Tim Kelley wins his first Virginia Senior Stroke Play
Tim Kelley
Tim Kelley
MIDLOTHIAN, Va (June 13, 2012) -- An already memorable season got even better for Ashland’s Tim Kelley at the 27th Virginia State Golf Association Senior Stroke Play Championship on Wednesday.

The 56-year-old central Virginian made an 18-inch birdie putt to cap a final round of 1-under-par 71 as he posted a two-stroke wire-to-wire victory at the event conducted at Salisbury Country Club. Kelley completed the two-day championship at 4-under 140 to notch a repeat win in the championship and record his fifth tournament victory of the season.

Overnight co-leader and event rookie Van Renick of Roanoke (final day 1-over 73) and Skip Zobel, 57, of Virginia Beach (second consecutive round of 1-under 71) finished at 2-under 142. Richmond’s John Cuomo, 64, carded a final-round best 3-under 69, equaling the low round of the championship, and closed action three strokes off the pace (1-under 143).

The top-ranked senior amateur in the VSGA player rankings, Kelley became the event’s first repeat champion since Suffolk’s J.P. Leigh claimed his fourth consecutive Senior Stroke Play victory in 2006. And Kelley has won the first two VSGA senior events of the season; he teamed with Manakin’s David Partridge to win the VSGA Senior Four-Ball on May 23. The last player to hold the Senior Stroke Play and Senior Four-Ball titles to start the campaign was Richmond’s Steve Isaacs, who won both events in the spring of 2008.

At three under for the event, Kelley held a one-stroke lead over Renick at the par-5 18th. Playing in the same grouping together, Renick struck his third shot to 7 feet left of the back hole location, which offered a great chance for birdie.

Kelley answered by showing the uncanny poise he displayed for much of the day, playing a terrific 58-degree wedge to tap-in range. Renick tipped his cap to Kelley heading up No. 18; his putt to get to three under slid by the right side. Meanwhile, Kelley tapped in to put the finishing touches on another victory after clipping his wedge shot off the grass perfectly.

“I was thinking, ‘Let’s go for it,’ ” Kelley said. “It looked like [Renick] was pretty close, so I said, ‘I want to win this thing. I don’t want to go into a playoff.’ I thought, ‘Give it a shot.’ If I didn’t make birdie, I was going to be in a playoff anyway if he made his putt. I thought, ‘Let’s just go at it and it worked out well.’ ”

Renick said knew that he’d missed the putt that would’ve given him a share of the lead – at least temporarily.

“I just blocked it,” he said, “I didn’t put one of my better strokes on it. I putted well today, but I didn’t putt as well as I usually do and that was the difference between [Wednesday] and [Tuesday], but boy was that fun. Boy was that fun.”

These days, it’s a safe bet no one is enjoying the game more than Kelley. During a mid-round surge, he ran off three straight birdies to move to five under for the championship, knocking in a 12-footer at the par-3 eighth, a 14-footer at the par-4 ninth and completed the stretch by playing a 58-degree wedge to 2 inches at the par-4 10th. Following that birdie, he owned a three-stroke lead over Renick, his closest pursuer. But that would be his last birdie of the day until the deciding last hole.

Renick made a 15-footer for birdie at the par-5 12th to get within two of the lead. He lipped out a par putt at No. 15 that would’ve reduced Kelley’s edge to a stroke, but narrowed the margin to one after Kelley missed a slippery downhill five-footer for par at No. 17. Renick’s birdie chance at the hole seemed destined to fall before just sliding by the left side, buckling his knees as it passed.

“Halfway there, I knew I had made it,” said Renick, who was making his debut appearance in the event after reaching the age eligibility requirement of 55 last August. “It just didn’t break as much as I thought.

“If I had taken care of business on 15 and read the putt right on 17, who knows what would’ve happened? Tim played phenomenally. After his mid-round run of birdies, I knew it was going to be an uphill climb. I hit too many shots that I want back.”

A group ahead, Zobel had a 6-foot birdie chance at the 18th that just went by the low side. After playing the first seven holes in three over par, Zobel settled into his round and played a nine-hole stretch from Nos. 8-16 in four under par to climb the leader board. He made birdie from close range at the par-3 eight and knocked in his longest birdie putt of the day, a 20-footer at the par-4 ninth. Thereafter, Zobel added birdies at Nos. 13 (3 feet) and 16 (10 feet) to give himself a chance that just went begging at the finishing hole

“I read it wrong,” Zobel admitted. “I knew I needed it to get to three under and have a chance. But it’s nice to play two under par rounds. It got more solid as the round went on. Tim’s a great champion.”

Kelley is notching victories with a swing he’s still working to gain confidence in; he’s refining his motion with the help of Mike Hott, the head PGA professional at Salisbury Country Club. In the final round, when prevailing winds played havoc with club selection, Kelley’s crisply-struck shots and boring ball flight helped set up some reasonable scoring chances.

“I am exhausted, but very pleased – very, very pleased,” Kelley said. “I wanted this one really, really badly. I hadn’t been playing all that great coming in here. I’ve played a lot of golf, feeling tired and had been working on changing my swing a little bit. I finally decided, ‘Let it go and let’s play golf.’ ”

The winner’s circle is a place Kelley is likely getting accustomed. In addition to his two victories in VSGA senior events this season, he has triumphed in the senior division of the Chatmoss Invitational, the Fox-Puss Invitational and The Signature Invitational at The Federal Club. The Senior Stroke Play completed a stretch of 10 straight starts in events for Kelley. At one point, he played four events in an eight-day span.

“My back needs some rest,” he said with a smile.

He’ll get a respite from tournament action with another victory under his belt.

“Winning never gets old,” Kelley said.

Among the super seniors (ages 65 and over), Alexandria’s Bill Engel, 65, closed with 2-under 70 to finish at 8-under 136 and post a four-stroke victory in the division. George Owens, 68, of Virginia Beach registered his second consecutive round of 2-under 70, while 71-year-old Charlie Causey of Arlington (70 and over age group winner) closed with even-par 72 as both competitors completed play at 4-under 140.

Engel, who opened with a division-best 6-under 66 and matched the low total of the final round among the super seniors, collected 13 birdies and an eagle over the two days.

“The game is fun when you can do that, I can assure you,” Engel said.

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