Keegan Bradley Raises the Par
by steve deossie
Keegan Bradley at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China
A quick look at the PGA Tour website confirms what most golf observers would assume: The vast majority of American professional golfers are not from New England, let alone from Hopkinton, by way of Woodstock, Vermont. Most professional golfers come from the warmer climes, where golf can be played year-round. But then, Keegan Bradley is nothing like most professional golfers.
Bradley has golf in his blood. His father is a well-respected golf pro now working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and his aunt, Pat Bradley, is an LPGA legend and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. But despite the links lineage, Bradley’s pursuit of a golf career was not preordained. He spent a good part of his youth doing what most kids from Vermont do: He skied and became an all-state downhill racer; but then Bradley moved to Hopkinton to finish high school and subsequently won the golf individual state championship. But even after the local success, he continued on his unconventional route to PGA stardom.
While most pro golfers attend warm, Southern colleges en route to the tour, Bradley chose an unlikely school in New York. Nobody would ever expect a golfer to come out of St. John’s University. Is there even a golf course in Queens?
There are seven, in fact, and upon graduation from college in 2008 Bradley turned pro. He quickly made a name for himself in the minors, winning the fifth professional event he played in on the NGA Hooters Pro Golf Tour. Three years later he exploded on the PGA Tour, winning the HP Byron Nelson Championship and the final major of the year, the PGA Championship. He finished his amazing season by being named the 2011 PGA Rookie of the Year.
Both of his victories in 2011 were won in sudden-death playoffs that would test the mettle of any veteran, and yet rookie Bradley didn’t even blink. He is aggressive on the course. Numerous announcers have commented that he might want to “back it off” or get a little more conservative, but that style won’t work for Bradley. Playing it safe is not his nature. He plays like he has a chip on his shoulder, a feeling I understand from my years being one of the rare NFL players from inner-city Boston. When an athlete hails from somewhere outside the norm, he desperately wants to prove not only that he belongs, but that he may very well be better.
Bradley plays golf the way it should be played—he goes for broke on what seems like a whim. But for professional athletes, it’s less whim and more swiftly calculated risk combined with guts and confidence. Say his shot is 240 yards to the green, with water in front of the pin—some golfers will take it in two shots, but Bradley will try for one. He doesn’t let minor setbacks change his style of play. He is gracious and humble. He always looks happy to be there. Watching Keegan Bradley play golf you can sense the kid who would plunge down the icy mountains of New England at breakneck speed. He shows no fear of the competition, the course, or the consequences. He relishes the risks, and he wins, memorably.
photography by andrew redington/getty images