My year in golf: Ryan Lavner

Keegan Bradley exults after winning the PGA Championship on Aug. 14.

Keegan Bradley exults after winning the PGA Championship on Aug. 14.

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It was probably 10:30 p.m. when we finally left the media center. Honestly, I don’t really remember -- on major Sundays, you tend to lose sense of time, location and overall sensibilities. Anyway, winding through the parking lot at Atlanta Athletic Club, the discussion among three Golfweek writers naturally shifted to the improbable events of the past 12 hours at the PGA Championship. Keegan Bradley, all of 25 and playing in his first major championship, had won the damn thing. It was brilliant and inspiring and exciting, all those good things, and Bradley’s caddie, Steven (Pepsi) Hale, raved afterward that young Keegan was “the grittiest player I’ve ever worked for.”

Then a funny thing happened as we walked through the darkness. We saw the PGA champ. In the parking lot. This was strange for a number of reasons. First of all, he was alone. (Don’t major winners, like, celebrate?) He was cleaning out his belongings in a courtesy Cadillac. When we approached Keegan, still dressed in a red polo and white slacks, he looked tired yet exhilarated. Kind of like seeing an actor backstage after a Broadway play.

“Can you believe this?” he asked us.

Well, no. Frankly, we couldn’t. First-time participants aren’t supposed to win majors. Fraternity members can’t skip initiation. But looking back now, flipping through this pile of notebooks and past issues, it was an appropriate episode in My Year in Golf.

After all, what exactly could you believe?

I couldn’t believe what Adam Scott told me in San Antonio. We walked together down the 18th fairway during a Tuesday practice round at the Valero Texas Open. It was windy and uncomfortably warm, a two-shirt kind of day, and his pro-am partners were awful. Two days earlier, Scott, a perennial underachiever, had finished second at the Masters, his best result in a major, where he was topped only by a freak finish. He recently had begun using a 49-inch putter, an unsightly thing. Then he told me, “I feel like these next 10 years will be my best.” After racking up $3.7 million in 2011 earnings, after hiring esteemed (and mouthy) bagman Steve Williams, after winning at Bridgestone . . . well, maybe he was right.

I couldn’t believe Kelly Kraft won the U.S. Amateur. Over seven sun-splashed days at Erin Hills, the 22-year-old SMU grad prevailed in a 23-hole match; thumped U.S. Walker Cup member Patrick Rodgers; knocked off GB&I standout Jack Senior; and on the final day, in the upset of the summer, outplayed and outsmarted Patrick Cantlay for 34 holes to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy. Kraft was spectacular all week. Laying in the grass that Sunday, with his sneakers kicked to the side, sat Kraft’s childhood friend, Boston Brittain, who caddied for him that week. “I’m exhausted,” he told me, taking off his flat-brim Texas Rangers ballcap. “But that was worth it.”

I couldn’t believe PGA Tour player Jarrod Lyle, a leukemia survivor, was so tormented upon arriving at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t believe Rhys West, then a sophomore at Southeastern Louisiana, was playing at NCAA regionals, let alone contending, after learning of the death of his father and the rapidly declining health of his mother back home in South Africa. I couldn’t believe John Peterson was left off the U.S. Walker Cup team, then was in further disbelief when I saw him later in the lobby of the Milwaukee Marriott, in jeans and a T-shirt, seemingly in high spirits, looking ahead to the future.

Yes, there’s always next year in golf, another tournament, another round.

Plenty of time to see something you wouldn’t believe.

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