LAS VEGAS – Excuse them, because they were young and naive, just high-schoolers who figured life in the small pond was . . . well, what life was always going to be like, even when the pond got bigger.
They loved golf. They were good at it. What’s the big deal?
“Weird,” Jon Curran said. “When you’re young, you just kind of assume that it’s going to happen, that we’ll just go out and play on tour.”
Silly kids, eh?
Sure, except that here they both are, years removed from their teammate days at Hopkinton High School outside of Boston, their PGA Tour membership punched for the 2014-15 season. Keegan Bradley, 28, is a veritable grizzled veteran, set for his fifth season after a meteoric entry, while Curran, 27, is the polished rookie who has played the waiting game with impeccable patience.
“I think we’ve always assumed it would have happened,” Curran said. “But now that it has actually happened, we realize how incredible it actually is.”
College teammates making it onto the PGA Tour? Not that unusual. Sort of like a par-5 birdie. But high school teammates from a cold-weather climate both making it? More like an albatross, and the fact that Curran’s rookie season is off to a rousing start makes the story even sweeter.
Not that he can’t show restraint. Yes, he finished joint eighth at last week’s season-opener, the Frys.com Open, and earned $168,000, but he’s already taken a deep breath, made the trip from Napa, Calif., to Glitter Gulch, and inhaled a large dose of perspective.
“It feels great, but at the same time you’re looking to the next week, to keep going, because it doesn’t just take one week out here like it would on the Web.com Tour,” Curran said. “It’s nice, but like I said, it’s not like I won the tournament.”
Besides, even if Curran wanted to stray from the task at hand and let his focus wander, he’d get a text or a phone call from a certain close friend who would slap sense into him. Bradley and Curran, you see, are more than former high school teammates; they’re best friends who went their separate ways after high school – Bradley to St. John’s, Curran to Vanderbilt – but reunited and became roommates in the Jupiter, Fla., area as they broke into the pro ranks.
“It’s the sort of attitude that we both have. We enjoy the good things, but we kind of re-focus pretty quick,” Curran said. “It’s a quality we both share. I’m not trying to be a big shot or anything, but I’m just saying that there’s a lot more golf to be played.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on the range here at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open who could tell you where Hopkinton is, save for perhaps the odd soul who might know that it’s the official starting point of the Boston Marathon. “I’m not even sure people know that,” Curran said, laughing.
All right, so there’s a hint there. You can run from Boston to Hopkinton in two-plus hours if you’re really fast. If asked, however, how far it is from Hopkinton to the PGA Tour, truth be told the answer would be that it’s an improbable trek, maybe impossible.
So, how is it that two kids from the same small team conquered the journey? Dick Bliss wonders that often, rarely can provide a logical answer, but maybe here’s a hint: “I never once said to either of them that you can’t make it.”
Bliss is a prince of a man, a former teacher in the Hopkinton school system, and for 35 years he’s been the golf coach at Hopkinton High School. The good golf times continue to roll on at this school of approximately 1,100 students, Bliss’ team having gone 12-0 this season to run its streak of league wins to 30 over two years. State competition still awaits, his focus is on bigger wins for the kids, but there is always time to remember that year when good fortune smiled down upon his team.
Already a strong team, the Hillers in the summer of 2003 got much better thanks to Curran’s sense of leadership. “He recruited Keegan,” Bliss said with a laugh. Happenstance is what it was, a true stroke of luck that Mark Bradley that summer accepted a job to work at Hopkinton Country Club. A passionate teacher of both skiing and golf, Mark Bradley loved Vermont, but figured for a change of pace he’d work that summer in Hopkinton. Next thing he knew, his son Keegan was chumming around with this Curran kid, the two of them playing golf every minute of the day.
It was as if Mark Bradley had inherited a second son. As if Peter Curran had found an older brother for Jon. Soulmates, they were.
“What I really loved about Keegan was his passion,” Curran said. “Guys on the golf team? They liked golf and stuff, but (they played other sports) and I was a little more into it. I was traveling to tournaments.”
And along came Keegan.
“Keegan really had that attitude. He was really into it. He had a chip on his shoulder and loved playing golf. This was just a little bit of a different level and that really drew me toward him.
“We had the same personalities. We really did.”
Mark Bradley gave in to Keegan’s wish to leave Woodstock, Vt., and stay at Hopkinton for the 2003-04 school year. Curran’s sales pitch was just too strong. Famously, Mark and Keegan lived in a trailer – affectionately called “Tin Cup” – for a few months before moving into a small apartment. The Hillers won the State Championship in 2003, Curran and Bradley dominating players, though a sweet, soft-spoken, and determined young lady named Kim Donovan had a lot to do with the team’s success, too.
“It was a wonderful experience, just a really fun team that knew what it was doing,” Donovan said.
Bliss still calls upon memories of that team to remind his current players what sort of doors golf can open for you. Bradley graduated from Hopkinton in 2004 and went to St. John’s. Curran graduated in 2005 and went to Vanderbilt. Donovan graduated in 2007 and went to Duke.
“I tell the stories of those kids, those teams (that won back-to-back state titles), and the kids look at me. It makes an impact. They still rub off on kids all the way down (the line),” Bliss said.
She has settled into the business world, works in finance for a “small, boutique bank,” in Boston, but Donovan keeps close tabs on her former teammates. She occasionally exchanges text messages with both Bradley and Curran and admires what they have accomplished.
In February 2012, Peter Curran lost a battle with melanoma and the sense of heartache devastated Jon. Ditto Keegan Bradley, who went right from a playoff loss to Bill Haas at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open and boarded a red-eye to Boston so he could serve as a pallbearer at Peter Curran’s funeral.
Golf had brought Jon and Keegan together. Life’s roller-coaster ride cannot separate them.
The years since graduating from Vanderbilt, for instance. Curran has stopped in at nearly ever minitour possible – eGolf or Hooters, state open circuit or something called the GolfSlinger – and he has had his fair share of coming up just shy in various stages of PGA Tour Q-School. “I’m not sure how many messages and how many texts I sent him, just telling him to hang in there,” Bliss said.
Likely, the total pales in comparison to those relayed by Bradley, either via text or in person. No matter that Bradley had broken onto the PGA Tour in 2011 and taken things by storm – a win at the HP Byron Nelson Classic, an unforgettable triumph in the PGA Championship – there was always room to turn his focus to his friend’s game. Always, Bradley would tell anyone who asked that Curran had what it took. “I wish I had his wedge game,” Bradley would say.
Finally, in the fall of 2013, Curran earned Web.com Tour status. Finally, he had his break and it took him little time to take advantage. Curran won the Brazil Champions Presented by HSBC, then tacked on a series of strong finishes – a T-17, T-15, T-3, T-4 – to virtually assure that he’d be in the hunt for a 2014-15 PGA Tour card. It wasn’t so much “if,” as it was “what number” priority he would have, and when Curran concluded the season with five straight missed cuts there might have been reason to find a panic button.
But not with Curran. Not when you have a best friend named Keegan Bradley. Not when perspective is a commodity you both share. “I was playing great golf,” Curran said. “It sounds like I’m trying to be positive or whatever, but I was playing really good golf. I played great in Jacksonville (the Web.com Tour Championship). I shot 72-69 and missed the cut. Not really much you can do about that.
“I just tried to stay positive.”
Easier said than done, perhaps, but Curran had been tossed in alongside Bradley and other Jupiter golfers named Luke Donald and Rickie Fowler and Camilo Villegas so he had a sense of where his game stood. His priority number was 24 – not as good as he had hoped, but still, not bad.
He would accentuate the positive and he carried that layer of perspective with him to Napa, shot 68-72-67-70, got onto the leaderboard at the Frys.com Open, hung in for a top 10, smiled about the $168,000 and the 78 FedEx Cup points, and laughed when someone reminded him that Bradley missed the cut in his first tournament as a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour.
“Yeah, but then he took off,” Curran said, laughing.
Nice that Curran remembers that, because it’s likely that Bradley would be more than happy to remind him.
You know. Friends being friends.