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Banking on Kelly: Golfer wants to keep local tourney alive

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McClatchy Tribune
March 11, 2009
— Jerry Kelly wants to do his part to support the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, even if it means skipping the British Open.

Kelly has called out Wisconsin golf fans for not turning out in bigger numbers to support the PGA Tour event, which will lose title sponsor U.S. Bank after 2009 and faces an uncertain future.


The Madison golfer doesn’t want to be accused of being a hypocrite, so he has vowed to be at Brown Deer Park in July even if he qualifies for the British Open, a major championship held the same week.


“I can’t call out people and then go over to the British Open,” Kelly said. “The tournament nearest and dearest to my heart has a chance -- if somebody doesn’t step up in a big way corporately -- there is a chance this could be the last year. I need to do everything I can do if that’s the case.


”You can write that I’m going to be in Milwaukee. I’m doing my part. I am playing. Period.“


Dan Croak, the U.S. Bank Championship tournament director, was grateful for Kelly’s early commitment. The tournament is July 13-19.


”I think it’s wonderful that golf fans are going to be able to come out and see Jerry for the first time in three years,“ Croak said. ”Hopefully, he’ll come here and win.“


Kelly, 42, is on the U.S. Bank Championship’s board of directors and has four top-10 finishes at Brown Deer Park. But he hasn’t played in Milwaukee since 2006, when he finished second to Corey Pavin.


The PGA Tour moved the tournament to its current dates opposite the British Open in 2007. Because of that conflict, the U.S. Bank Championship has little chance of drawing the game’s biggest stars, though Kenny Perry did pass up the British Open to play in Milwaukee last year and was roundly criticized for it.


Steve Stricker of Madison, a fan favorite who played in Milwaukee every year from 1990 to 2006, also has not been back since the date change.


”I’ve always complained about guys not going over (to the British Open) because I think if you’ve got a chance at a major, you’ve got to go,“ Kelly said. ”I think you ought to go to a major if you’ve qualified for it.


“But I’m going to go against that now. This is a pretty big circumstance of change.”


U.S. Bank officials cited a lack of community and corporate support among reasons the bank did not pick up a three-year option to continue as title sponsor. The tournament does not announce attendance figures but the galleries have been noticeably smaller since the date change.


U.S. Bank has been the title sponsor since 2004.


“I’ve called out the fans,” said Kelly, who has won two tournaments and more than $18 million in his career. “You guys have to come out and support the event or it could go bye-bye. What do you want? What is going to bring you out to watch? Tiger (Woods) started his career in Milwaukee and the next Tiger is probably starting there right now.


”Anthony Kim played there two years ago. You’ve got the chance to see the next superstars right now. They’re all great players.“


Given the economic downturn, the PGA Tour could lose a number of title sponsors over the next few years. Kelly said it was important for Milwaukee to hang on because better dates could become available.


”There are going to be other tournaments going bye-bye,“ he said. ‘’All we have to do is be in that position to take one of those spots. All we have to do is remain viable.“



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