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Keegan Bradley reflects on his PGA win, his childhood and his struggle for respect

Keegan Bradley, 2012 PGA Championship
Kohjiro Kinno/SI
Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

In the master bedroom of Keegan Bradley's Jupiter Island, Fla., bachelor pad, a replica of the Wanamaker Trophy resides on a console beneath the TV. Shiny and robust, the cup is a magnificent reminder of Bradley's surprise win at the PGA Championship last August, but it's not the most compelling artifact in the room.

Next to the trophy is a framed 4x6-inch snapshot of the cramped trailer Bradley inhabited with his father, Mark, the summer before Keegan's senior year in high school. Money was tight then. So was space; Keegan slept on the kitchen table. Bradley, now 26, actually recalls those days with great fondness -- "one of the most fun times of my life," he says -- but the photo is still a powerful symbol of his unlikely path to PGA Tour stardom.

A Vermont-born, Howard Stern-loving ski nut who bunked in a trailer park and attended college in Queens, New York? You won't find another player on Tour who checks all those boxes. "People say I came out of nowhere, but I've played very consistent golf my whole career," Bradley says. "I've just been kind of overlooked." In high school. In college. On the mini-tours. Hell, two months after winning a major, Bradley was left off the U.S. Presidents Cup team. On a sun-splashed afternoon at his waterside home, Bradley opened up about his endless struggle for the spotlight, his bond with Phil Mickelson, and the congratulatory text message that was "the highlight of my life."

It's surprising that more hasn't been written about your stint in a trailer. Not many major champions have that life experience.
My mom gets very sad when I talk about it, because she thinks it makes it sound like I had a bad childhood. So for a while I stopped talking about it. But really I had an unbelievable childhood. And I'm actually, in a weird way, proud of those days. I try to tell her, "Mom, it's a cool story. The story of me growing up in Vermont and skiing, people don't care about that. It's the trailer park that people want to hear about."

So let's hear about it.
We were living in a small, normal house in Woodstock, Vt. -- nothing extravagant. Then my parents separated and I ended up moving to Hopkinton, Mass., to live with my dad [a club professional]. He lived in a trailer at the time, in Crystal Springs Trailer Park. It was like something out of a movie. My dad is 6' 4", he's taller than me, and we were living in this trailer with bunk beds. He slept in the bottom bunk. I slept on the kitchen table -- the table folded down and had cushions; that was my bed. We had communal showers and bathrooms; I wouldn't be able to do that now. [Laughs] I remember one night the A.C. wasn't working and it was so hot that I slept in my car. But I never remember it being terrible. I remember loving it.

What's the oddest thing you witnessed there?
Me and my dad would sit out every night on chairs and just talk about stuff. One time we were sitting there and there's all this commotion. We look around and there's a tractor driving down the road with a trailer on the back carrying a Santa Claus. It's July, and people are going berserk; it's full-out chaos. We finally ask a guy, "What's going on?" And he goes, "It's National Trailer Park Christmas." My dad and I were just looking at each other laughing.

You moved out of the trailer later that year. Did your living arrangements improve?
We lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I slept on a pullout couch and we had no phone. There was a pay phone down the street that I found out the number to, and I'd have my buddies call it. In the winter, the heat wouldn't come on high enough, so we had to rely on a [wood-burning stove] for heat. But I hate to talk about it like it was a terrible time in my life, because honestly, it was awesome. I think it was an important time for me, because now that I've got all this [he looks around his spacious living room] -- it's like, "Oh, my God."

Life is good, in part, because of your PGA win. You probably know you're one of just three players to win in their first major start. Can you name the other two?
Yeah, [Francis] Ouimet and Todd Hamilton -- or was it Ben Curtis?

Right, Curtis. Was enough attention paid to what you accomplished?
Probably not. A lot of people thought I was going to be gone after that PGA and never heard from again. And little did people know that Jason Dufner would go on to be one of the best players in the world. Maybe if I'd done it against Tiger or Phil or another big name, it would have been something bigger. But I don't need the praise. I have the trophy in my bedroom, and that's all that matters. They can't take it away from me.

It seems like you've battled for respect at every stage of your career.
Growing up in Vermont, no matter what I did I didn't get much recognition. And then going to St. John's [in Queens, New York] and playing great and winning a bunch of tournaments, I still didn't get much recognition. It's my thing -- nobody thinks I can succeed, I've got a chip on my shoulder, I'm always trying to prove myself.

Back to the PGA. You were cruising along until you made a triple-bogey at the 15th on Sunday to fall five strokes back. What was your mindset at that point?
When I made triple, I remember walking off the green and literally feeling like my knees were going to collapse. I felt sick almost, like, I can't believe this happened. What people forget was the week before I had a chance to win the WGC [Bridgestone Invitational] and I shot 41 on the back nine on Sunday, and totally lost it like I've never lost it before. I could not play. At the PGA, it was almost like a here-we-go-again type thing.

You went on to birdie two of the next three holes, which got you into a playoff with Dufner. How did you regain your composure after the triple?
I told myself walking to the 16th tee that I wasn't going to let the 15th hole define me, because I had played too well to allow that to happen. Camilo [Villegas] actually sent me a text Saturday night that said, "There's going to be something in this round that's going to test you. It's the players that can bounce back from that that are champions." I remembered that text, and as I was walking to the next tee, I said, "I'm going to hit the best drive of my life here. I'm not going to think about anything else." And I hit a drive that is the purest shot I've ever hit -- about 30 yards past where I'd been hitting it all week -- and that set up everything.

That was your second win of the year, yet a few weeks later Fred Couples left you off his Presidents Cup team. Did that eat at you?
It hurt a lot. I really wanted to be on that team. There's such a bond that you can see among those players. I look at my buddy Webb [Simpson], and I can just tell that by playing on that team he's connected with these guys a little more. At the same time, they won the Presidents Cup. Freddie picked the right team. I don't hold it against him, and I truly mean that, I'm not just saying that. I realize Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods; he's intimidating. And then Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup. Everything went wrong for me not to get picked. There was only a 1 percent chance of me not getting picked and everything happened in order for that to happen.

Haas went 1-3-1 that week. That had to make sitting home even harder to swallow.
I'd love to be bitter at Bill Haas. He got me in the Presidents Cup. He got me in the Riviera playoff [at the Northern Trust Open in February]. But he's such a good guy and such a good player that's it's very difficult for me to even look at him like that. He played his way on to that team.

Presumably earning a place on the Ryder Cup team is a primary goal for you this year?
A lot of the veterans have told me that the Ryder Cup shouldn't be your main goal for the year, but it's hard for me to sit here and tell you that. My main goal is to win tournaments and play well in majors, but I want to be on this Ryder Cup team very badly. I love team environments, like the Celtics, the Bruins. I love going into the locker room and meeting these guys.

After the PGA, you received a congratulatory text from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. That was a shocker, right?
I remember getting the text and looking around at my buddies and saying, "If you're messing with me here -- if this is one of you guys, I'm going to kill you. Really, I'm going to lose it." It turned out to be him, and it was just such a cool thing because here I was, a kid from Vermont, I grew up admiring this guy as if he were a superhuman and he's texting me to tell me how he admired me and how I handled myself down the stretch. It was the highlight of my life.

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