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Jerry Kelly has always been a fighter on the golf course but now he finds himself engaged in a much more consequential challenge.

Kelly and Madison-based Exact Sciences have joined forces with the PGA Tour Champions in an effort to defeat colon cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths.

Exact Sciences on Tuesday announced a three-year agreement to become the title sponsor for the Champions tour event in Tucson, Arizona, to be called the Cologuard Classic, named after the company’s non-invasive, at-home colon cancer screening test.

Kelly, the Madison native and Champions Tour rookie, will serve as ambassador for the event, and more importantly, the cause.

“You can talk about a golf tournament all you want,” Kelly said. “It’s a fun sporting event. But this is something of a different nature. This is something I’m really proud to be a part of.

“Colon cancer is the No. 2 killer, yet the most preventable. We just need to get the awareness out there. Now we’re in position to truly make a dent in eradicating this disease.”

Maneesh Arora, Exact Sciences chief operating officer, said a confluence of factors convinced the company that sponsoring a tournament would be the perfect step.

Cologuard screening is targeted for people age 50 and up, which happens to be the age group of the golfers on the Champions Tour, as well as a large segment of its fans. There also are a large number of residents in that demographic in Tucson, site of the tournament at Omni Tucson National.

And to clinch things, the Tour agreed to move the tournament up a couple weeks — next year’s event will be the week of February 26-March 4 — to coincide with the start of March Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

“Those stars really aligned and it made such great sense to us to become the title sponsor because we’re not taking a short-term view of this,” Arora said. “We think the venue, the demographics, the city and the partnership aligns on all levels with our goals of getting the word out.”

Kelly partnered with Exact Sciences when he joined the Champions Tour this year and has embraced his role as company ambassador.

“I’m going to talk in layman’s terms,” Kelly said “Everybody has been touched by cancer, survival stories and the bad stories. For me, my father was perforated during a colonoscopy. A one-hour routine procedure turned into a six-hour repair process that left my mom feeling like she wasn’t going to have a husband. So there’s some personal experience for me in this.

“My goal is to have 100 percent of the PGA Tour Champions players being tested. I can start with everybody I know and we’re going to try to take it exponentially further.”

Kelly also is hoping to put the finishing touches on a successful first season on the tour. He has virtually locked up rookie of the year honors heading into the final event, the Schwab Cup Championship, this week in Phoenix.

He ranks sixth in the Schwab Cup standings with earnings of $1,437,022 and could win the title with a victory, depending how the top five players perform.

Kelly, who won three times on the PGA Tour, has won twice in his past six events and finished eighth or better in each tournament. The one negative would be a sore back and hip that forced him to withdraw from a tournament two weeks ago and it’s still bothering him.

But as is his nature, he vows to tough it out as best he can.

“I’m going to a golf tournament to win,” he said. “What happens in the Schwab Cup happens. Some of that is out of my control. I will give it my all for every single hole.

“I’m not regretting my decision to choose the Champions Tour over the PGA Tour. I’m glad I had that choice and I made the right choice for my family and me. My wife loves it and we’re having a great time. That’s what we’re out here for.”


Dennis Punzel covers Wisconsin Badgers volleyball, women's basketball for the Wisconsin State Journal.