Breakout Players of 2011: Keegan Bradley

With his PGA Championship victory in August, Keegan Bradley became only the third player to win in his first major championship appearance.

For a guy known to tweet Howard Stern references -- Baba Booey! -- Keegan Bradley, 25, brings an awfully serious look to the golf course.

Take the Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda, in October. It may be the silliest of golf's Silly Season events, a two-day working vacation, a lark, a reward for winning one of golf's four most important tournaments, a lightweight cocktail party with some golf, a ...

"People say that, but probably they haven't played in it" Bradley said.

"Darren Clarke was out there practicing, no one was going out the night before" Bradley added. "It was very serious. It was a bunch of guys that wanted to win the tournament. It was enjoyable, sure, because of where we were."

Naturally, Bradley won, shooting 67-71 to hold off Charl Schwartzel and put the cherry on top of a season in which Bradley also won the HP Byron Nelson Championship and the PGA Championship, both in playoffs.

When evaluating talent on the PGA Tour, you must first consider the metric. If it's money you care about, Luke Donald was your man for 2011. If jaw-dropping scrambling is your thing, then surely nothing compared to Bill Haas's amphibious par that kept him in the running for an $11.44 payday at East Lake. But the most meaningful measure of a golfer may be his career trajectory.

A year before his victory at the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, Bradley came into the Albertsons Boise Open, a fairly late-season Nationwide tour event, needing to make some money in order to escape another season of minor league golf in 2011. He tied for third, tied for third two weeks later, and tied for fifth the next week. That was enough to advance to the Tour, where Bradley's emergence was nearly unprecedented -- he was the third player to win a major in his first major start; Francis Ouimet was the first -- but not wholly unexpected.

"He shot nine or 10 under twice in 2010" said Johnny Thompson, the Odyssey rep for Callaway on the PGA Tour, who built Bradley's 46 3/4-inch belly putter. (Bradley shot 61 twice in less than two months on the Nationwide.) "You could tell he had it. It takes a special player to shoot those types of scores."

Bradley's 2011 ascent was so steep that he outpaced one of the Tour's standard statistical measures, the Presidents Cup points race. Because he hadn't played the Tour in 2010, Bradley failed to make the U.S. side on points. Captain Fred Couples committed to Tiger Woods as his first wild-card pick and chose Haas for his East Lake heroics, and Bradley was left off the team altogether.

"It's kind of a sore subject" he said at the Grand Slam. By the Chevron, he sounded like he was over the controversial omission. "Oh, yeah, I watched the majority of it" he said. "It's been great being able to kind of sit back and take it easy a little bit."

A native New Englander, Bradley lives in Jupiter, Fla., in a condominium complex with fellow pros John Curran (Bradley's roommate), Jamie Lovemark and Luke List. They play golf, tennis and fish together, and they are a sitcom waiting to happen. The Howard Stern thing harkens to Bradley's time playing for St. John's in New York, the renowned basketball school where Bradley was constantly met with not only New York Yankees fans -- he's a Red Sox diehard -- but classmates who scrunched up their noses and asked, "We have a golf team?"

Bradley got tired of hearing the question.

"You look into his eyes and the guy is an intense dude" said Thompson, the Odyssey rep, who checks the loft and lie of Bradley's belly-putter on Monday and Wednesday each week Bradley is playing. The nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley is notoriously attentive to his clubs, and the belly, the longest club in his bag, is particularly susceptible to being bent by ham-fisted airline employees.

"He's very particular about his equipment" says Bradley's caddie, Steve (Pepsi) Hale. "The Cleveland guys check his clubs once a week."

After he won the PGA, where he outdrove Jason Dufner by 30 yards in the playoff, Bradley threw out the first pitch at a Sox game and hobnobbed with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. At the Chevron, Bradley played his Wednesday pro-am round with J.P. McManus and Dermot Desmond, fabulously wealthy Irish businessmen, and American hedge fund titan John Meriwether.

"Our group is worth about $4 billion" Hale quipped as they made their way around Sherwood. "John Meriwether is talking about joining Winged Foot in like 1974, when it was $650. I could just see Keegan's jaw hit the ground being around these guys. It's sometimes surprising to me how wide-eyed he still is."

Bradley will start his 2012 season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, and admitted he had no idea where to stay. "Of course you're staying at the Ritz" said Hale, who unlike his boss has been there. "We're all staying at the Ritz."

The freshest new face in golf plans to arrive a few days early to enjoy some whale-watching and otherwise get into the swing of Hawaiian life. If you close your eyes and imagine it, you can almost see him studying migration patterns.

 

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