SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda – He is understandably distracted, being in the grips of paradise. And Keegan Bradley also is comforted by the knowledge that his dramatic breakthrough rookie season earned him rewards that most players will never realize.
Yet for all the reasons to embrace his time here in Bermuda for the PGA of America’s Grand Slam of Golf, part of Bradley’s heart and spirit is going to be in Kannapolis, N.C. That’s where Bradley’s friend, roommate and high school teammate, Jon Curran, is beginning yet another quest at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
“No question, I’ll definitely make that the first thing I do, to check out the scores,” Bradley said.
Some eight years ago, Bradley possessed talent and passion when it came to golf, only the national junior spotlight never came his way and he wasn’t even sure where his senior year in high school was going to take him. Woodstock, Vt., was the logical choice, given that Bradley had gone there for the first three years, but something had happened in the summer of 2003 to make him re-think that move.
The first was a round of golf with some new friends whom he had met in Hopkinton, Mass., “something he called freakish,” said Mark Bradley, Keegan’s father. So many shots that day had been flushed, so many putts had fallen, and so competitive had he been when compared with Curran that Bradley felt inspired. For good reason, too. Curran at the time was a heralded junior player, well known to followers of the AJGA and a standout player at Hopkinton High School.
“Come to Hopkinton High School and we’ll win the state championship,” is basically what Curran told Bradley.
Bradley followed the advice, and Curran was proved correct. Hopkinton High School was a powerhouse that year, but what was more substantial was the forging of a friendship that remains central to who these young men are. Following their collegiate careers (Bradley went virtually ignored by the major programs, went to St. John’s and flourished; Curran, one year younger, waded through a handful of options before settling on Vanderbilt), the former high school teammates chose the same career option, pro golf, and settled in as roommates in Florida.
To say the story at some point produced a fork in the road would be an understatement, because while Curran is still navigating the challenging pro golf landscape, Bradley at 25 has burst onto the scene with remarkable success. Consider the tables turned from the way things were when they first met, but the glory of Curran’s character is how he is overjoyed for his friend.
“Our friendship is something really rare,” Curran said. “I’ve never had anything like that before and doubt I ever will. We are constantly on the same page.”
That Bradley has followed a relatively fast track into stardom (he graduated from St. John’s in 2008, played the Hooters Tour in 2009, the Nationwide Tour in 2010, and won a major in 2011) is made even sweeter by all the years when he was pretty much rejected and overlooked.
It is that slice of the Bradley story that thrills his best friend.
“KB has had his success these past two, three years because he hasn’t given up,” Curran said. “He’s had a lot of what some people would call adversity that would have forced a lot of people to quit or get down. He used that to fuel him. That’s what makes a champion.”
So far as his own place in the golf world, Curran uses Bradley’s story to appreciate where he came from and now stands, headed to Q-School for a third year after another season of minitour experience.
“I really haven’t had that much adversity in my own career, to the extent that this is about as tough as it’s gone for me,” said Curran, whose resume includes a good many junior and collegiate championships and All-America honors at Vanderbilt.
“But I do welcome it, because no one gets to a successful position in their craft by sailing through with ease. I take something (Bradley) said in an interview one time when asked why he didn’t quit when he was low on money; he said quitting isn’t an option.”
Not that Curran needs to be reminded about the rewards that do exist for those who succeed at this PGA Tour business, but surely he catches a glimpse of one every time he’s home in Jupiter, Fla. It’s called the Wanamaker Trophy, which goes to the PGA Championship winner, and it sits in Bradley’s bedroom.
“Believe me, he’s seen it plenty,” Bradley said with a laugh.
It was the night of Bradley’s dramatic playoff win over Jason Dufner at the Atlanta Athletic Club and most of the golf world was trying to fathom how this rookie had triumphed in his first-ever major championship appearance. Back in Jupiter, Curran was overjoyed for his friend, but as he fielded questions about his high school days with Bradley, he had a haunting thought. The very next day, the young men were scheduled to move into new accommodations, property that Bradley had bought, and Curran laughed.
“Just tell the PGA champion to get home, because it’s moving day.”
OK, so Bradley wasn’t quite there to coordinate the movers and load the trucks with furniture that day, but Curran more than understood. Their friendship is galvanized by so much more.
Bradley has said that his game has improved through the years by watching and studying Curran. “I wish I could have his wedge game,” Bradley said. “No one is better.”
Curran returns the bouquets. “His ball-striking is second to none. I always tell myself that if I can hang with him in terms of ball-striking, that’s huge. I mean, he’s the best I’ve ever seen hit a ball, and if you’re hanging with him, then you couldn’t be too far off.”
Today, they are far apart, both in terms of physical location (Bradley in Bermuda, Curran in North Carolina) and where they sit in their journey through the pro-golf maze. But the fact that Bradley will sign a scorecard in Bermuda but care more about a scorecard at a venue called The Club at Irish Creek is a testament to the great institution of friendship.
“I think the fact that we push ourselves so much actually works to push and motivate each other,” Curran said. “He is such a good person and a great friend; we would do anything for each other. He has had such great success this year, and yet he hasn’t really shoved it in my face or been cocky.
“It’s difficult sometimes when I directly compare myself to him, but that’s only because we’re so close. I don’t go around comparing myself to other tour players or champions. Thinking like that doesn’t help, I don’t think.”