MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jerry Kelly’s 16th try at the U.S. Bank Championship could well be his last. He’s working to save the tournament he loves and he’s skipping the British Open to pay homage to the place where he started his PGA career.
Kelly is among the players who will be in Milwaukee at Brown Deer Golf Course for the tournament that begins Thursday and is in dire need of a new title sponsor.
“I think we’re doing a great job,” Kelly said. “We’ve got some really exciting things that we’re putting together that we can’t really say a whole lot about. … In my eyes, I think we’ve saved the (tournament).”
The tournament is rich with history – Tiger Woods got his pro start here in 1996 and a host of legends like Sam Snead, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus finished second but never won here.
But in recent years, the tournament has been placed opposite the British Open, so the tour’s top talent heads overseas for a week and leaves golfers to fight for FedExCup points back home.
“Hopefully someday, they get out of that opposite-date position and I can play it again,” said Steve Stricker, who is from Edgerton, Wis. “But I’ve got to go play the major. Just too many positive things that can happen if you play well in a major. There’s Ryder Cup points available and just all sorts of things, especially if you were to go ahead and win one.”
Kelly, a Madison native who played his first two events here in 1991 and 1992 and finished second in 1996 and 2006, announced early that he’d play in Milwaukee as a show of his support.
Last year, Kenny Perry skipped the British Open but will play it begrudgingly this year.
“To me, obviously the majors are the most important thing for me, but you don’t step on the people that have helped you get to where you are on that mountain top,” Perry said. “I got criticized heavily last year for skipping the British and going to Milwaukee, which is something I’d really rather do this year. I’d really rather not go to the British. I think U.S. Bank, it’s the last year for the Milwaukee tournament.”
Perry won the U.S. Bank title when it was called the Greater Milwaukee Open in 2003.
“That’s been very big in my life,” Perry said. “I think they’re going to lose their sponsorship, pulling out, and that tournament might not exist anymore, so I’d rather go there and support that tournament.”
A new sponsor must be found soon after a six-year run by U.S. Bank.
“We’re still trying to identify potential sponsors to replace U.S. Bank and we’re working hard with the tour,” tournament director Dan Croak said. “We don’t have much news to report at this point.”
The tournament is played on a par-70 course, one of the shortest on tour at 6,759 yards, and highlights short games, not the long drives. Golfers can shoot very low if there’s no wind and soft conditions, but organizers are also dealing with a new hazard: vandals.
A few weeks ago, a motorcycle tore through the 17th green, damaging a large part of it. Tournament officials and grounds crews have worked to get the hole ready before the event, even removing trees that weren’t in play to give the area more sunshine.
“Is it perfect? No. Is it playable? Yes. Will it look a little bit scarred? Yes it will, but we’re hoping by the time play starts on Thursday it will be very, very, very close to being where it should be,” Croak said.
This year’s field includes Mike Van Sickle, a Marquette standout who has received a sponsors’ exemption and plans to turn pro later this year.
“I was born here in Milwaukee and it’s a very hometown feel for me,” Van Sickle said. “I’ve heard the PGA Tour really does want to keep it around and rightfully so.”
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Silvis, Ill. contributed to this report.