Bradley banks on steady approach in his prep for his PGA Championship title defense
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
Over the course of four days in Atlanta last August, Vermont's Keegan Bradley went from little-known to superstar.
The 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club marked Bradley's first start in a major -- it would also be an unforgettable one. Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a scintillating three-hole playoff to capture the Wanamaker Trophy and joined Ben Curtis and Francis Ouimet as the only players in history to win a major championship in their first career major start.
The victory, along with a win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship earlier in the season, propelled Bradley to 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors. He would also go on to win the PGA Grand Slam of Golf at Bermuda's Port Royal in October.
"It was really an amazing season," said Bradley, who added a highlight to his 2012 campaign with a victory at the WGC-Birdgestone Invitational on Sunday. "It's been nice to look back on it. One of my main goals was to win Rookie of the Year and I was able to do that. I really enjoyed my first year on the PGA Tour. It just was a great time, really fun to look back on, and to top it off with winning the PGA made it kind of a dream season. It still kind of seems like it was a dream."
Bradley, oddly since he need not fear the outcome, claims he still has yet to watch the highlights of his win.
"I'm not able to watch the replays of the PGA," he said, "I get too nervous. Part of me is amazed that it happened. I think back on it, and I think about how different my life would be if I didn't win that PGA or if I lost that playoff. It's kind of a brutal thing to think about. But life has changed a lot in terms of at golf tournaments.
"It's not changed at all off the golf course with my buddies and my friends. I enjoy all that comes with winning major championships and tournaments, but I try to keep everything the same. There are specific things that have changed dramatically, but I try to keep my life the same. I mean, I'm the same kid that grew up in Boston and Vermont that I am now."
Of course, PGA Championship Week will be different. This week Bradley isn't just that nice, little story he was at Atlanta Athletic Club a year ago; a rookie, Tour winner playing in his first major, probably just hoping to make the cut.
This week at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, Bradley is the defending champion of one of the most prestigious tournaments in all of golf. His name is on a trophy that also bears the names of legends like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, among others.
"I'm not preparing any differently," Bradley said. "The biggest key is to keep everything constant, what I've always done. I feel as though I'm doing that. And about this time last year, is when I really started to get it rolling, and I went on about a six or seven month stretch of great golf. I love these golf courses at the end of the year... It's just an exciting time of the year."
No one could have realistically expected Bradley to follow up that surreal rookie campaign with similar success in his sophomore effort. And while the 26-year-old is still winless in 2012, it has been an otherwise impressive second year on Tour. In 20 events, Bradley has compiled 11 top-25 finishes -- four of those were top-10 showings, and, of course, he won on Sunday at Firestone.
Bradley also arrives at Kiawah Island with the invaluable experience gained by getting three more major starts under his belt. A tie for 27th at the Masters, a tie for 68th at the U.S. Open and a tie for 34th at the Open Championship may not have been the precise results Bradley had hoped for, but nonetheless, he's made the cut in each of his four cracks at major debuts.
There will be one other thing on Bradley's mind at Kiawah. That's a coveted spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the eight automatic berths of which will be decided at the conclusion of the PGA Championship.
Bradley has hovered inside and out of the top eight throughout the season, but his Bridgestone victory all but cemented his spot on the team. Of course, if he doesn't make it in on points, Bradley will have to rely on one of Captain Davis Love III's four captain's picks in a few weeks.
"I'm thinking about it," admitted Bradley. "I'm trying not to think about it. But it's definitely on my mind at all times. Captain Davis Love has really reached out to me and given me some advice, and told me to take it one shot at a time and get into the process of playing each tournament and each shot.
"You know, it's difficult, because I just missed out on the Presidents Cup last year, so I really want this pretty bad, and that can be a negative," he added. "So if I just play OK, I'm going to get into that top eight spots."