KAILUA-KONA — With the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai complete, the players can spend their Sunday on the Big Island celebrating their accomplishments, and maybe finding a little time for football, too.
The NFL Conference Championships are Sunday with the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints vying for a spot in the Super Bowl next month.
Jerry Kelly — who finished tied for third in the tournament after shooting a final round of 5-under 67 — knows who he’s rooting for to make it all the way to a Super Bowl win. The Chiefs, and their stud quarterback Patrick Mahomes, have fans in Kelly and his good friend and tournament cheerleader, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I wanna see Mahomes finish it off. I’d like to see him still make the throws he’s been making all year,” Kelly said. “I got to talk to a pretty smart guy about football the last couple of days, and he’s impressed with that he sees, too. So that makes me want to watch him even more.”
The AFC teams dominated the Super Bowl conversation among Saturday’s top finishers. Newly-crowned tournament winner Tom Lehman recognizes what it takes to finish a competition on top.
“I’m a huge Patriots fan,” Lehman said. “I love Tom Brady. What I love is he is so competitive. He’s a classy guy, a super competitive guy. Fantastic quarterback, obviously, maybe the best of all-time. He just absolutely hates to lose and I really admire that.”
Lehman’s win Saturday was in front of a special group of people.
The former PGA Tour Player of the year recorded his first win on the Big Island with his children, mother and in-laws looking on. They were all waiting for Lehman when he walked away from the 18th green with the victory.
It was his son Sean’s presence on the course that Lehman cherished the most this week.
“Sean, my youngest, so he really hasn’t seen me win very often,” Lehman said. “He wasn’t around to witness the PGA Tour years, so he missed all the wins out there. And being in school, he hasn’t really had a chance to be out with most of the wins on the Champions Tour, either. So to have him kind of be a part of this week, I think more than the rest, is special because he’s probably witnessed the fewest.”
On the course with Lehman was his son-in-law, Lane, who was his caddie for the tournament.
“I mean, he’s never caddied before, so he thinks it’s easy,” Lehman said. “It’s not that easy. I told him to be invisible. The best thing you can do as a caddie is just be invisible, don’t be in anybody’s way. He said, ‘My job this week was to be invisible, I think I did a good job,’ and I would agree.“
Lehman wasn’t the only one with a close family member as his caddie. Stephen Ames had his wife, Kelly, by his side at the tournament, and it was her first time being a caddie as well.
“She was awesome,” Ames said. “We had a lot of fun. She plays golf, so that was quite easy for us.”
Ames finished the tournament Saturday with a final round score of even par at 72. While he didn’t finish at the top of the leaderboard, Ames wasn’t disappointed with the result. The best part of playing the tournament at Hualalai for him is being able to relax in a tropical location.
“The week was fun. I didn’t play well, but I didn’t do much practicing prior to this,” Ames said. “I’m still in my vacation mode, should we say.”
Both players and spectators take advantage of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship being on the Big Island in the middle of winter. With the beautiful weather for three straight days, golf fans Robert and Rita Eder were glad to be out of the cold and in the sunshine.
“We spend six months here on the island every year,” said Robert Eder, who at the age of 82, has been a lifelong fan of the sport. “We’re from Alaska, and it’s a good time to be out of Alaska.”