CHRIS Kelly turned up at Gleneagles looking and feeling like a new man, having shed some weight after changing his eating habits and deciding Irn-Bru should be a treat rather than his regular tipple.
It was an old feeling he experienced, though, as the 37-year-old captured the Scottish PGA Championship for a second time at the Perthshire venue, repeating his 2003 triumph by beating Paul McKechnie at the first extra hole in a play-off.
With all due respect to those involved, the 2015 version of the Tartan Tour’s flagship event won’t be remembered as one of the vintage variety due to the weather ravaging it. The sun showed its absolute cheek by finally breaking out through the clouds as the presentation ceremony was taking place.
That’s not to say, however, that any credit should be taken away from Kelly. Over two rounds – all that could played in four days – he had the best tally of 139, along with McKechnie. Kelly’s second-round 66 was also the joint best of the event. And he won the play-off in style by holing a 15-foot eagle putt at the 18th with McKechnie half that distance away after a superb approach. “Would I like to have played another round? Of course I would, but there is really nothing you can do about the weather,” said Kelly, who picked up a cheque for £6,000. “There’s no doubt that Paul and I got the better side of the draw, but you still have to go out and hit the shots to take advantage of it.”
With this success, Kelly achieved the first of four goals he has set this season. As he bids to tick the others off the list, he will not be held back by lack of appetite for hard work. “This is massive,” declared the Fife-based player. “Over the last month, I’ve practised for 80 hours-plus a week. More than I have ever practised in my life. I’ve started to lose weight by trying to eat a bit better as I felt that by doing that I’d be in a better position. This is an early pay-off.”
On leaving the 18th green, he shared a warm embrace with Heather MacRae, a fellow PGA professional and, until recently, his long-time girlfriend. “It was nice of her to come along and I really appreciated it,” admitted the champion.
Also there to watch Kelly pick up the trophy again were some of the Gleneagles greenkeepers. For a spell over the winter, they had been his workmates. “I was here for three weeks,” he revealed. “I was in the Academy just faffing about when one of the guys said they were looking for someone to help out with the remaining greens on the King’s and Queen’s courses that were getting drainage work done on them. I said ‘I’ll do it’ and he looked at me as though I was mad. But I loved it – it was brilliant as you actually learn something. They don’t just hand you a rake because you are the new guy.”
In the first abbreviated event since 1966, only Paul Lawrie returned yesterday with a chance of making it a three-way play-off. Or even overtaking Kelly and McKechnie at the death. However, his hopes of covering the last five holes in three-under were quickly killed off as the two-times winner resumed by four-putting the 14th for a double-bogey 6. “I was 30 feet behind the hole, left the first putt halfway because there was still water on the green,” said the two-times winner. “I got halfway and three-putted from there, missing from about 18 inches for about the sixth time in my calculations over two days.”
His attention now turns to a three-week run that will take in the Spanish Open, BMW PGA Championship and Irish Open. “Tee to green this week was the best I’ve hit for a long, long time so there are huge positives with the striking and I’ve been working hard at that,” he added.