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PGA Grand Slam of Golf: Keegan Bradley

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PGA GRAND SLAM OF GOLF APPEARANCES: 2011
MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP WINS: 2011 PGA Championship
WORLDWIDE VICTORIES: 2
BIRTHDATE: June 7, 1986
BIRTHPLACE: Woodstock, Vt.
RESIDENCE: Jupiter, Fla.
FAMILY: Single
SPECIAL INTERESTS: Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics
TURNED PROFESSIONAL: 2008

By Rich Skyzinski, Special to PGA.com

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- One of golf's most appealing attributes is that no one knows what's going to happen next. Just like the least talented of players might put the ball in the hole on a shot from an adjacent area code, so too can the world's most gifted golfers inexplicably perform as though they're unsure which end of the club to use.

So it was that the PGA Championship made its third visit to Atlanta Athletic Club, where Keegan Bradley, playing in career major No. 1, found himself in possession of the Wanamaker Trophy at the end of an I-can't-believe-what-I-just-saw week.

Just two years removed from playing on the Hooters Tour -- "grinding for survival," he termed it -- Bradley won by a stroke in a three-hole aggregate playoff and joined all sorts of elite company. He added his name to that of Francis Ouimet and Ben Curtis as the only players in the last 100 years to win their major championship debut; he also made it seven consecutive first-time major winners and was the 13th different player to claim the last 13 majors.

"It feels unbelievable," said Bradley after securing the second victory of his rookie season. "It seems like a dream and I'm afraid I'm going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it's not going to be real."

It's hard to say which was more shocking, that Bradley won with no previous major experience, or how he did it — making up a five-stroke deficit with only three
holes left to play.

It usually takes two to tango when such an incredible swing occurs, and in this case, Bradley's dance partner was Jason Dufner, in his fifth year on tour but still winless. Watching players negotiate Atlanta Athletic Club's final four holes is much like watching a race at Talladega.

It's inevitable there's going to be a pileup; the only question is the severity of the carnage. As Dufner stood on the tee of the par-3 15th late on Sunday afternoon, watching most of what Bradley endured to make a triple-bogey 6 -- he hit a pitch of 40 feet that trundled across the green, into the water, and then went to play from 109 yards for his fourth shot -- he couldn't have asked to be in a better position for his first career victory with a gap of five strokes separating him from Bradley and Robert Karlsson.

But little did he know what would transpire next.

Over the course of a mere 38 minutes, Dufner made three consecutive bogeys and Bradley back-to-back birdies, thus getting both players in at 8-under-par 272 after pars at the 18th.

"It's not the finish I was looking forward to," said Dufner. "I'm disappointed in the fact that I couldn't close it out. "I'm not a history buff as far as golf goes. I know the media tries to define careers on certain players... (but) I'm not into that. I just play golf. And I want to be as good as I can be. If that's 20th in the world with no majors, or first in the world with 10 majors, or never to win a tour event, I'll be fine with it."

Bradley, who went birdie-par-par in the playoff, certainly has the bloodlines for success. His father, Mark, is a PGA Professional at Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Golf and Tennis Club and his aunt, World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, won 31 times on the LPGA Tour, among them six majors (including three in a single season).

"I grew up going to Pat's tournaments and totally idolizing her and wanting to be like her out there," Bradley said. "I remember watching her as a kid, going to her tournaments and literally staring her in the face and I'm her nephew, and she was so into it, she would not even recognize me. And I thought that was cool. I always wanted to be like her."

With his name now written in the history books, Bradley no longer will be able to go unnoticed, which, he concedes, he'd done much of his life. He grew up in the golf hotbed of Woodstock, Vt., and played his college golf at St. John's University, which last played in the NCAA Championship about the time Bradley was turning 2.

"Ever since I was 10 years old, I've kind of flown under the radar," he explained. "I had what I thought was a pretty good college career. I never really got noticed. Same in junior golf and kind of the same out here... It's cool to be thought of as one of those guys now. I've always wanted to win tournaments and win majors. I can't believe this (Wanamaker Trophy) is sitting next to me. It's an honor to be even thought of in that category."

The week began with great fireworks, and they weren't all in celebration of Steve Stricker, who became the 23rd player in history to shoot 63 in a major.

Tiger Woods, in his second start following a three-month hiatus because of injuries, birdied three of his first five holes to zoom into a share of the lead. But just as quickly, Woods, a four-time PGA Champion, inexplicably plummetted down the leaderboard. When Woods signed for a firstround 77, his highest score in 53 rounds at the PGA Championship, he found himself in a share of 133rd place, ahead of just seven players who played in the morning wave of starters.

How many bar bets could have been won by backing 43-year-old Bob Sowards, one of the 20 qualifiers from the PGA Professional National Championship, in a match of cards against Woods? (Sowards would have won, 4 and 2.)

"I was 3 under and every shot I hit up to that point were all mechanical thoughts," said Woods. "I put the club in a certain position. I was doing that and I said, 'You know what? I'm feeling good. Let's just let it go.' And it cost me the whole round."

The next day, Woods put the finishing touches on a 77-73 that left him six strokes over the cut line. Equally as shocking, the player who held the world's No. 1 ranking for some 5-1/2 years left Georgia unable to even put himself among the top 125 players who qualified for the tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.

But Keegan Bradley was in -- the same Keegan Bradley who, since the start of the year, had jumped 300 places in the Official Golf World Ranking, the same Keegan Bradley who left Atlanta inside the top five in season earnings, the same Keegan Bradley who, against all odds, gained possession of one of the game's most sought-after trophies.

Golf. You just never know what's going to happen next.

This story appears courtesy of the 2011 PGA Grand Slam of Golf Official Journal.