Bradley now a name of game
PGA gave notoriety a major boost
NORTON - Two days before winning the PGA Championship last month - despite being tied for the lead at the time - Keegan Bradley signed scores of autographs, then was repeatedly asked the same question by the recipients who studied the scribbled name: Who are you?
“That’s the worst,’’ Bradley said that day at the Atlanta Athletic Club. “I’ve gotten that a bunch of times this week.’’
Fast forward two weeks, to his first tournament since his life changed. Still peppered with autograph pleas by fans young and old - but now known to all, courtesy of his major championship - one request stood out.
“A kid asked me to sign his forehead,’’ Bradley said last week at the
If there’s a learning curve for dealing with the demands and intricacies that come with instant stardom, Bradley is happily riding it. There’s been more interviews, more notoriety, even a congratulatory text message from Tom Brady. The best perk? Waking up to the Wanamaker Trophy, which sits in his bedroom at Bradley’s new condominium in Jupiter, Fla.
“Every time I look at it, I kind of shake my head and laugh a little bit, because it’s the Wanamaker Trophy, sitting there in my room,’’ Bradley said. “It’s sort of weird. It’s an interesting feeling.’’
Bradley has experienced nothing but warm homecoming feelings this week. The Vermont native and Hopkinton High School graduate threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday’s Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park, flipped the coin before last night’s Patriots-Giants game at Gillette Stadium, has been able to visit with family and friends, and will compete in his first
The rapid rise from unheralded PGA Tour rookie to two-time winner, including a victory in his major championship debut, might come as a surprise to almost everybody.
Some, though, swear they saw it coming.
“Keegan has been the most impressive guy I’ve played with all year, veteran, rookie, whatever,’’ said Brendan Steele, a fellow tour rookie who won the Texas Open. “He hits it long, he hits it straight, he swings it good, he chips it good, he putts it good. It just seems like he does everything really, really well.
“I told my dad at the beginning of the year when I started playing a lot of practice rounds with Keegan that he’s the most impressive guy I’ve seen out here. That doesn’t always translate over, but it has in this case.’’
Length off the tee - Bradley is 18th on the tour in driving distance, at an average of 301.1 yards - is the first thing that caught the eye of the person who has likely spent the most time with Bradley this season.
“As a caddie I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s taken me longer to appreciate how far he hits the golf ball and use it to our advantage,’’ said Steven “Pepsi’’ Hale, who began working with Bradley in April. “From the very minute I first saw him, Keegan has always driven the golf ball better than anyone I have ever seen. You start from there. It’s hard not to play good golf when you drive the golf ball as well as he does.’’
Length can be seen on the outside. But it’s what Bradley has inside that has also resonated, his determination and inability to give up or give in playing big parts in his success. There’s no better example than the final hour of the PGA Championship. Five shots down with three holes to play and coming off a triple bogey, Bradley birdied the next two holes to help force a playoff, then birdied the first extra hole, eventually beating Jason Dufner by one shot.
“The guy really didn’t get down on himself very much,’’ said Jim Furyk.
Added Phil Mickelson: “He doesn’t back down to anybody.’’
Developing a relationship with the 41-year-old Mickelson - idolized for years by the 25-year-old Bradley - has been one of the best parts of his tour baptism.
“It’s an incredible thing to look up to somebody for so long and then be able to call him on the phone and text him and get some advice,’’ Bradley said. “He’s a big part of the reason why I’ve won twice. He’s helped me with my routine in some late tee times, which is very important, especially at the PGA, when I was teeing off at 3, 3:30.’’
It’s what Bradley was able to produce during those late-afternoon starts in Georgia that has him firmly in the discussion for PGA Tour rookie of the year, player of the year, and a spot on this year’s Presidents Cup team. He’s 20th on the points list (the top 10 automatically qualify) and has two more tournaments to earn points: here, and at the BMW Championship in Chicago. Fred Couples could also make Bradley a captain’s pick, something Mickelson thinks he should do.
“He’s had arguably the best year for any US player,’’ Mickelson said. “I think he needs to be a pick if he doesn’t get on it on his own.’’
Said Bradley: “I want to be on the team. I want to earn my way on the team, first and foremost. Any player wants to play for their country. I hope to be there, but if I’m not, I hope to be on future teams.’’
His chances at making this year’s team on his own could get a boost here. He hasn’t played in the Deutsche Bank Championship before, but Bradley does have memories of the tournament and the golf course.
“The first time I ever saw Tiger Woods hit a golf shot was on the 14th hole out here,’’ Bradley said. “And I actually played a high school event here my senior year. I remember beating the guy I was playing with by 20 shots for nine holes. He shot 52, and I shot 32.’’
Bradley is still capable of shooting 32. His playing partners, though, will probably keep it closer than 20.
The attention has been nice, but Bradley has always been well-grounded, from his days as an overlooked junior, to his college career at St. John’s, to his first two years as a professional, spent far away from the PGA Tour. If you’re expecting Bradley to change because he’s suddenly one of the tour’s bright young stars, prepare to be disappointed.
“It’s hard for me to say anything has changed because I’m trying not to change,’’ he said. “I’m trying to stay the exact same as I was.’’
Actually, there is one big difference to his new daily routine. Perhaps feeling compelled because of the cameras and eyes that are now trained on his every move, Bradley has made the executive decision to try to look his best.
“I have to shave every day.’’
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.