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Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker pace field at 2023 Kaulig Companies Championship

AKRON, Ohio — Professional golf at Firestone South returns.

The opening round of the 2023 Kaulig Companies Championship on the PGA Tour Champions is set for Thursday. This year’s tournament is the 70th year of professional golf at Firestone Country Club.

The tournament, formerly known as the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, is in its first year under the new title sponsor, which has local ties.

Matt Kaulig, who was born in Columbus and raised in Cincinnati, played quarterback for the University of Akron in the early 1990s. He’s now the executive chairman of the Kaulig Companies Limited, an office that has ties to several markets, including Leaf Home and NASCAR, among others. He also joined into Cleveland Guardians minority ownership in 2022 when David Blitzer took over a sizable stake in the team.

“We had to get involved just because we love Akron, we love Northeast Ohio,” Kaulig said in June. “And when the tournament sponsorship became available, we had to jump all over it. I’ve been coming to the tournament for 30 years. … I remember my wife [Lisa] was a cheerleader and part of their volunteering, [and] they had to drive the vans back and forth [for the tournament].

“So it’s a little bit of a surreal experience to actually be the title sponsor of this tournament now.”

Last year, the organization said more than $900,000 was brought in through philanthropic means. Their goal in 2023 is to double that number.

Defending champ Kelly returns

Jerry Kelly returns to Firestone South as reigning tournament champion. He has seemingly figured out Firestone South as well as anyone since Tiger Woods was dominating PGA Tour events there.

In the last three years Kelly has two victories and a second-place finish.

He said courses lined with trees tend to fit his eye, as it narrows his focus. Firestone South has been a second home recently.

“Firestone Country Club is the best course we play on the PGA Champions schedule,” Kelly said in June. “It tests everything. I mean, you have to hit the ball in the fairway, but it definitely helps to hit it long. … There’s some difficulty in the putting. Once you get off the greens, there’s some tough up and downs, so it tests every facet of your game and I’m always excited to get back here.”

Stricker, Els, Singh also in the field

The 2023 field also features some of the game’s biggest names over the last few decades, including Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and Davis Love III.

Kelly, Stricker and Singh all have wins at Firestone South at some point during their careers.

Stricker has had a tremendous 2023 season on the PGA Tour Champions thus far, winning four events in 12 starts, including two of the tour’s majors. Stricker’s history on Firestone South on the Champions circuit isn’t far behind Kelly’s, as Stricker won in 2021 and was runner-up last year.

Stewart Cink is in his rookie season on the Champions tour and is familiar with Firestone, as he won the WGC-NEC Invitational in 2004 and finished second to Tiger Woods in a four-hole playoff in 2006.

Langer, meanwhile, won the U.S. Senior Open eight days ago. The win was his 46th senior win, breaking the mark long held by Hale Irwin.

Source: Golfweek