Keegan Bradley takes his first crack at Ocean Course

Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship in what was his first-career appearance in a major.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) – Keegan Bradley had heard about the difficulty of The Ocean Course – and agreed with everything he'd been told after taking his first crack at the site where he'll defend his PGA Championship title this summer.

“It is brutal,'' Bradley said Thursday.

He's just the latest pro golfer to reach that conclusion after walking off Pete Dye's treacherous layout hard against the Atlantic Ocean. Dye constructed the course for the 1991 Ryder Cup matches and the combination of the swirling winds, adjacent marshes and protected greens brought the games' best players at the time to their knees.

“I didn't think it was that hard today,'' quipped Dye, the 86-year-old architect.

While the players have gotten longer off the tee, Bradley sees a scenario where the fast greens and gusty ocean winds will send scores soaring.

“If the wind blows, I think the winning score could be over par,'' he said.

Bradley rallied from five shots down with three holes to play last year at the Atlanta Athletic Club, eventually winning a three-hole aggregate playoff over Jason Dufner. Bradley smiled as he watched a video highlight of his biggest moments, including a 35-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole that helped him charge back.

“It kind of really hits home what I've done, times like this,'' he said.

Bradley was on hand partly to start the process of doing it again. While there's more than four months until Bradley and the rest of the world's best tee off, Bradley soaked up as much as he could during his round.

“I learned where to hit it and, thanks to my playing partners, where not to hit,'' he said.

Bradley, taking the week off from the PGA Tour, later hit a ball off the flight deck of the decommissioned aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown that is docked near Charleston. Bradley's second shot from 65 feet above the harbor hit the target, earning several fans watching tickets to Monday's practice rounds.

Bradley said it took him several months to adjust to things like his aircraft carrier stunt and the attention that comes with a major win. That, he says, is why he didn't play so well following the PGA. Slowly, through talking to family – his aunt is famed women's golfer Pat Bradley – and friends on the PGA Tour, Bradley learned to balance the early week duties of media, pro-ams and fans with playing solid golf.

Bradley finished second at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera last month. He's been no worse than 22nd in any of his eight starts this season.

“It took some time to realize that things had changed,'' he said. “That's been the biggest adjustment.''

Bradley feels as grounded as he was before that life-changing week outside Atlanta when he entered 108th in the world and was an unlikely pick to end America's drought of not winning the previous six majors.

“When I'm home I don't feel any different. I don't feel like a major champion,'' the 25-year-old Bradley said.

Some things have changed dramatically. The Boston sports fan has thrown out the opening pitch at a Red Sox-Yankees game, dropped the puck for the Bruins and flipped the coin for the AFC champion New England Patriots. But nothing with the hometown NBA squad.

“Still waiting on the Celtics,'' Bradley joked.

Maybe they will reach out after he wins a second major.

Bradley feels his game is strong and prepared for the Masters at Augusta National next month. He's talked with his friend Phil Mickelson about preparing for the tournament and plans to play next week at Houston before arriving at Augusta.

“It's a great course for me and I'm really trying to copy what Phil Mickelson does,'' Bradley said.

Mickelson has won the Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

The PGA Championship will be the first major championship held in South Carolina. The Ocean Course served as host for the 2007 Senior PGA, organizers using the event as a run through for this summer's showcase.

Dye was on hand to make sure his masterpiece will be in first-class shape. The course is expected to play at 7,606 yards. Add in the tricky winds, the sand dunes and marshes that line nearly every hole and things could get as wild down the stretch this August as they did for Bradley last year.

Bradley, a long hitter, used a driver and hybrid 3-iron into the wind on the 494-yard, par-4 18th hole and came up short of the green. He's certain he'll be ready when it's time to defend his crown.

“This year has been a lot of fun so far,'' Bradley said. “I'm still looking for a win, but I've definitely been a lot more comfortable out there than I was a year ago.''