Jerry Kelly has it figured out

You know those people you meet who just seem to be totally comfortable in their own skin? Jerry Kelly is one of those guys.

I chatted with him about winning the American Family Insurance event on the Champions Tour, his mom’s newfound stardom, being a voice for colon cancer screening, and even a little hockey talk. At every turn, he was insightful, engaging, and humble.

In a world where pro athletes are constantly trying to puff themselves up, Jerry Kelly quietly goes about his business of being a world-class golfer who seems to have figured it all out.

Winning the American Family Insurance Championship in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin a couple weeks ago feels like it could lead to a mayoral run. To call Kelly a popular winner is a grand understatement. The only potential speed bump is that his own Mom might be the most popular Kelly in Madison after that special week.

In a video that has now gone super-viral, Kelly’s Mom, Lee, is seen indulging in her motherly ritual to help her boy climb the leaderboard.

She’s planting feathers to grow birdies,” he explains. “It makes perfect sense,” he adds with a knowing laugh.

“She came up with it somewhere and it’s been (going on) a while. And the funny thing is she doesn’t even have to be there. I’m walking down the fairway and I’m like, ‘Hi, Mom’,” he pantomimes spotting a random feather on the course. “You know, there’s a feather right there and I’m like, alright, you just put a feather right there for me. I’m ready to go.”

You might think having his Mom planting feathers around the course, dozens of friends and family asking for passes, and the hometown crowd eagerly anticipating every shot would make for a hectic week.

Not so. Jerry Kelly loved every second of it.

“The funny thing is, I like the distractions,” Kelly admits. “I enjoy getting tickets for everybody, going through the hassle of finding people extra parking passes, what are you going to do for dinner, it’s just kind of constant when it’s in your hometown,” he explains.

“That will get some people out of their element. But that’s kind of my element. Just being all over the place, being scattered, having different stuff to do – the more I have to do, the less I have to think about golf. And I get jacked up when I think about golf,” Kelly explains.

“For me, there’s almost less pressure, and then you’ve got so many people rooting for you you can’t help but take the good energy.”

Kelly attributes part of his success on the Champions Tour to still feeling the nerves and excitement he experienced on the regular PGA Tour. Getting that jolt of adrenaline tells him he still enjoys the competition, spurring him on to practice and compete at the highest levels.

“I was exempt when I turned 50 on the regular Tour and I didn’t know which Tour to play. I’m like, alright, I’m going to go to the first Champions Tour event and if it gets me going, this is probably the place for me.”

What Kelly noticed at that event was that the familiar faces, the competition, and the energy he felt on the regular Tour was still very much present on the Champions circuit.

“I remember showing up at Naples and I was trying to get that tee in the ground,” he illustrates with a shaky hand. “OK! I’m feeling pretty good right now.”

“I enjoy this Tour. It’s competitive, the guys are great, it’s the old-time hockey game, you know? It’s a different game. We’re playing some of the old courses we used to play on the PGA Tour.”

(Could we pause a moment and recognize how awesome it is that Jerry Kelly just dropped a SlapShot movie reference?)

With a Top-50 all-time Money List exemption on the Tour this year, Kelly still has visions of winning on Tour and making it back to Augusta. Despite the ever-lengthening yardages on PGA Tour courses, there are still some tracks where Kelly believes he can not only compete, but win.

“If there’s any place I can still win if I play my best golf, I can still win at Waialae,” Kelly notes.

“There’re very few courses I can say that about on the PGA Tour,” he concedes. “You know, maybe a Harbour Town, a Colonial. There’s just some places where my driver is good enough and I know the rest of my game is good enough.”

But that’s not the only reason Kelly is finding happiness and fulfillment as a professional golfer. We talked about his involvement with colon cancer company Cologuard and how he’s become an advocate for early screening.

It started with a serendipitous meeting on an airplane with the CEO of Cologuard, a friend of Kelly’s, who was traveling to attend the funeral of a family member who had just succumbed to the disease.

Kelly told the executive, “Put it (Cologuard) on my collar and let’s just get the word out. He was like, ‘You’d do that?’ I was like, absolutely.”

That’s apparently how Jerry Kelly rolls. You need a hand, he’s there to give it. He’s also involved with the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison and the Naval Special Warfare Foundation. And he’s happy to take on more.

“There’s so many things we like to get involved with and like to do. We’re trying to help as many people as we possibly can. If you have anything for me, bring it to me – trust me – everything resonates with me. My family just loves helping people … it’s important for us.”

Jerry Kelly has had – and is still having – a professional career most young pros would sign-up for in a heartbeat. He’s a multiple winner on both the PGA and Champions Tour, he’s #45 on the all-time career money list, he just won his hometown Tour stop, he’s successfully spreading the message about colon cancer screening, and his mom is still his biggest fan.

Those are plenty enough reasons to feel good about yourself. It might make some a little too proud.

Not Jerry Kelly.

He’s the hometown kid who made good and can’t seem to be more humbled by it. His success doesn’t just fuel his desire for more wins, it just creates more opportunities for him to show his appreciation to his city, his fans, and the causes that impact the lives of people he may never even meet.

That’s a man who has figured it out – a man living in peace and happiness. That’s Jerry Kelly.