Troy Kelly took the term “moving day” to heart, shooting an 8-under 62 in the third round of The Greenbrier Classic and finding himself in the final group on Sunday with U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.
Kelly beats his personal-best round on Tour by four strokes. He shot 66 twice – at the 2009 Sony Open and two weeks ago in the second round at the Travelers Championship – in 33 career events.
That’s the lede to the game story; the back-story is more remarkable.
Kelly, 33, also is playing with a replaced left hip.
It all started in 2009, when Kelly, a 2003 Washington graduate from Tacoma, was playing on what was then the Nationwide Tour. His left hip was a constant problem, and after struggling to play through the pain, he was told by a doctor that arthritis had left him with bone-on-bone grinding in the hip.
At only 30, Kelly was a young candidate for hip-replacement surgery, but his doctor told left him with only two options: play with pain or undergo the operation.
Kelly played in pain in his first 10 events on the 2010 Nationwide Tour before scrapping his season and returning to the doctor.
“I told him it hurt so bad that I don’t think I could play feeling like this,” Kelly said earlier this year in San Diego, recalling his conversation with the doctor.
The doctor recommended surgery but didn’t know how fast Kelly might recover, given that previous patients were ages 55 to 70.
“He (the doctor) also told me that he didn’t know if I would ever feel a hundred percent again as far as my body felt getting back to where I was in my mid-20s,” Kelly said. “But it happened at such a young age, I had no idea. There’s no family history of having bad hips or any kind of body issues. So it was really hard because I just didn’t know if I could get back and be able to play again, to be honest.”
Kelly returned 7 1/2 months later when he Monday qualified for the Phoenix Open.
Once he qualified, Kelly was unsure if he could actually walk and play for four days. During rehab, he had ridden a cart and at times walked, but he was unsure how the hip would hold up over four days of walking.
Kelly made the cut and played four rounds, tying for 57th. It was his only round on the PGA Tour in 2011.
Kelly would play in 19 events on that year’s Nationwide Tour, finishing 11th on the money list and earning his PGA Tour card.
This season, he has made six cuts in 14 starts, earning $81,644, with a tie for 37th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic his best result. Today, at Old White TPC, he finds himself on the verge of a career breakthrough in the Greenbrier.
While Kelly worked in late 2011 and into 2012 with a trainer to strengthen the muscles around the hip, he also lost 15-20 pounds to help keep excess weight off of the reconstructed hip.
The last change came in his swing, an area in which Kelly had made compensations because of the previous pain.
“I was always sliding into every shot, just because when I made a really good turn, it hurt worse,” he said. “It felt like there was no room in there for me to turn. So when I made a really good golf swing, it actually hurt worse. So I was always trying to slide and manipulate something. When I got right at impact, I would flinch out of shots. And sometimes it would hurt worse.”
Now Kelly is 100 percent and thinks he is back to where he was in his 20s with his hip and his swing.
“I didn’t know going through the surgery how I would end up,” Kelly said earlier this year. “I didn’t know I would feel this good. It’s just an amazing what they can do nowadays. And I tell guys that I can almost see guys walking and I go, you got a bad hip, don’t you? I’ve probably seen five people like that and playing pro-ams and stuff like that. It’s like, Yeah I’m trying to tough it out, and I tell them just to go get it done. I have done it, and I feel so much better.”