Keegan Bradley: From mountaintop to major champion
parred the final hole of a three-hole playoff to clinch his PGA Championship win
over Jason Dufner.
JOHNS CREEK, Ga.
(AP)—Keegan Bradley was 12 years old, standing on top of the mountain in the
middle of another brutal Vermont winter.
Like any New
England kid, he loved to ski. Got pretty good at it, too. But, with the sleet
pounding his face and the cold piercing through his bones, he decided there was
a better way down.
“This is not as
much fun as golf,” he told himself. “I love golf so much more.”
Bradley won a major championship on his very first try Sunday, and if that
wasn’t extraordinary enough, look at the way he did it.
trailed Jason Dufner by five strokes with three holes to play in the PGA
Championship, his chances seemingly snuffed out when he dumped his ball in the
water at the 15th hole and made triple bogey.
But the youngster
pulled himself together, made two straight birdies, and wound up in a
three-hole playoff when Dufner bogeyed three in a row.
Bradley took control. Considering what he faced on a mountaintop, Atlanta
Athletic Club was a breeze.
He made a birdie
at the first extra hole, drilling a laser of an approach to 4 feet on No. 16
after Dufner nearly holed out. He safely cleared the pond at the par-3 17th and
went another stroke up when Dufner three-putted. Then, one last bit of bravado
at the 18th—a gutty 5-iron that cleared even more water to set up the clinching
Trophy was his.
“I can’t believe
this thing is sitting next to me,” he said, looking at the gleaming silver cup.
pedigree—his aunt, Pat Bradley, is an LGPA Hall of Famer— this wasn’t so
improbable at all.
“I grew up going
to Pat’s tournaments and totally idolizing her and wanting to be like her,” the
nephew recalled. “I remember as a kid going to her tournaments and literally
staring her in the face and … she was so into it, she would not even recognize
me. And I thought that was cool.”
Dufner will join
those heart-wrenching players who let a major championship slip away, his
meltdown remembered alongside Scott Hoch blowing that 18-inch putt at the
Masters and Jan Van de Velde throwing away that three-shot lead on the 72nd
hole of the British Open.
journeyman had never won a tour event, much less a tournament of this
magnitude. But he played rock-solid for nearly all of four days, hitting more
fairways than anyone, avoiding the water and sand and rough lurking at every
turn. Tiger Woods couldn’t do it. Neither could defending PGA champion Martin
Kaymer. They were among the big names sent packing before the weekend.
emotion, Dufner arrived at the 15th tee on Sunday with a commanding four-stroke
lead. The last four holes at Atlanta can be a killer, but he had played them at
a cumulative 3 under over the first three days.
Suddenly, the guy
who had been unflappable couldn’t hit it straight. He put his tee shot at 15 in
the water and made bogey. He put his approach at 16 in a bunker and made
another bogey. Finally, he needed three putts to get down at 17 — a third
Playing up ahead
in the next-to-last group, Bradley bounced back from his triple bogey with two
straight birdies. When a 35-foot putt disappeared into the cup at the 17th, he
broke into a Tiger-like celebration—the left hand holding up his club, the right
hand delivering a furious fist pump.
watching all that from the elevated tee box. He sensed his title might be
When it was done,
he seemed more numb than disappointed. It might take a while for this one to
“I’m so new at
this situation, I don’t know if I appreciate it as much as I will,” Dufner
said. “Maybe when I look back in 15 or 20 years, I’ll be disappointed if I
don’t get another chance. But I have a feeling I’ll have more chances in a
major to close one out.”
what Hoch and Van de Velde thought.
chance never came.
For Bradley, the
future looks brighter than ever. He’s always been a guy who stayed out of the
limelight, even with his famous name and impressive rookie season. He already
had a win, capturing the Byron Nelson in a playoff back in May.
Even so, everyone
touted guys such as Dustin Johnson and Anthony Kim as the future of American
golf in a world no longer dominated by Woods.
Well, make room
for another. Bradley was the one— not Johnson or Kim—who ended the longest
American drought of the modern Grand Slam era, a winless stretch covering six
straight majors since Phil Mickelson won the 2010 Masters.
“Ever since I was
10 years old, I’ve kind of flown under the radar,” Bradley said. “I had what I
thought was a pretty good college career (at St. John’s), but I never really
got noticed. Same in junior golf and kind of the same out here. I’ve been
having a good year, and that’s just the way it happens with me, which is fine. I’m
happy with it.”
He knows life is
about to change, and he’s happy with that, too.
“It’s cool to be
thought of as one of those guys now,” Bradley said. “I’ve always wanted,
growing up, to win tournaments and win majors.”
He doesn’t intend
to be a one-major wonder, either. There’s been plenty of those, especially at
the PGA, everyone from Shaun Micheel to Rich Beem.
“I don’t want to
be one of the guys that kind of disappears,” Bradley said. “I don’t plan to.”
As he posed on
the 18th green with his glittering prize, the improbable winner on a sweltering
day in the Deep South, that snowy mountaintop in Vermont must’ve seemed so far,
“That was the
moment that I realized I wanted to golf instead of ski,” he said. “I was
sitting on top of that hill, freezing, having no fun, and I said, ‘You know
what, I want to be a golfer.”’