By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
If Troy Kelly had been told in September 2010 that he would be in second place in the Greenbrier Classic PGA Tour event going into its final round, he would have been happy.
To be specific, he would be happy to know that he still could play 18 holes of pain-free golf at age 33.
The native of Tacoma, Washington, had his left hip replaced after playing with pain for more than two years. He then began the major task of rehabilitating the muscles and finding a competitive golf game again.
He found it, and then some, on Saturday, shooting a career-best round of 62, and held the lead at the Classic for most of the afternoon.
“I got off to a good start,” he said. “It was just nice to see some putts go in. … If you look at my statistics, my ranking's not very good in the putting category.”
“The last couple of days (prior to Saturday) I've been very tentative; putts have been coming up short. Me and my brother (Ryan, a former professional golfer) were talking in the room last night (about) just trying to see the ball roll through the hole and past the hole – almost look at something beyond the hole, just to get putts to the hole.”
“I'm picking my lines. I feel like I'm reading the greens well. … That's all I'm going to try to focus on (on Sunday), just getting putts to the hole and hopefully I can keep reading them the same way.”
Kelly birdied five of his first eight holes on Friday and had an eye-opening 29 going into the turn. He picked up three more birdies to forge a three-day 12-under 198, good enough for the lead until Webb Simpson finished strongly with a 65 and expanded his lead to two strokes.
Kelly also avoided bogeys on Saturday after recording five over the first two days of the Classic.
His father got him started in the Washington junior golf circuit when Kelly was only 6, though the age range was supposed to start at 8 years old. “I was competitive, so they said, 'Yeah, we'll let you play,' “ Kelly said on Saturday.
“I grew up on the golf course,” he said. “My dad was a pro where I lived. I was always banging balls and hanging around the golf course. I lived there.”
He was also a basketball player, which satisfied a couple of needs at once.
“I enjoyed playing,” he said. “It was a fun game. It's super-competitive, and I loved the intensity of the sport. But for me it was just, you know, a half-the-year type of thing. It was something to do in the winter when it was raining and miserable for golf. Then, as soon as basketball was over, I started picking my clubs up and I'd hit balls there under the covered range, in the rain.”
He said he had a “pretty well-rounded game” of basketball, but the sport was more like “a good break for me.”
“I think, as a kid, you've got to do some other things,” he said. “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.”
As a golfer, he worked his way up to the Canadian Tour, when he first became aware of a feeling as though he had pulled a muscle in his groin.
Kelly said, “My buddy, Conner Robbins, who I was traveling with at the time, he said, 'You're limping.' I said, 'Really? I hadn't really noticed it.' I knew something was kind of hurting … .”
The hurting did not go away, but “I still tried to tough it out,” he said. He earned his PGA Tour card in 2009 at a qualifying school.
In 2010, after 10 fruitless appearances on the Nationwide Tour, he said, “It just got so bad that I finally went and had it looked at. … It was basically arthritis, and it was just bone-on-bone, and it was tough to play and walk. So I finally went and got the surgery done.”
The rehabilitation after the September 2010 surgery “took some time,” he said. He got into the Phoenix Open about seven months after the operation. “It took, probably, about a year to where all the muscle strength was actually back up where I could, you know, feel normal again,” he said.
He's not now under any special medical care. His doctor told him, “Just keep going, and when it hurts, come and see me again,” he said.
His return from golf has been far from easy. He has missed the cut in 23 of his 33 PGA Tour events. His World Golf ranking was 464th before the Greenbrier Classic. This year, his best finish has been a tie for 47th in the Shell Houston Open on April 1, after posting a 3-under 285 in that tournament.
But he's determined to make the most of his rare opportunity at the Old White course in White Sulphur Springs.
“I like the golf course,” he said. “It's fun. It's set up well.”
“It will be a different stage tomorrow (Sunday), but I think tomorrow will be a good learning experience for me.”
“If you don't get here (near the lead), you'll never know what it feels like, and learn from it.”
“My biggest concern is being able to walk the golf course and not have pain.”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org