Keegan Bradley: PGA Champion
The 25-year-old rookie won the 93rd PGA Championship in his major debut.
By: Nathan Rush | 8/15/11, 12:11 AM EDT
By Nathan Rush
Apparently, all Keegan Bradley needed was a little water on a hot day at Atlanta Athletic Club.
After carding a triple-bogey at the par-3 No. 15, it looked as if the 25-year-old rookie’s chances to win the 93rd PGA Championship had taken a bad bounce out of a rough lie and skipped across the green and into the lake.
But instead of sinking to the bottom, Bradley came out refreshed, with a birdie-birdie-par finish on Nos. 16-18 — including an unforgettable, highlight reel 35-foot putt on No. 17 — to force a three-hole playoff with Jason Dufner.
Already golf royalty compared to the rest of the world, the son of PGA professional Mark Bradley joined his World Golf Hall of Fame aunt, Pat Bradley — who won six major championships during her career from 1974-95 — among the game’s elite, hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy in his first major attempt.
“I can’t believe it,” said Bradley, during his post-round interview with CBS lead analyst and trophy presentation emcee Jim Nantz.
“I’m so thankful to the PGA. My dad, Mark Bradley, is a PGA professional, who’s very proud of his status. And I know this will be a special one for him.”
Dufner, on the other hand, went from cool customer to major meltdown victim, shooting 4-under through 14 holes before collapsing to shoot 3-over on Nos. 15-18.
“Those are just tough holes,” said a dazed Dufner. “Unfortunately, to play them three-over coming in is a little disappointing. But there’s a lot to be learned from this and a lot of experience to be gained from this.
“Keegan played great that stretch, and that’s kind of what decided this tournament.”
Both Bradley and Dufner came out firing in the three-hole aggregate playoff, hitting brilliant second shots at No. 16 to thrill a crowd that may not have witnessed big names but definitely saw high drama.
But the wheels fell off once again for Dufner, who missed his short downhill birdie putt before Bradley drained his to take an early edge he would not relinquish. Dufner then bogeyed No. 17 and birdied No. 18, while Bradley calmly made par on each to take a one-shot playoff victory.
Bradley joins 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis and 1913 U.S. Open champ Francis Ouimet as the only men to win their major championship debuts. The St. John’s alum is also the 13th different winner in the last 13 majors and the seventh straight first-time major champion.
The life-changing win moves Bradley from No. 108 to No. 29 in the world rankings, earns a lifetime exemption to the PGA Championship, a five-year exemption to The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, as well as a $1.445 million winner’s check and his name engraved on the iconic Wanamaker Trophy.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Bradley. “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.”
It’s very real; and so is Bradley, who — in addition to the insight of his greenside upbringing — has been mentored by Phil Mickelson since arriving on Tour.
Having won his first PGA Tour event at the HP Byron Nelson Championship earlier this season, Bradley has now locked up Rookie of the Year honors with his improbable PGA Championship victory. In the process, the emotional young man from Woodstock, Vermont, has thrown his visor into the ring as a major contender to keep an eye on.
After all, Bradley has already shown the world how he reacts under major championship pressure when his only options are to sink or swim.
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