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

Keegan Bradley
Ben Van Hook
Bradley keeps a replica of the Wanamaker Trophy in his home at Jupiter Island, Fla.

Around that time, another of your idols, Howard Stern, invited you on his radio show.
Well, I wasn't exactly on the show. I got interviewed by the Howard 100 News. People look at me weird because I'm a Howard Stern fan, but he's very misunderstood. It's the first thing I do when I get in my car at a tournament -- just pray that I get Howard 100 on Sirius or XM.

 

Joey Diovisalvi, your trainer, told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that you told him, "Every time I think about the fact that I'm not No. 1 in the world, I want to tear my head off." Did you really say that?
I don't know if those were the exact words, but I really think I can win a lot and be a great player on the PGA Tour. I feel like my fitness is something that's holding me back, and if I can improve that, I can make a run at being one of the better players on Tour. I really am driven to be No. 1 in the world. It drives me crazy when I see other players winning [more than me], because I want it so bad. It doesn't mean I'm not happy for them, but it drives me to work harder. I want it so much.

Have you always been that way?
Yeah, I've always been like that. Watching other people do well -- it drives me, especially the people who are my own age like [Rory] McIlroy and Rickie [Fowler]. It's great for the game, and it's great for me personally because I want to be out there with those guys winning tournaments.

You were a competitive junior skier in Vermont. When did you realize you wanted to pursue golf over skiing?
I was 12 or so. The thing about skiing is that race days are always the worst, because they're so intense. You train all week, all year, for a 30-second run, then you hook a tip on the first gate and you're done. I remember one day at Killington [a mountain in Vermont], we're up there and we're all freaking out; it's so nerve-racking. It's raining, it's cold, it's miserable. The course is in terrible shape, full of ruts because the weather is so bad. And I just said to myself, "I don't know why I'm here. I want to be playing golf." That's when I decided.

Golf isn't always easy. There's a story about you almost going broke on the Hooters Tour.
Yeah, it was during the Winter Series. I was actually playing very well in terms of making money; I don't know how other guys do it. At Houston, I was down to $1,200 in my bank account and Q-School money was due that week. I was freaking out, which I do a lot. So I called my buddy, Dr. Glenn Muraca, who I'd met at St. John's at a golf course we played at, Wheatley Hills. I called him, I said, "Listen I have $1,200 in my bank account and I can't afford to pay for Q-School." He said, "All right, I'm going to wire you the money." It was like, oh my God, this is the most unbelievable thing. The entry fee was $4,500; he wired me six grand. I think about it now -- it might as well have been $100 million, because it was priceless. That week, I went on to win, and I won $35,000. From then on, it was a very steady increase; I began to win more and compete and I got through Tour school easily, got a Nationwide Tour exemption, and now we're sitting here. That moment changed things.

You've become friendly with Phil Mickelson and partake in his practice-round money matches. What's the most he's taken off you?
People love to hear about that, but it's so much more than that. When we play against him in those matches, the whole time he's telling us "Okay, the pin's going to be here, hit it here, do this, aim at that tree." So it's a weird dynamic -- he obviously wants to kick my ass, but in the next second, he's telling me what to do on a certain hole at, say, Augusta or at Akron, where he helped me out a lot. That's what makes it cool.

But when he wins, does he make you buck up?
Oh, yeah. Which is the way we all want it.

There's a perception that Mickelson can be aloof or detached in the locker room, especially around the younger guys. In your experience, that doesn't sound it's like the case.
That's so far from the truth. I feel bad, because on the one hand Phil's beloved and on the other hand there are these crazy rumors and stories about him that are so ridiculous. He's been nothing but helpful and approachable to me and to other players that I know of. It's terrible that people think that, because it's just so not the case.

Does knowing Phil help alleviate the pressure when you face him in a competitive situation, like in the playoff at Riviera this year with you, him and Bill Haas?
I think it's helped me with every player because Phil is Phil Mickelson. I played with Tiger at the Players this year for the first time and I felt totally fine, and I think that's from playing all those times with Phil.

After that Sunday at Riviera, you were criticized for your frequent spitting. Is that something you even realized you were doing?
I've always done it. I've been spitting my whole life. Off the golf course, walking down the street, I'm spitting. My mom would yell at me about this my whole life. I wasn't aware of it happening on the course, but in a weird way I'm happy that it happened because I was able to totally stop it. People were legitimately very upset about it, which was tough to take.

Jack Nicklaus said the first time he saw himself smoking on TV, he was repulsed by it, and quit smoking during play on the spot.
That's what happened to me. The first thing I had to do was stop spitting off the golf course, which sounds silly. It was a very serious thing, part of my whole routine, but I was able to stop.

After the PGA win, you spent a few days hauling the Wanamaker around Jupiter and letting people touch it. What's the weirdest thing someone asked to do with it?
The weirdest thing was just looking at the expressions on people's faces. They were looking at it like it was a ghost. Even some of my friends who are superstars would look at it and just be freakin' out, like, Oh my God, I can't believe that's the Wanamaker. It reminded me of what I'd done.

Which superstars?
When Camilo walked in and looked at the Wanamaker, I don't know if "proud" is the word, but I remember how happy he was. It took me by surprise how amazed he was by it.

What about you? Are you still in awe of it?
It's funny, I'll just be lying in bed and it'll hit me: I won the PGA. I won a major. And I'll start laughing to myself. It's a weird thing because after a while you become immune to it, and then I'll walk into my room, look at it and it hits me -- that's the Wanamaker Trophy. That's amazing.


 

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