A word to the wise: If you're meeting Keegan Bradley for dinner, don't have a late lunch. At last week's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Bradley agreed to break bread but insisted on meeting at 6 p.m. because, in his words, he didn't "want to be out late." Then he reconsidered and bumped up the meal to 5:30.
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For all of his boyish enthusiasm, Bradley, 26, has carried the nickname Grandpa since he was an early-to-bed undergrad at St. John's. The season opener in Maui is a laid-back working vacation for many players, but Bradley stuck tenaciously to his killjoy routine. He flew in on New Year's Eve but was in bed by 9:30. The next day was, he says, "literally my perfect day." He got up early and played a practice round. Alone. Then he worked on his game for a couple of hours, continuing a new emphasis on upgrading his wedge play. After that he hit the gym; twice-a-day workouts in the off-season have packed 10 pounds of muscle onto Bradley's onetime lanky 6' 3" frame. He then killed the rest of the afternoon watching episodes of Breaking Bad followed by his favorite dinner: room service. He was in bed again before 10. He maintained this kind of focus throughout his stay on Maui.
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"I can't come here and fish or go to the beach like these other guys," says Bradley, a bachelor who was traveling by himself last week. "That's ridiculous to me. It makes me the player I am, but it also makes me crazy. It's exhausting. I mean, I don't want to sound like a psychopath. My off-weeks, when I'm with my boys, I have a good time. But when I'm at a tournament, I'm there to do everything I can to win it. I don't have any fun finishing 30th or 20th or 10th. I really don't. I get my joy in life from playing well."
Bradley has always thrived on being an outsider, and he arrived on Tour in 2011 with a chip on his shoulder the size of Vermont, his home state. But he immediately proved he belonged in the big leagues, winning twice as a rookie, including the PGA Championship in his first start in a major on the strength of some outrageously gutsy play on the closing holes.
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Last year Bradley backed it all up with another big-time victory, at the Bridgestone Invitational, and a starring role at the Ryder Cup. While forging a 3–0 record in partner play, he became the face of the U.S. team with his bug-eyed, fist-pumping intensity. You might think that after such a smashing start to his career, Bradley would want to relax and enjoy the ride a little bit more, but he remains driven by an almost unhealthy fear of failure, which he inherited from his hyperfocused aunt, Pat Bradley, the LPGA Hall of Famer. "Whenever I go to a tournament I feel underprepared, even though I've worked as hard as possible," Keegan says. "I always feel I have something to prove. I always feel like an underdog. If I ever lose that, I'm in trouble."
Bradley keeps in touch with his roots with the help of what he calls "my degenerate friends." His expansive bachelor pad in Jupiter, Fla., features eight TVs plus a home theater and a tiki bar in the backyard looking onto the Loxahatchee River. Bradley's only official roommate is his high school pal Jon Curran, who was an All-America golfer at Vanderbilt. But four of Bradley's St. John's teammates more or less live there too. All are chasing the dream on various mini-tours. Asked what this crew does for fun, Curran says, "Mostly we play golf. That's what's fun for us."
Bradley's pals are an everyday reminder of the razor-thin difference between fame and fortune on Tour and the hand-to-mouth existence of the itinerant mini-tour grinder. "Sure, they beat me when we tee it up," Bradley says. "It has happened plenty of times. When we play, we're grinding. If we get a match going, there's no working on your game. It's all good fun until the 13th or 14th hole comes around, and then it gets real quiet."