycheck.
Not a bad deal for the 33-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., and a former high school all-league basketball player.
Kelly begins the final round today in second place behind reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, and their pairing presents a real dichotomy in golf spikes.
Simpson, after all, stands fifth in the World Golf Ranking, and Kelly 464th.
"It will be a different stage tomorrow,'' said Kelly, who fired an 8-under 62 Saturday at Old White TPC to match the tournament's best round of the week. "It will be a good experience for me, and we'll see what it feels like.''
Kelly is a virtual unknown on the PGA Tour, having survived the cut in only 10 of 33 previous tournaments and winning just over $121,000 for his career. Today, with his brother Ryan serving as his caddie, he takes aim at the Greenbrier Classic's top prize of $1.098 million.
"I played out here [on the PGA Tour] in 2009,'' Kelly said, "and I think I made three cuts out of 17 events. And I didn't play any event on the Nationwide, so I was just kind of thrown into the sharks, you know, and was not very comfortable obviously.
"But the last couple years out there have been good, and last year I got into contention sometimes and had some success.''
Undoubtedly, part of Kelly's problem in 2009 stemmed from his health. After limping through 10 events on the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) in 2010, Kelly finally had his condition checked and required surgery to replace an arthritic hip in September of 2010.
"I just kept fighting through it for about two years,'' he said. "[In 2010], I was going through practice rounds and I would have to stop just because I couldn't walk. It got so bad that I finally went and had it looked at and found out what it was. It was essentially arthritis - it was just bone on bone.''
Kelly began his recovery slowly, because he knew it was going to take time. Seven months following surgery, he returned to tournament golf.
"It took probably about a year,'' he said, "to where all the muscle was actually strengthened back up where I could feel normal again.''
Last year on the Nationwide Tour, Kelly started out on a partial medical exemption, needing five tournaments to make $13,000 and earn conditional status. He not only did that, but finished in that proving-ground tour's top 25 for the season, giving him a PGA Tour card for 2012.
This year, his successes have been slim. He's recorded no top-10 finishes, his best effort was a tie for 37th in the Mayakoba Golf Classic and his top payday was $16,140 for his tie for 47th in the Shell Houston Classic.
Today, however, he's gunning for much more.
While golf icons such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failed to make the cut at Old White this week, Kelly and a few other PGA Tour lesser-known players - Ken Duke, J.B Holmes, Charlie Beljan and Ted Potter Jr. - hope to cash in.
"It's hard for me to believe those guys missed the cut,'' Kelly said of Woods and Mickelson. "They never do, you know? But I think just having the guys that haven't been in this position, be around them, kind of talk and kind of go through the same thing, I think it will be good. It will be nice to have some guys that are feeling like I am out there tomorrow.''
Kelly, built like a football linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, was one of the best golfers to play at the University of Washington, tying for second in the NCAA Championship as a freshman in 1999.
But the competitive career for Kelly, son of a golf pro, actually began at the age of 6 when he was the youngest player to participate in Washington State Junior Golf Association tournaments, normally reserved for golfers 8 and older. His first win came as a 7-year-old and he was a WJGA state champion at ages 11 and 13.
Golf was only one of Kelly's sporting loves growing up. The other was basketball.
"I played six months of golf and six months of basketball,'' Kelly said. "The weather up there is not conducive for golf all the time. It's cold up there, man. It's 40 degrees and rainy and cold. So it was mostly a summer thing for me.
"I think as a kid, you've got to do some other things. I think you've got to find out what you like and if you overdo it at times, I think you can get burned out. I think it was kind of a good break for me. I knew guys were leaving [for golf] and going to Arizona as juniors, and by the time they got to college, they didn't want to play any more. They got burnt out.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.