The swing changes have sunk in, and Keegan Bradley is (almost) back to playing like himself again. The excitable three-time Tour winner, who took home the 2011 PGA Championship and was a fist-pumping revelation at the 2012 Ryder Cup, is poised to make some noise in 2015. “At any moment I feel like I could explode,” he told Golf Magazine during a sit-down interview.
Alas, he could have exploded with rage after his autumn turned into a pumpkin. Bradley DQ’d himself from the BMW when he thought he may have broken a rule, even though a Tour official had exonerated him. He failed to qualify for the Tour Championship, and the Ryder Cup two weeks later was a debacle, with Bradley and wingman Phil Mickelson riding the bench all day Saturday, and Bradley going 1-2-0. Vermont’s finest is flying as far under the radar as ever—not such a bad thing, given his history of coming out of nowhere to win. Bradley opens up about his close friends Michael Jordan and Phil Mickelson, what went wrong at Gleneagles, and why we may see him hoisting a trophy soon.
Let’s start with your famous intensity. Phil says that at one point at the 2012 Ryder Cup, you screamed so hard that you saw stars and almost pased out. What prompted your rebel yell?
[Laughs] It was when I made that putt against Sergio [Garcia] and Luke [Donald] in the first match I played. I yelled so loud I got dizzy! I almost passed out right there on the green.
Were you more excited at that Ryder Cup at Medinah or when winning the 2011 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club?
Definitely Medinah, although in regular tournaments you have to hold in the emotion. But at the Ryder Cup you can let it come out of you and just explode, and that’s what I enjoy most.
You love the Ryder Cup. Did getting drummed at Gleneagles dim that enthusiasm?
No, I don’t think it did. If anything, it gave me motivation to hopefully win the Ryder Cup. So many of the guys on our team have never won one.
When did you and Phil find out that Captain Tom Watson would be benching you all day Saturday?
We didn’t know we weren’t going to play until lunchtime on Saturday, when Tom told us we weren’t in the lineup.
Were you a little peeved at Watson? After all, you still had–and have–an impressive 4-1-0 record partnering with Mickelson.
We were surprised we weren’t playing, but Phil is a team player, and so am I. So we were going to go out that afternoon and cheer on our teammates as hard as we could. I spent most of my time with Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker to see if I could give them a little boost.
Did you feel like once Watson lost Phil, he lost the team?
I don’t think he ever lost Phil. I think Phil is probably the most passionate player we have—he wants to win more than anybody. He was going to do anything he possibly could to win his matches and help the other guys win theirs, so at no point did he lose Phil.
That’s a bit hard to swallow, given the press conference afterward.
Well, I don’t think he lost Phil.
This year, you revealed that you never unpacked your suitcase after Europe beat Team USA at Medinah in 2012. The implication was that you’d unpack it if you won at Gleneagles. What are you going to do with that thing now?
It’s still packed up. It’s such a bummer, because I had all these plans. I had a bottle of Champagne that was left over from Chicago. I had a bunch of things I wanted to do with the guys, but we’ve got such a great group of guys that we’re going to be tough for years to come.
You haven’t won a Tour event in two years. Is it a mental issue?
Sort of—I’ve played good golf, and I’ve had chances to win. I feel like I’m close to winning. It’s right around the corner. The PGA Tour is so deep that the 150th guy can outplay you and win.
Speaking of guys who win, how did you meet Michael Jordan? Was it through the Ryder Cup?
I met him through the Ryder Cup, but we’re members at the same course in Florida, the Bear’s Club, and we live in the same town. So we play a lot—a ton of golf together.
Can we assume you two get a little game going?
Michael likes to put a little something on it, yes. That’s the scariest part. For him to play for a hundred bucks or whatever, that’s like pocket change.
Who gives you more of the needle when you play, Jordan or Mickelson?
They’re similar, but M.J. goes places Phil would never go. I also play a lot with Luke Donald, and if I’m around the green, M.J. might say something like, “Luke Donald would get that up and down. You can’t. Your short game is terrible.” He’s ruthless. I love it. He’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks.
Your girlfriend, Jillian Stacey, said you have about 50 pairs of Air Jordans. True?
Yes. I’ve got about 50 pairs of golf shoes, plus sneakers. I have so many golf shoes, because the Jordan people—once they get me the newest pair, they’ve got two more coming out. Then they’ll send me a box of sneakers. They’re in my garage and in my closet.
Jordan has six NBA Championship rings. You have three Tour wins, including a major. Do you two ever talk about the art of winning?
Yeah, we’ve talked. It’s amazing when you meet your heroes and they’re such good dudes. It’s even weirder to meet a hero and become really good friends with him. I’m comfortable enough with Jordan that I’ll call him or text him at any time of day with questions, or just to say hi. We chat a lot on the course or hang out for dinner. He wants to help.
How much money do you think you’ve taken off Jordan? Hundreds? Thousands?
Well, I kind of feel weird talking about—
No one thinks Michael Jordan is going broke.
Put it this way: He’s bought my girlfriend and me a lot of dinners.
Jordan’s 51. People used to talk about him being good enough to make the senior tour. What’s your take on that?
Well, I don’t know about him making the Champions Tour, but he can make five birdies in a round. He’ll also make some doubles and screw some holes up. He’s going to shoot at worst low 80s, and probably 75, 76.
Ever seen that famous M.J. competitiveness in full flower?
One time, I gave him 10 shots, five a side—he shot 1 under, I shot 65, and he beat me 3 and 2. But recently I eagled 18 at Bear’s Club to beat him. Michael likes to talk, but when I do stuff like that, he gets quiet. When M.J. is quiet, life is really, really good. But I have to shoot 3-or 4-under to beat him.
It’s been reported that your goal is to relax and not try so hard. True?
Yeah, that’s a big thing for me. I want it too much.
Is wanting to win too much what has kept you from winning over the last two years?
That’s part of it. I went through a bit of a swing change this year with Chuck Cook, and I had a pretty successful year with all the changes I’ve made. Now Chuck and I are really seeing those changes come together. I tried to get my swing more on plane going back, less upright, and really work on my short game and wedges, especially chipping. It was hard.
Did you go with Cook because he was Jason Dufner’s guy?
I played a lot of practice rounds with Dufner with Chuck there, so I could hear what he was saying. People forget that Chuck taught Payne Stewart, Corey Pavin, legendary guys. Chuck blends old school and new school. He’ll bring you out on the range with a TrackMan and look at the numbers, but he can go old school and tell you how Hogan did it.
Jillian is with you a lot on the road, right?
She’s helped me tremendously. It was amazing when I got the call from Watson. She knew how much I wanted to be a captain’s pick. She has to hold in the emotion just like me. When I got the call, we just hugged. It was an amazing moment, like she got picked, too. She couldn’t stop smiling. We were driving in the car, and she had a french fry in her hand, and all of the sudden she just threw it against the window, just freakin” out. We were laughing hysterically.
Rory McIlroy beat you in singles at the 2012 Ryder Cup. Did you commiserate with Phil when Rory edged him out at the PGA Championship?
I sent him a text saying how well he played. For Phil it’s all about the majors now. He lives for the majors. He could have a terrible year, be playing poorly, and still win two majors.
What do you admire most about Mickelson?
Seeing how much the Ryder Cup means to him. He was amped up that first match we played at Gleneagles, against Rory and Sergio, No. 1 and No. 3 in the world. We really wanted to win it, so we were anxious to get out there. [Bradley and Mickelson won, 1 up.] You can see it in his eyes, and hear it in the way he talks to me. He’s very calming and meticulous in what he says. We just talked about our strategy. He’ll give me pep talks, looking out for me, as he has for my entire career.
Have you ever beaten Phil in your regular Tuesday game?
Oh, yeah, but he’s got a big lead on me, that’s for sure.
Does more money change hands in games against Phil or Jordan?
It depends. We could play for a dollar or we could play for a million, it’s the same passion. It’s not about the money. It’s about the camaraderie.
You once said that Phil hit the best shot you’d ever seen with your own eyes. What was the shot?
Yeah, it was at the  Ryder Cup at Medinah, on the par-3 17th, and we were playing McIlroy and [Graeme] McDowell, and we were 2 up. No. 17 is kind of an amphitheater, with so many people, everyone excited. It was late in the day. It was best ball. The pin was front-left over the water—a tough shot. I pulled it in the bunker. Then Phil hit this 7-iron that covered the flag. He hit it to a foot. And that ended the match. In that moment, with all of that pressure, I couldn’t believe that shot.
Hall of Famer Pat Bradley is your aunt. You two teed it up lately?
We just did our charity day in Vermont last week, and she came out and played in that. She’s my hero, my inspiration. She’s still very, very good. It was a scramble at Woodstock Country Club. We raised almost 150 grand for cancer research in Vermont. All the money we raise stays in Vermont, which is important.
You’re 28. What would you like to accomplish by the time you’re 30?
I’d like to win the Ryder Cup. And I’d like to win multiple times on Tour.
You’ve already won three times. Do you mean you’d like multiple more wins?
Right. My focus now is to contend and be a factor in the majors. For me what’s most important is how many times I’m there to win, because if I’m there a lot I’m going to get a couple.
Almost no one recruited you out of high school, and you were a long shot to win the 2011 PGA. You’ve been overlooked your whole career. So maybe being overlooked is a good thing.
I’m at a really good spot in my career, to the point where I feel like I could explode at any moment. If I keep progressing with my game at this rate, I think I’ll be a big factor in the next five years.
What do you have to do in order to explode?
I have to trust what I’m doing, let it happen. I’ve forced it over the last year. I was a couple back in New Orleans last year, and I birdied the second hole and was even with the leader, but then I made triple on the seventh hole, and it got ugly. It was blowing really hard, but I think I tried too hard.
At the end of 2014, there were 14 Americans ahead of you in the world ranking. Do you feel you need to make a statement to tell the Patrick Reeds and Jordan Spieths of the world you’re still here?
Absolutely. I know that last year wasn’t my best year, but I know that this year’s going to be great. It’s important that I go out and have a good year.
At St. John’s, you were nicknamed “Grandpa” for your early-to-bed ways. Do you still keep those hours?
I do, actually. The guys on Tour make fun of me about it. Luke invited me to dinner the other night at home in Jupiter. I said, “Sure.” He said, “Let’s meet at this restaurant at eight o’clock.” I said, “Eight o’clock, are you crazy?” I ended up not going, and now the guys make fun of me because I get room service every night and go to bed early. I wake up early. I like to get to the gym by 7:30. I put in a full day, and I get tired. [Laughs]
So you’re in bed by 10?
Oh, yeah, and I love to get to bed earlier than that, by nine or maybe earlier if I have an early tee time.
Pete Sampras once said that the key to a good night’s sleep was to turn up the air-conditioning as high as it goes and then burrow under the covers. Is that your philosophy?
I do the same. I close the blinds, get it dark, and then crank the A.C. I use the cell phone for the alarm.
Coffee in the morning?
I don’t drink coffee in the morning during tournament days, but I’ll drink coffee in the morning every other day.
That makes sense–you’ve got to protect your nerves. Speaking of nerves, are you worried about your putting, with the anchoring ban taking effect starting in 2016?
Worried? No, I’ve got a few options I’ve been practicing with. I’m using the same model, an Odyssey Sabertooth, but it’s counterbalanced, so it’s got the same feel as a belly putter.
And it’ll pack easier.
Are you using it in your practice rounds?
Yeah, I’ve been using it pretty exclusively. It’s a counterbalanced putter six or seven inches shorter than my belly putter. I’m sort of relearning how to putt all over again. It’s been a lot of fun, actually. It’s a lot different when you get under the gun, but I’ve been putting very well with it.
You haven’t won on Tour with a regulation putter. Is that a concern?
No. I’m aware of that. I’ve played a few rounds with a regulation-length putter, but I haven’t put in the hours that other guys have with it. All my hours of putting and practicing with the belly the last six or seven years—those are gone. I’m a little behind, but I look forward to the challenge of making the putting change.
Are you starting 2015 with a regulation-length putter?
That’s the plan, but I’m trying not to rush it. I want to make sure I’m 100 percent comfortable.
Okay, so you’re in bed by nine. What do you drive these days, Grandpa?
Most of the time when I’m back home in Jupiter [Florida], I’ll drive a cool Jeep Wrangler. I’ve got it all pimped out. It’s matte black with huge, big tires, black rims. I’ll put the top down.
What are you listening to?
My favorite band is Mumford & Sons. I like Kings of Leon, too.
Rookie of the Year on the Nationwide Tour and Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour–will you be Rookie of the Year on the Champions Tour, in 2036?
[Laughs] I don’t even know if they have that. But I’m proud that I was Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour, because you only get one shot at it.
Unlike the Comeback Player of the Year, which as Steve Stricker proved, you can win twice.
Right. I’d take one of those, too. Hey, when it comes to awards, I’m not picky.