MARANA, Ariz. – It isn’t so much how far he’s traveled in the world of golf from a year ago. (Though for the record, Keegan Bradley has come quite a way, having been ranked 221st at this point of the 2011 season, as opposed to his current form of 19th.)
What says more about Bradley as a person is how far he’s gone in the last few days.
Roughly 5,300 miles, for the record.
Oh, it could have been a 450-mile commute from last week’s Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles to this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but Bradley has no qualms about the extra travel. Fact is, Bradley followed his heart, not any GPS.
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Having lost in a three-way playoff at Riviera on Sunday, Bradley flew a red-eye to Boston to serve as pallbearer at Monday morning’s funeral for Peter Curran, who died of melanoma Feb. 15. A resident of Hopkinton, Mass., Curran’s son, Jon, is one of the first friends Bradley made in the summer of 2003 at a time when he was thinking of leaving his home in Vermont and attending Hopkinton High School for his senior year.
Encouraged to do so by Jon Curran, then the team’s best player and an AJGA standout, Keegan Bradley found an invaluable ally in Peter Curran.
“He was awesome. He treated me great (at a time when junior golf wasn’t going well), and he was a huge supporter,” Bradley said. “He would always tell me how good he thought I was.”
It appears that Peter Curran was ahead of the curve. Miles and miles ahead of the curve, confident in Keegan Bradley’s ability even when AJGA and Division I experts thought otherwise. Though they have traveled divergent routes in pro golf – Bradley into PGA Tour fame and fortune, Jon Curran onto the minitours – the former Hopkinton teammates have remained close and that, in turn, meant Keegan Bradley still was close to Peter Curran.
“It was a no-brainer (to make the trip to the funeral),” Bradley said Tuesday, stepping up the steep hill behind the 18th green after a practice round at the Ritz-Carlton GC. He had returned to Arizona late Monday night after the whirlwind cross-country-and-back trek. If Bradley was exhausted, he sure didn’t show it. Credit the memory of a man whom he admired or credit the peace he felt within for having done the right thing, but Bradley appeared invigorated and more than ready to take on the challenge of this match-play event.
There’s a sterling match-play history, after all.
“I was just thinking, I’ve played in four match-play tournaments, and I’ve won three of them,” Bradley said.
OK, so we’re talking wins in the Vermont Junior Amateur (twice) and the Wyoming State Amateur (once), but Bradley offered a smile. At the time, they were big events for him, so there’s confidence from which to be drawn.
What there also is is a fondness for this desert course, with its runway-like fairways and expansive, undulated greens.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a course in as good a shape as this one,” Bradley said. “My caddie (Steve Hale) was out last night and told me he saw workers with vacuums. I love it. I think it’s awesome.”
Seemingly, the course would fit Bradley’s talents, given that he hits it high and long and he is in possession of a superb wedge game. The ability to putt it beautifully also will help, but of course, match play being the animal that it is, Bradley got no favors from the way the brackets fell: he drew two-time champion Geoff Ogilvy right off the bat. Ogilvy is 20-4 overall in the Accenture Match Play championship, including 9-2 at the Ritz-Carlton, where he prevailed in 2009.
If Bradley were to win, he would meet Sergio Garcia or Miguel Angel Jimenez in Round 2. Then again, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pushover anywhere in the draw and the point could be argued that nothing would rate as an upset.
What ranks as upsetting, however, is the commotion being made in some media outlets after a series of TV camera shots were shown Sunday of Bradley spitting during the final round of the Northern Trust Open. The world of social media being the runaway train that it is, the seemingly innocuous actions by Bradley set in motion a steady stream of criticism by countless souls who think they have a beat on the world’s conscience.
Crazy, but on a day when Bradley was showing a humanness to be admired and respected – having flown from California to Massachusetts to bid farewell to a decent man who had befriended him years earlier – he was called into the court of public opinion for persistent spitting.
For his part, Bradley took ownership and offered his apologies.
“I was surprised to see the replay of the telecast to see how much I was spitting,” Bradley said. “I really had no idea I was doing it. I feel bad. It’s something that I’m going to work on, and I just ask everybody to just kind of bear with me as I go through this. I will do my best to stop.”
Seems like a natural request, but the only thing is, we live in a world where, amazingly, tens of thousands of people have achieved such perfection in their lives that they have little else to do but pass judgement on others. So Bradley probably knows the criticism will continue.
If only those people could find the time to consider the personal side to Bradley’s actions that deserve admiration and respect.