Keegan Bradley announced himself to the golf world in the best way possible, by winning a Major in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
With his victory in the 2011 PGA Championship, Bradley joined Ben Curtis, Willie Park Snr. and Francis Ouimet as the only golfers to have won a Major on their debut.
It came only three months after he won the HP Byron Nelson Championship for his maiden PGA Tour victory, and it was no surprise that Bradley was named the 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
Then in 2012 he beat the experienced Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
But if that kind of start to a professional career caught a few golf fans by surprise, it was nothing compared to what may be the most surprising element of all regarding Bradley – the fact that he had an entirely normal childhood.
Bradley did not come to professional golf from the 10 000 hours school of young sports stars. Nor did he sacrifice any of the normal things of boyhood for a path into professional sport. He never specialized in golf at an early age, even though he came from a strong golf family in which his father Mark was a teaching professional and his aunt, Pat Bradley, was a highly successful campaigner on the LPGA Tour in the Seventies and Eighties.
Growing up in Vermont, Bradley had a very balanced approach to his golf. In the summer he would play golf, and in the winter when it snowed he would happily pack the clubs away and ski competitively.
He was not a childhood golf prodigy in the modern sense, and didn’t get much attention from the big-name colleges either.
And the fact that he and his father spent several months living in a trailer park in Massachusetts, where he slept on a kitchen table covered with cushions, adds to the fact that Bradley was destined not to follow the traditional path of a professional golfer and first learn the ropes at the Majors before winning. He even has his own craft beer called “Keegan Bradley’s New England Style Lager”. And he won’t think twice about warming up for the Masters with a friendly basketball game with the legendary Michael Jordan instead of pounding balls on the range, as he did this year.
And Bradley doesn’t shy away from any elements of his childhood either. In fact, he is proud to talk about his trailer park days, and even keeps a photograph of that trailer in his drawer at home as a reminder of what he says was an unbelievable childhood.
Perhaps it’s the kind of balance his childhood instilled in him that enabled Bradley to overcome a triple bogey on the 15th hole of the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. That dropped him to five shots behind leader Jason Dufner.
But Bradley responded with birdies at 16 and 17. Dufner’s three consecutive bogeys saw them tied for the lead after the regulation 72 holes. And Bradley took his chance, winning the three-hole playoff with a birdie and two pars.
It also earned him the title of becoming the first golfer to win a Major with a long putter.
The transition from the long putter to the short one has been a trying time for Bradley, and with 2015 yielding no victories apart from his win in the CVS Health Charity Classic, an unofficial tournament on the PGA Tour.
“It’s definitely not my best season,” Bradley said when he hosted his Keegan Bradley 2015 Charity Golf Classic at Woodstock Country Club in August.
“There’s stuff I’ve kind of had to get through with the putter, and I think it’s almost a transitional year for me. Hopefully, this year will be kind of stepping stone to next year and feeling more comfortable with everything.”
A run of four top-five finishes on the PGA Tour this season certainly suggests Bradley is laying the foundation for a solid season to come.
Born: 7 June 1986.
Turned pro: 2008.
Special interests: Sports.
Career highlights: Winner of the 2011 PGA Championship. Played in two Ryder Cups and one Presidents Cup.
2015 highlights: Four top-fives on the PGA Tour this season. Won the CVS Health Charity Classic, an unofficial tournament on the PGA Tour.
2015 Majors: The Masters – T22. The US Open – T27. The Open – MC. The PGA Championship – T61.
NGC record: Debut.