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