Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly come home to AmFam golf

Madison – It’s easy to tell the hole in which Jerry Kelly and Steve Straker are at the University of Ridge.

The Muscat Champions naturally attract the largest flocks of spectators to the PGA Tour Champions American Family Insurance Championship.

When Stryker walked into the first tee on Friday morning, the Edgerton native and Madison resident got a standing ovation from the public stands, who returned to the track after capacity was limited at last year’s event. Before he was introduced to the crowd, Stryker and his wife/caddy, Nikki, spoke to some of the friendly faces at the show and distributed hugs.

A few minutes after Stryker and his group began their tour, Kelly made his way to number one to the same warm reception from the audience despite a light drizzle.

The two old friends are closely related, especially when it comes to the tournament hosted by Stricker and Kelly being the two-time reigning champion. And this year, they have even more reasons to be thankful to be together in their home country.

The 55-year-old has had some well-documented health issues, including mysterious illnesses that hospitalized him last fall and a positive COVID-19 test that knocked him out of the Senior PGA Championship a few weeks ago. Kelly, 55, has been playing with a busy mind in recent years as his wife Carol was diagnosed with cancer.

“We’ve been friends for many years,” Stryker said before the tournament. “I was telling someone else that we played junior golf together in the early ’80s, and it was surprisingly long ago.

“But we love his family. Carol has had some tough times and so we have been trying to help them and be there for it. They have a son the same age as our eldest, so we have always been friends.”

Carol just got a clean checkup after a cancerous right nephrectomy in October, and Kelly scored a victory at the main charity classic in Des Moines, Iowa.

There is a lot of emotion this weekend and it’s hard for Stryker and Kelly to focus strictly on golf.

Steve Stricker is not happy to finish Friday’s tour

Kelly fired 4-under 68 and had three shots behind first-round leader Steve Fleisch. Striker fired 1-under 71 after a double bogey at No. 17.

“It’s definitely a busy week, but that’s no excuse,” said a frustrated Straker after his tour. “I should be able to get out there and put it behind me and play. But today I didn’t. Two more rounds and I’m going to have to shoot something very special in both rounds to get there.”

Stricker is still trying to find his groove after losing nearly 30 pounds last year, despite winning the Traditions Territory Championship last month.

“I drained myself for a while, since last November I think,” said Straker. “I’m not quite physically yet. There are some good days and bad days so far.

“Yeah, that’s what it is. I keep trying. I’m getting better, there’s no doubt. I feel good. My body sometimes doesn’t react well. That’s no excuse today. I played really badly, but I managed to play my game well.”

Jerry Kelly seeks his third consecutive victory in the American Family Insurance Championship

Kelly won the American Family Insurance Championship last year, which took place over a few hot days. That won’t be the case this year after several days of rain eased the cycle.

It’s not really cool but it’s wet,” Kelly said. “It’s not hot and fast, so the ball doesn’t go far. So I played a little longer than you normally do.”

Kelly finished off strong with two sparrows and an eagle on his last five holes. He’s hoping to carry that momentum into Saturday and keep it in the mix to get three peats for Madison. Kelly also won the 2019 event – there was no event in 2020 due to the pandemic – in a playoff with Stricker and Retief Goosen.

“I’m looking forward to the stock offering session, the range session tomorrow morning, and closing some of the things I’m starting to feel like again that felt great,” Kelly said. “Yeah, I’ll definitely enjoy cooking and opening something (Friday night).”

The cute Kelly looked loose after his tour, which is a good sign considering the pressures of the past year.

“I know I enjoy more in Wisconsin,” he said with a smile. “I mean, why not? Spotted cow and cheese curd? I mean, come on, Yadirhi.”

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