Commentary

Keegan Bradley's PGA win 'a dream'

Originally Published: August 14, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Your winner of the 2011 PGA Championship left his rented townhouse Sunday with a batch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made fresh by his mother, Kay. Just before he drove away, Keegan Bradley told her, "I'm gonna do it, Mom."

"I know," she said. "Yes, you are."

And then he drove to the Atlanta Athletic Club, teed off at 2:30 p.m. local time, overcame a five-stroke deficit with just three holes left to play, somehow squeezed his way into a playoff and made the kind of golf history that lasts forever.

Bradley not only won the PGA Championship, but he won it in his first majors appearance. That's not too big of a deal, except for the part where it's only the third time in nearly the last 100 years that someone has done that.

He won it despite trailing the tobacco-dipping, seemingly unflappable Jason Dufner by those five shots late in the final round. He won it despite a debilitating triple bogey on No. 15. He won it despite having zero major championship experience.

"It seems like a dream and I'm afraid I'm going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it's not going to be real," Bradley said.

A dream for Bradley, a nightmare for Dufner. But that's how it works in majors. Ask Greg Norman. Ask Tom Watson. Ask Jean Van de Velde. They all had their hearts gouged by final-round drama.

[+] EnlargeKeegan Bradley
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesKeegan Bradley's victory marked just the second time in nearly 100 years that a golfer captured a major in his first appearance. Ben Curtis accomplished the feat at the 2003 British Open and before that Francis Ouimet did it at the 1913 U.S. Open.

Bradley could have slinked away after the crippling triple bogey, but instead he birdied the next hole. And the next hole after that.

Meanwhile, Dufner, playing in the final twosome just behind Bradley, bogeyed three of his last four holes. They were tied at 8-under at the end of regulation.

The three-hole aggregate playoff -- Bradley cruised to a one-stroke win -- was somewhat anti-climatic. Well, anti-climatic to us, but not to the Bradley and the rest of family clan.

After all, several years ago Bradley was down to the last $1,000 in his bank account when a family friend wired him money to keep his fledgling pro career alive. Shortly afterward, he won a mini-tour event.

Bradley, born and raised in Vermont and a massive New England sports honk, turned pro in 2008. He didn't make it to the PGA Tour until this season. He arrived at the PGA Championship ranked 108th in the world.

Now he has a five-year exemption to the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. He can play the PGA Championship until he drops.

"That's unbelievable, considering the fact that 2 years ago I was playing on the Hooters Tour grinding for, you know, survival to keep playing," said Bradley, who ended the Americans' majors winless streak at six. "It's amazing what comes with winning a PGA Tour event. I have no idea what comes with winning a major right now."

A check for $1.445 million comes with it. A Monday media tour comes with it. A round of golf with his Patriots football hero might come with it.

"I'd love to play with Tom Brady," Bradley said of the Pats' QB. "Yeah, he's one of my idols. That would be a dream come true."

As Keegan was handed the fire hydrant-sized Wanamaker Trophy, Bradley's younger sister, Madison, stood nearby on the 18th green with her 10-month-old son in her arms.

"That's your uncle," she said to little Aiden Keegan Bradley.

Aiden gurgled. Sister and mother were still in shock.

"Oh, my gawd," Madison said as a beaming Keegan turned to them and held his newest baby in his arms, the Wanamaker.

"I don't even know what to say," Kay said.

Bradley's father, Mark, is a PGA professional, which is only fitting since this is the tournament chartered by those club pros. And Bradley's aunt is none other than Pat Bradley, the LPGA legend and World Golf Hall of Fame member.

If you were in the mid-Cape Cod town of Hyannis, Mass., early Sunday evening, then you likely heard the sound of a ship's bell being rung over and over again. That was Pat clanging away, carrying on a family tradition that began in 1975, when she won her first LPGA tournament.

Back then it was a cow bell that Bradley's parents rang from the porch of their house in Westford, Mass. They rang it until everyone in the neighborhood heard it. The bell is now in the Hall of Fame.

Pat, who watched the final round by herself, did the same for Keegan.

"It was loud," she said by phone of the ship's bell. "It was very, very loud. And we're going to ring it many, many times."

Bradley, who jumped to No. 29 in the world rankings and ahead of 33rd-ranked Tiger Woods, rescued this PGA Championship. The course redesign had been assailed by the likes of Phil Mickelson. The weather was hideously hot. The Sunday leaderboard was mocked for its high no-name factor. No Woods. No Rory McIlroy. No Phil, etc.

But the 25-year-old Bradley, with an assist from Dufner, turned the tournament into something unforgettable, into a championship for the ages. Suddenly it didn't matter if the bunker sand was too soft and silty, or that Woods didn't even make the cut, or that some of the par 3s were a bit gimmicky.

"It was intense," Pat said. "We play for that glory and he got that glory."

It was so intense, that Keegan's 87-year-old grandmother, Kathleen, insisted on watching the final round on TV by herself. It was so intense that when the playoff became a reality, Madison sprinted from the 18th hole to the clubhouse area to retrieve Aiden, who was sound asleep.

Some things you just can't miss. Like history.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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