PGA Championship: Bradley hasn't changed

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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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- It is a photo album nearly filled with snapshots of a year that has fulfilled his dreams and tested his commitment – to himself, his family and his game.

That he has thus far succeeded on all three counts is a credit to Keegan Bradley’s ability to put a massive bear hug on perspective, which is why the cold, pelting rain and the long, gnarly rough of Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club didn’t freeze his enthusiasm; they jump-started his spirit.

At the end of a 4½-hour practice round in steady precipitation, Bradley stopped short of the 18th green and turned toward one of the Open Championship’s most iconic landmarks: the massive yellow scoreboard above the grandstands. There, as an indicator to tell fans who was approaching the green, was Bradley’s name, along with those of “Westwood” and “Baldwin,” Lee and Matthew, respectively, Englishmen who had accompanied the young American on this Tuesday game.

From beneath an umbrella, Bradley aimed his iPhone camera to snare the latest image that will commemorate a year in the life of a sports meteor.

A year ago, while the game’s best were gathered at Royal St. George’s in pursuit of the Claret Jug, Bradley was a PGA Tour rookie with no place to play.

“I was sitting in Jupiter (Fla.), $700- a-month rent, a dump, no furniture; it was just horrible,” Bradley said, then smiled. “OK, but I loved it (the apartment), and I remember watching the British Open, just itching to play in the majors.”

He hadn’t been in any, though he had won a tournament, the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Truth is, unless you’re on the biggest stages, you feel incomplete. Bradley knows, which is why as he toured Royal Lytham &

St. Annes alongside Westwood, he was acutely aware of how things had come full circle for him.

“I told Lee, ‘This is one of my last firsts of my career,’ ” Bradley said, “in terms of it’s not going to be my first British Open or my first World Golf Championship or this tournament or that tournament.”

He was 108th in the world order early last August, behind the likes of Jamie Donaldson and Johan Edfors. Barely a blip.

He was five off Jason Dufner’s PGA Championship lead with three to play after pitching his second shot into the water at the par-3 15th. An afterthought.

All of that merely continued the story of Bradley’s golf life. Unheralded as a junior player, passed over as a college recruit, he had used the rejection as motivation. When Bradley remarkably stormed home to overtake Dufner and win in his first major start, the door flew open to a new world.

Snapshots can verify it has been a brilliant ride: Here he is, throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park, home to his beloved Boston Red Sox . . . flipping the opening coin before a Patriots preseason game . . . in Bermuda at the Grand Slam of Golf – with father Mark, mother Kaye, sister Madison and nephew Aiden . . . in China at the HSBC Champions . . . with family again, in Hawaii at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions . . . at Augusta National, with Kaye caddieing in the Par 3 Contest . . . also at Augusta, a gathering of Bradleys – including uncles, Hall of Famer aunt Pat and grandmother Kathleen . . . and a Father’s Day memory to cherish, Mark Bradley inside the ropes to caddie for Keegan on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open.

If there is a common thread, it is his joy for the game and the insistence that this ride be shared by his family.

“The Bradleys are a close group of people,” he said. “They’re living and dying on every shot as much as I am, so it’s been really fun to have them around.”

He sees it as payback for when on so many occasions as a junior or a fledgling pro Bradley faced rejection or heartache or disappointment and had a legion of Bradleys to offer encouragement. If he owes his success to resiliency, he insists he gets it from a blue-collar family that respects golf and the requisite work ethic.

Stay humble, stay focused, stay true – core values embraced by Bradley. He had them when he lived with his father in a trailer in Bolton, Mass., before his senior year in high school, and he had them throughout his collegiate years at St. John’s, and also when he lived in that apartment in Jupiter with a high school teammate, Jon Curran. Oh, and guess what? Mike Dunphy, a player rep for Cleveland/Srixon, said those values remain in place: Though the living quarters in Florida have been seriously upgraded, Bradley still rooms with Curran and keeps it basic.

“I still hang out with all my college buddies,” Bradley said. “It’s still the same me.”

Since his dramatic PGA victory last year at Atlanta Athletic Club, Bradley has been disappointed by his efforts at the Masters and U.S. Open, and his Tour results have been mixed. Yet in the rain of a practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Bradley ended with some playfulness. He challenged caddie Steve “Pepsi” Hale to toss a ball underhanded to the hole 30 feet away. Hale did so, to a foot; Bradley got it closer with his putter.

Waving Westwood over, Bradley, who tied for 34th at Lytham, put down the challenge, and the Englishman, the world’s fourth-ranked player, showed his mettle by holing the putt.

“Sometimes when I catch myself getting a little too serious,” Bradley said, “I have to remind myself that a year or two years ago, I would have killed to be in this event. . . . I’m still kind of learning as I go along.”

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