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Kelly's Dream Round Paved Way For NBC

July 13, 2009

By Matt Hombach

For local insurance executive and avid golfer Mike Kelly, the chance to play Bethpage Black the Thursday of U.S. Open week was simply too good to pass up.
Local insurance executive and avid golfer Mike Kelly was in his car when he got the call on a warm afternoon in May. His brother Bob had an interesting proposition. Bob’s college friend from Wake Forest, Chris O’Keefe, was looking for a few golfers to play Bethpage Black the Thursday of U.S. Open week. 

It turns out O’Keefe is friends with a high-level official at the USGA. NBC Sports, which broadcasts the tournament, needed three or four golfers to take on the course as markers for the crew prepping microphones and camera angles for the U.S. Open Challenge featuring Michael Jordan, Ben Roethlisberger, Justin Timberlake and Golf Digest contest winner Larry Giebelhausen.

Kelly jumped at the chance after quickly convincing his very pregnant and very understanding wife, Jamie, that an overnight jaunt to the Big Apple and a chance to play the Black was simply too good to pass up. 

The Kelly brothers and O’Keefe could scarcely believe their good fortune as they found themselves on the first tee, pressing their pegs into the rain-soaked Long Island turf to start their round. The course had a true tournament feel to it, complete with slick greens, tight fairways, high rough and towering grandstands lining each hole.

The only real drawback to the deal was they weren’t actually going to play an official round; the threesome hit several balls off every tee and was then directed to various spots on each hole from which to hit shots.

The two NBC Sports engineers that tagged along on the round let Mike and his friends to chop out of the ankle-high rough and test some of the dozens of deep bunkers Bethpage is famous for.

In addition to getting the rare opportunity to play Bethpage Black in U.S. Open conditions, Kelly also savored the luxury of not having to sleep in the parking lot or arrive in the wee hours to claim a tee time. Kelly has played the Black Course several times before, including in 2002.

“We had to be there at 5:30 a.m. to get our tickets and reserve a tee time for 10:30 a.m., then we went back, slept for a few hours and teed it up,” he said. “In 2002, they had closed the back tees from daily play in preparation for the tournament, but this time around, we had to play from the tips. It gave me a whole new respect for how challenging the course is.”

Kelly thoroughly enjoyed watching the telecast the following week and seeing the pros hit it from some spots he was now intimately familiar with.

“When I hit some of my longer drives, I felt like I put it out there pretty good. But to see these guys blow it 40 yards past where my best drives landed was pretty humbling,” he said.

Tiger Tackles AT&T

Winning has become routine in Tiger Woods’ career, but over the July 4 weekend in Washington, D.C., Woods recorded another first -- winning his own tournament. 
Woods single-handedly gave the AT&T National some much-needed momentum by putting his name on the trophy and clocking in some serious overtime to promote the event.

A special treat for local fans was Woods' lengthy appearance on Comcast SportsNet’s "Tee Time at the AT&T National" with regular host Chick Hernandez and guest hosts Steve Sands from the Golf Channel and Gary Williams, coach of the Maryland men’s basketball team.

The extensive interview with Woods ran over two nights on the show during tournament week and offered interesting insights into his personal life and his dedication to winning.

While Williams is familiar with what it takes to win on some of sports’ biggest stages, his passion for golf shines through on air and it seemed he was genuinely thrilled to rub elbows with Woods and some of golf’s biggest names.

“It is a real thrill for me to interact with these great golfers and witness the great event the Tiger Woods Foundation and Congressional Country Club puts on,” Williams said.

Issue 139: July 2009