No less an iconic figure than Arnold Palmer contends that what shaped his persona is not how he handled the many memorable successes, but how he reacted to the few unforgettable heartaches.
With dignity and character, it now can be said. If we transfer that thought process to young Keegan Bradley, the quest going forward is simple: Forget, if you can, those scintillating last six holes at the 2011 PGA Championship – three birdies, three pars, and a five-stroke deficit wiped out with a playoff win, thank you very much – and focus on the few moments he stood off the 18th green at East Lake Golf Club and sensed that his chance at a Presidents Cup berth was slipping away.
“If I’m not on the (Presidents Cup) team, I’ll be devastated,” Bradley said at the Tour Championship, and as much as you expected the tone of his voice to run the gamut from anger to bitterness, impressively it did not. Instead, Bradley added a reasoned reaction to what seemed to be his fate.
“But at the same time, I didn’t earn my way onto the team.”
You might be tempted to explain this reasonable perspective as a young man not wanting to make waves, but, no.
More accurately, it is consistent with his makeup, because proving he belongs has never been a challenge Bradley has refused to meet.
“He’s heard he’s not good enough all his life,” Mike Dunphy said. “He’s never believed it.”
A player representative for Cleveland/Srixon, Dunphy likens Bradley to the running back who gains his yardage after being hit hard.
Using that analogy, consider Bradley determined to pile up some “yards after contact” because the positives haven’t stopped since he was bypassed for the Presidents Cup team. He won the PGA of America’s Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda, teamed with Brendan Steele to capture the Shark Shootout, and now he has fixed his sights on this year’s Ryder Cup team.
“It would be really cool to just bounce back and play on the Ryder Cup team,” Bradley said at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. “I hope to do that. I know it’s a tough challenge.”
In an effort to gain better consistency (he missed 10 cuts in 28 starts in 2011) and into contention more often and thus pursue that Ryder Cup goal, Bradley said he and swing coach Jim McLean focused on the wedge game.
“The best players in the world? They’re all world-class wedge players,” Bradley said. “That’s something that I think you can try to improve your whole career.”