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Kelly cranks up body, game to contend at Deutsche Bank

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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After a series of MRIs showed him in good health, Jerry Kelly's game has improved in 2011. (Getty Images)  
After a series of MRIs showed him in good health, Jerry Kelly's game has improved in 2011. (Getty Images)  

NORTON, Mass. -- The look on Jerry Kelly's face might best have been described as befuddled. Rightly so.

So much tape, so little time.

A former college hockey player at nearby Hartford, the 44-year-old veteran with the salt-and-pepper goatee was trying to recall, and recite, the litany of serious injuries he has sustained over the years, some of them from playing the fairly benign sport of golf on the PGA Tour.

He blew up an ankle, injured a knee, broke or dislocated a few ribs, has a cyst in his back, punctured a lung, and in high school badly broke the bone he described as "the one in my bicep."

It was downright humerus.

"Lot of wear and tear," Kelly said.

At this stage of his career, they'd characterize him as "experienced."

Battered but unbowed, Kelly continues to grind his way along on the game's most elite tour, and for the second time in three years finds himself right near the top of the scoreboard heading into the final day at the big-money Deutsche Bank Championship.

Kelly, a local favorite in part because he's grittier than a Gloucester fisherman and ballsier than a Boston stevedore, trails the game's reigning long-drive king, Bubba Watson, by a stroke at TPC Boston. This despite the fact that Kelly, for the first time in his career, is playing the game as though he's been spiking his Gatorade with Lithium.

In early August, worried because every joint in his body felt like it had been lubricated with a handful of sand, he decided it was time for a full systemic diagnostic exam. He made appointments with a hospital in his hometown of Madison, Wisc.

He spent parts of two days, and 6½ hours, in an MRI tube, with the machine clunking and whirring around him, trying to figure out whether any of his sore spots were fixable. He was surprised to learn that he's not falling apart after all. No date with the knife was needed.

What he started with a sense of dread became something of a relief. "I actually took it as good," he said. "Microtears, things like that, my MCLs, ACLs are good, my rotator cuffs are good. It's just wear and tear.

Kelly's found success by measuring his golf swing with somewhat less than a 100-percent effort. (Getty Images)  
Kelly's found success by measuring his golf swing with somewhat less than a 100-percent effort. (Getty Images)  
"I take that as a positive really. I know I've played for a long time and I've done a lot of crazy crosstraining things and hurt my body many different ways. It's holding up really well. I'm happy with it."

Good thing, because it's the only one he's got. The MRI session took place around the time Kelly had another career-tracking incident in Canada, where he was playing with some friends at a course called Red Tail.

For those who have seen the animated, occasionally agitated Kelly wrestle to keep his emotions in check over the years, that ought to elicit some chuckles. He has tended to get a red tail himself when things go sideways.

Kelly is clearly underpowered compared to younger guys like Watson, who reached a 605-yard seventh hole on Sunday with a driver and 7-iron, so he had to make up for it by swinging out of his shoes. A three-time PGA Tour winner who has been on the circuit since 1996, Kelly didn’t just swing at max effort on the tee.

"It really was 100 percent," he said, "and at times, it was 105 percent."

He knows the math doesn't work, that there's no such thing as 105 on a scale of 100, but at times, when he was flying out of his Footjoys, it sure seemed like it. While in Canada a few weeks ago, playing with a bit of a hangover, he throttled it back off the tee and found that the old saw about wasted effort is true.

"Smooth it" he said. "It's heaven."

Like a million players with less notable pedigrees, Kelly found that when he went at it at perhaps 90 percent, the ball often takes off in a perfect arc, even without white knuckles, and stray shots aren't as costly.

"At times on the range, I go at it [easy] and it goes as far as a full shot," he said. "Damn, what have I been missing?"

Well, an occasional cut, probably a few hundred grand in earnings, and who knows what else. Kelly playing at a speed less than pedal-to-the-metal is hard to envision, but the results have been promising so far. He finished T26 at the PGA Championship, was T4 the following week in Greensboro and T24 last week.

Back in Boston, where he played on the weekend alongside old pal and winner Steve Stricker two years ago, Kelly will get another crack at the second event in the FedEx Cup series, which has a $1.44M first prize.

Kelly's new passivity might be the key. Stop snickering. He's really, truly, honestly not kidding. "I just want to keep doing it," he said. "I've tried so hard for so long. I really do believe the way I've been able to swing at it has translated into my mental game. I mean, how can you be relaxed mentally and then use everything you've got to hit the shot?

"Those don't work well together. Now I'm settled through almost all of it, and I think it's helping those two marry. That's my explanation and I'm sticking to it."

Slow, easy and Kelly -- a construct of words that, after the final round on Monday, not only won't cause laughs, but might cause outright shock and awe.

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