Keegan Bradley goes from slopes to PGA Championship

Original CKeegan Bradley celebrates his 35-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to tie Jason Dufner for the lead in the PGA. He went on to win in a three-hole playoff. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Original CKeegan Bradley celebrates his 35-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to tie Jason Dufner for the lead in the PGA. He went on to win in a three-hole playoff. (Jason Getz/AJC)

With rain, sleet and a freezing wind blowing in his face at the top of a mountain, Keegan Bradley had a revelation at the age of 12.

It was cold. Cold stinks.

“I’m at the top of this mountain in Killington, Vermont, thinking, ‘This isn’t much fun,’” Bradley said Sunday. “That was the moment I realized I didn’t want to ski. I wanted to be a golfer.”

The PGA Championship this week at the Atlanta Athletic Club was bizarre. Tiger Woods blew up on Thursday and flew out on Friday. Phil Mickelson never was a factor. Nor was Rory McIlroy or most recognizable names on the Tour. If there was a bridge in Johns Creek, a television executive was jumping off of it.

So it sort of figured that the tournament came down to two of the biggest obscurities in the field: Jason Dufner, who had never won a Tour event, and Bradley, a rookie playing in his first major and largely was known as Pat Bradley’s nephew.

The ending: Perfect.

Well, maybe not so perfect for Dufner. He was five shots ahead of Bradley with four to play and then his head exploded. He bogeyed 15, 16 and 17. It smothered the premature celebrating and “War Eagle” shouts from all of his pals from Auburn. But at a time when most are talking about golf’s new crop of stars to take over the spotlight from the fizzling Woods, we now have a relative unknown who lived in snow through most of his winters winning a major.

Bradley put on the greatest finishing kick of his life. He responded to a tee shot into the lake and a triple-bogey-6 on the 15th hole – because the last thing he wanted to do was go back to Killington — with birdies on 16 and 17 (with a 35-foot putt) to eventually force a three-hole playoff with the fading Dufner, and went on to win the PGA.

After taking a seat on stage at a news conference, Bradley pulled out his phone. Then he snapped a picture of the Wanamaker trophy sitting on the table in front of him.

“It seems like a dream,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m going to wake up in five minutes and it’s not going to be real.”

These are the cool stories, not merely because first wins in first majors by Tour rookies stand apart, but because Bradley’s bio contrasts almost any other golfer’s.

Let’s face it. Most golfers grow up as weather wimps. They are nurtured in warm weather climates. They are coddled and travel to junior tournaments. They step outside from their homes in comfy surroundings, somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, and think, “It’s a little breezy today. Might get down to the 60s.”

As a general rule, pro golfers didn’t spend the early part of their life learning how to attack moguls. They don’t play at colleges like St. John’s (“The Lou Carnesecca Invitational”?). They don’t grow up in Vermont and Massachusetts.

Do you know who the last former Massachusetts resident was to win a major? Francis Ouimet. He won the U.S. Open. In 1913.

The last New Englander? Julius Boros. He won the PGA Championship. In 1968.

“I didn’t grow up like kids in the South did,” Bradley said. “I was a racer in the winter time. I had  a long time in the winter when I didn’t hit balls. I think it paid off because I haven’t played as long as a 25-year-old from Florida has been playing so I’m not burned out.”

As Dufner stood at the 15th tee, it looked like it was over. One group ahead of him, Bradley had rolled a shot past the hole on the 15th green and into the lake, leading to a triple-bogey six. That dropped Bradley to 6-under and five shots back of Dufner.

“I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who triple-bogeyed,” said Bradley, who gave credit to a sports psychologist and Mickelson for helping him this week. “I didn’t want that hole to define my tournament.”

It didn’t. He hit a perfect tee shot on the 16th, which he called, “The best shot I hit all week.”

Bradley recalled that when Pat Bradley won golf tournaments, her mother would run outside and ring a cowbell, which now sits in the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine. He said his mother has started a tradition of “running around with wind chimes. But I think I want to get that cowbell and ring it once.”

It’s worth ringing from a mountain top.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

52 comments Add your comment

cloudy

August 14th, 2011
10:05 pm

Great finish to a great tournament.

Paul in NH (formerly RDU)

August 14th, 2011
10:09 pm

Keegan Bradley – wasn’t that the name of the preppy guy in the Wedding Crashers who beat up Owen Wilson’s character?

Dawg-gone

August 14th, 2011
10:11 pm

Great finish. My favorite part was When the “war eagle” fans went silent. A major choke.

Reid Adair

August 14th, 2011
10:15 pm

Maybe the television executives hated it, but the last few holes of regulation play and the playoff were very dramatic.

Sloan

August 14th, 2011
10:15 pm

Keegan Bradley may be the most gutsy winner of a major that we have seen in a long time!

Don

August 14th, 2011
10:23 pm

“Bradley put on the greatest finishing kick of his life. He responded to a tee shot into the lake and a triple-bogey-6 on the 15th hole – because the last thing he wanted to do was go back to Killington — with birdies on 16 and 17 (with a 35-foot putt) to eventually force a three-hole playoff with the fading Dufner, and went on to win the PGA.”

Bradley didn’t put his tee shot into the lake on 15. His tee shot was left of the green in the rough and he chipped it through the green into the lake. 1 left of the green, 2 into the water, 3 penalty shot to go to the drop area, 4 wedge onto the green from the drop area, 2 putts for 6.

But thanks for focusing most of the article on Bradley and Dufner after the obligatory opening reference to the jerk who missed the cut by seven and is dropping down the world rankings like a stone. Not only was the golf great today, but CBS didn’t have to worry about any of the contenders dropping f-bombs over the air.

Bradley is an enormous talent, hits it straight and a mile long and putts beautifully. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win more majors. Dufner hits it like a machine but based on switching to the fat grip on the putter and freezing over some short putts for what seemed like an eternity he may be on the verge of the yips. I think he should consider going to the long putter.

Terrible Truth

August 14th, 2011
10:41 pm

Great tournament, I only wish that the former St. Eldrick hadn’t missed the cut. I would rather have seen him have to hang around and play 36 meaningless holes, the jerk.

Mr Haney

August 14th, 2011
11:16 pm

These no-names are going to take a toll on golf over the long run. The game needs some anchors to build around.

Campbell

August 14th, 2011
11:31 pm

Jeff, seriously – get your facts straight. See Don’s comments above.

Atlanta deserves better sports writers.

Jdub

August 14th, 2011
11:35 pm

You guys kill me. Has anybody seen John Daly, lately??? He’s probably somewhere drinking the rest of his life away (while driving)!!! Now there’s a jerk!!!

5150 UOAD

August 15th, 2011
12:24 am

I didn’t know Bradley could play golf. I thought he just wrote bad articles for the AJC Sports page.

Jacob

August 15th, 2011
1:47 am

Great tourney, but I’m not gonna lie, it was like watching an intense Nationwide event. What’s with everyone recognizable sucking it up all week? CBS can only build the drama so much for a bunch of no namers.

donny ballgame

August 15th, 2011
6:09 am

The DeKalb Neighbor’s sports section has become the equal of the AJC.

Lame coverage of his major event.
Which was great and with an awesome finish!

Joe

August 15th, 2011
6:39 am

Golf should move to the Versus channel. The sport is officially dead.

Hank

August 15th, 2011
6:57 am

That was a very good tournament on a great golf course. Dufner played very well but couldn’t quite close it out. Hats off to the AAC as the course is in great condition. This is a good site for the PGA and I hope they will return soon.

BobDawg

August 15th, 2011
7:21 am

@Terrible Truth… I hadn’t thought about that… I wish Eldrick had made the cut just to suffer more…. I had to laugh at Nike had is clothes all laid out for the 4 days in the Gift shop and he wasn’t around for 2 of the shirt options…They must be going nuts trying to figure out if they should drop him or what… His line has tanked for them…But it was a Great tourney and golf is in great shape with the Young-uns coming up and on… The Old Boyz better step aside….

Lowcountry Bulldawg

August 15th, 2011
7:36 am

The Tourny probably will tank in the ratings but the last 4 holes in regulations and then in the playoffs was incredible gol. If given the chance Bradley may be the next breakout star. He had stoic calm in coming back from that Triple and making the put on 17? Incredible! Watching his charge up the leaderboard and in contrast watching Dufner giving away the 5 shots he had worked three and a half days to build was reviting.

collegeballfan

August 15th, 2011
7:50 am

Jeff, with all due respect to you and your colleagues, I just read Furman Bisher’s column on the tournament, and all of you guys finished second.

PJ

August 15th, 2011
7:57 am

Honestly, this was the most boring tournament in the history of golf. ZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZ. Is it done yet? This guy will never be heard of again. BOOK IT.

Buckeye

August 15th, 2011
8:05 am

Headline:

Bradley defeats Dufner in playoff

Huh?

Let's Go

August 15th, 2011
8:07 am

I know the name Keegan Bradley means very little to the casual golf fan but this young man had had a pretty good year coming into the PGA with a win and couple other top 10’s and over 2 mil in prize money. Yeah, no one expects a rookie to win a major championship but why not since there is no one in golf that is head and shoulders better than everyone else and to be honest I don’t think we will see another golfer dominate the sport like that again in the near future. Is Keegan Bradley winning the PGA a shocker? Not really since Martin Kaymer and Y.E. Yang were unheard of to most casual golf fans when they won the last 2 PGA’s. How many had heard of Charl Schwartzel before winning the Masters? Louis Oosthuizen, I follow golf pretty closely and I got to admit I’d had no clue who he was but that is the way the sport is right now anyone who tees it up on Thursday realistically can win. Well, maybe not John Daly but who knows. . .

RealGolfFan

August 15th, 2011
8:14 am

PJ……your comments bore me. Never be heard from again?????? Book it????? He’s won TWICE this year!!! Spare us from your negativity and ignorance. He’ll win multiple events in the future !

Don

August 15th, 2011
8:25 am

I wonder about people who find it exciting when Tiger Woods holes a 50 foot putt to tie for the lead on the 71st hole of a major but are bored when a young guy named Keegan Bradley does it. Bradley hit it as long and as straight yesterday as Woods ever did. So why is it boring, because he’s not dropping f-bombs all over the place? Because he’s a well mannered and likeable guy?

Gordon

August 15th, 2011
8:36 am

They say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. Any tournament at the AAC doesn’t begin until the 15th hole on Sunday.

Let's Go

August 15th, 2011
8:45 am

How could you not enjoy the last couple of hours of the PGA yesterday? It was a great tournament and the last 4 holes at AAC were as exciting as any major golf championship that I can remember. It’s not Keegan Bradley’s fault that all the established veterans couldn’t stay out of the water on 17 & 18 or that Jason Duffer couldn’t hold a 5 shot lead with 4 to play. Golf is in a crazy state right now and some may call it boring but yesterday afternoon was anything but boring. Another reason why Bradley winning should not be a surprise; In the last 4 years there have been 16 major championships and in that time frame there have been 15 different winners. Only one multiple winner, Pádraig Harrington won the 08 British open & PGA. 11 of the 15 players were first time major championship winners.

The Ghost of Sam Snead

August 15th, 2011
8:48 am

What are the poor, frustrated “War Eagle” fans gonna do now? Poison some poor innocent tree on the golfcourse?

Go Jackets

August 15th, 2011
8:50 am

Let’s hope that the AAC stays on a once in ten years rotation for the PGA. The course was great, everything was well organized, and it is a very fan friendly venue. The golf yesterday afternoon was very dramatic. Sure, these guys are not big names, but at least they were Americans. Way to go AAC on a job well done.

C. Tampa Ironworse

August 15th, 2011
8:58 am

Wow, this kid has had to make some TOUGH choices. Skiing or golf? I have a feeling a guy that has a name like Keegan Bradley is golf’s quivalent of Stan Gable.

Delbert D.

August 15th, 2011
9:22 am

Back in 1972, pro golfers who won a tournament made about twice what I made in a year. Driving to California in 1972, we stopped in Fort Worth, where the Colonial was being played. My daughter played in the motel playground with Homero Blancas’ children. I stood in the checkout line at the motel on Monday a.m. behind Billy Casper. Jerry Heard won the tournament and collected $25,100.

bart

August 15th, 2011
9:36 am

It doesn’t matter that there were no famous names at the top of the leader board. This was as exciting a finish as you will ever see in a golf tournament.

Turnt_Up!

August 15th, 2011
9:44 am

@Don, perhaps it’s because when Tiger was doing it, folks were recognizing that they were watching one of the greatest to ever do it. Period. And that’s not to take anything away from Bradley. But I wonder if he had won the second most majors ever blowing away the field as a young phenom repeatedly, how it might affect his “manners”. Because he has not yet obtained Tiger’s success, we dont really know much about how he acts in different situations, because cameras are in his face 24/7. I hope he is as well-mannered as many seem to want him to be, although I dont know if golf fans care as much about that as they say all of a sudden. Tiger is definitely NOT the first A-hole on tour, and wont be the last. I don’t want to hang out with Tiger, but I’d sure like to see one of the best ever, do it again.

shankit

August 15th, 2011
9:56 am

The one hour trek, waiting in line, along with 50,000 other golf fans
in sweltering 100 degree heat, to cross a single pedestrian bridge
which is the only entrance to the grounds was miserable. If AAC
ever has another major, they should give some consideration to
the fans for speeding up access.

Joey

August 15th, 2011
10:21 am

I am a golf fan and I haven’t missed Tiger at all.

PGA Guy

August 15th, 2011
10:22 am

Number of posts to this article mirrors overall interest in the PGA Championship. Golf is in for a few rebuilding years.

WHOCARES.COM!!!!

August 15th, 2011
10:29 am

The PGA is in crisis mode—-no superstars=tv crap ratings

shankit

August 15th, 2011
10:41 am

PGA in crisis mode? Don’t think so.
Golf (er, Tiger Channel) may be.
60,000 fans yesterday in 100 degree heat attests PGA is healthy.

1eyedJack

August 15th, 2011
10:45 am

Jeff, did you volunteer to cover golf, or was this some form of punishment?

Ben

August 15th, 2011
10:50 am

shankit, Wow. We had completely different experiences. I thought it was the easiest in and out I’ve ever had to a golf tournament. The crowds weren’t bad and you could get great sightlines of everything. I got closer to greens and tee boxes than I could at the Masters. They can’t do anything about the heat but they did offer misting tents and fans wherever possible.

As for those claiming golf is dead. Please. Golf is just going through the post-Tiger hangover. The #1 player in the world (Luke Donald) was in the hunt until the last couple of holes when it became clear it was going to be the Bradley/Dufner show.

There are a slew of GREAT young players out there right now. I’m sure 2-3 of them will seperate themselves from the pack.

PMC

August 15th, 2011
12:02 pm

Isn’t this what the PGA virtually every year? Winner comes out of nowhere?

It was a very enjoyable tournament. Tougher course, much tougher than the US Open this year.

PMC

August 15th, 2011
12:04 pm

JDub, Daly competed, and he looked like he was in pretty good shape to me.

Innocent Bystander

August 15th, 2011
2:35 pm

AAC did a marvelous job running the tournament. I attended yesterday, and I was immediately impressed with how smoothly everything ran. The course was in magnificent shape and was absolutely gorgeous – even in the blistering heat.

Watching Keegan hit his 35-footer into the cup on 17 was something I won’t soon forget.

Let NONE in

August 15th, 2011
3:07 pm

AAC did do a good job. But the players stink. BORING.

PJ

August 15th, 2011
3:08 pm

That auburn guy Duffner was Mr. personality, huh? I didn’t know if he was going to fall asleep on the course before I fell asleep watching him….now he’s got his extra bucks to take the fall off for football..last we’ll see of him….glad tigger got out of town early.

PJ

August 15th, 2011
3:13 pm

PGA—most overrated major….can’t wait for that fedex cup and it’s scoring system….yeehaw…

[...] final three holes, Bradley rose from the brink of defeat and managed to square up with Dufner. His impressive finish will be spoken about for a long time to [...]

Born2Buzz

August 15th, 2011
5:33 pm

PJ, you obviously aren’t much of a golf fan.

I could care less if I saw Dufner ever again but the last 4 holes and the playoff were high drama for sure.

And I have to give Dufner credit for sinking that putt on 18 of the playoff to force Bradley to 2 putt to win it.

Calibre Lake Dawg

August 15th, 2011
5:37 pm

Looks like Don put on his Tiger hater hat on today??? Funny enough they had tiger on TV a lot and not once did I see the F bomb. Live in the now Don,

[...] final three holes, Bradley rose from the brink of defeat and managed to square up with Dufner. His impressive finish will be spoken about for a long time to [...]

sports

August 15th, 2011
10:14 pm

Dufner played so good for all those holes, maybe the pressure got to him there at the end. You got to hand to Bradley though, he really came down the stretch like a champion. This young man looks to have a lot of game…hits the ball long and high, good putter and a great attitude.

PJ

August 16th, 2011
7:42 am

Reminded me of a club tournament. Lame players.