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A major talent

From Hopkinton to the tour, those close to Bradley knew he had what it takes

By Seth Lakso
Globe Correspondent / August 18, 2011

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On the floor in Keegan Bradley’s tiny apartment in Jupiter, Fla., sits the Wanamaker Trophy, wearing a Red Sox cap.

Bradley, who grew up in New England, has long idolized local athletes such as Tom Brady, who sent the rookie a congratulatory text message after his PGA Championship playoff win on Sunday.

Bradley said on WEEI on Tuesday that “[getting that text] was about the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me in my whole life.’’

But what’s also pretty cool is that in just eight months on tour Bradley, 25, has gone from an under-the-radar rookie to a legitimate Player of the Year candidate.

“It’s amazing,’’ said LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, Keegan’s aunt. “I had no doubts that he would make it on tour, but to rise this quickly is just phenomenal. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but Keegan’s a special guy.

“He’s already just a few short of my career earnings in a matter of months,’’ joked Pat, who won six majors in her career.

However, the lights haven’t always shined so brightly on Bradley.

When he was 17, Bradley moved from Vermont to Hopkinton to live with his father, who was the assistant pro at Hopkinton Country Club. He would spend his nights sleeping on a couch in his father’s small apartment and his days practicing with the Hopkinton High golf team.

Bradley became good friends with Jon Curran, the Hillers’ No. 1 golfer. Curran and freshman Kimberly Donovan dominated the Hopkinton golf team’s headlines in 2003, leaving little interest for Bradley.

“All the reporters talked to Jon, they didn’t talk to Keegan,’’ recalled coach Dick Bliss. “Despite that, Jon took Keegan under his wing. I mean, they did everything together, basketball games, Red Sox games, whatever.’’

“I think [not getting any attention] probably bothered [Bradley],’’ said Curran. “I mean, it would have bothered me, but having said that, he definitely used it as motivation. You’ve got to overcome some sort of adversity in life or in golf to have it fuel you, and it definitely fueled him.’’

It wasn’t until the 2003 state finals that Bradley burst onto the scene.

“We all tee off and everyone kind of knows about Jon and Kimberly, but they didn’t really know all that much about Keegan,’’ said Bliss.

Curran posted a 71, which was good for first place with only a few groups remaining on the course. Donovan then carded a 72 to all but seal the championship.

“Keegan’s off with one of the last groups and I remember thinking we’re in good shape,’’ said Bliss. “All Keegan has to do is break 90 and we’re going to win this thing. What happened? Keegan shot a 69 and won the darn thing. That’s when things really started to happen for him.’’

St. John’s University took interest in Bradley after the win, along with several schools in Florida, but once Bradley learned that the Red Storm’s home matches would be played at Bethpage, it was an easy decision.

While at St. John’s, Bradley regularly squared off against fellow New Englander Jason Parajeckas, who played for the University of Connecticut.

Parajeckas watched all 21 holes on Sunday.

“Keegan’s got the world in the palm of his hands right now,’’ said Parajeckas. “You’re going to see him thrive. I don’t know if people thought this would happen so soon, but anyone who watched [Bradley] play knew it would happen. The triple [bogey] on 15 was tough to watch, but he kept it together and grinded it out to make those two birdies coming in.’’

The ability to tough it out is something Bradley likely learned from watching his aunt.

“I know Keegan is a grinder,’’ said Pat Bradley. “From the moment that first tee is put in the ground till the last putt comes out of the hole on 18, he is in the game and he is grinding. In order to be successful and be a champion you’ve got to grind and Keegan is not afraid of that. He’ll do and learn whatever it takes to get the job done.’’

Things are changing quickly for Bradley, who shares an apartment in Jupiter with Curran.

“For me, it’s just kind of the same old Keegan,’’ said Curran. “It’s funny. I mean, he’s the same dude, but all of a sudden people think you have to watch out for this up-and-comer. He’s had it all along.’’

Prior to Bradley’s senior season at Hopkinton, Bliss had each of his players write down his or her goals. Bradley wrote, “I’m going to be out there on the tour, I’m going to win a PGA tournament, I’m going to win a major.’’

“You could always see the potential,’’ said Bliss. “He hit the ball so damn far. He’d just practice, practice every day with his dad, and I’d go over and we’d tweak a few things here and there, but it was always, ‘I’m going to be good someday, Coach.’

“He kept saying that like he was trying to convince me, but I’d say, ‘I know you are, kid.’ ’’

Bradley now needs to write out a new set of goals.