PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley is eager to build on his first-year success and get offto a hot start in 2012 on the West Coast Swing
By Jim Dover
Once known mainly as Hall of Famer Pat Bradley’s nephew or the young guy with the long putter, Keegan Bradley’s breakout 2011 that included Rookie of the Year honors transformed the Vermont native into his own man.
“It’s an award you can only win one time; that you only get one chance to win,” Bradley said after the top rookie announcement was made. “It’s a huge honor.”
Bradley, who won the Byron Nelson Championship and the PGA Championship in 2011, is the first rookie since Todd Hamilton in 2004 to win twice on the PGA Tour and the first player since Ben Curtis in 2003 to win a major championship on his first try. Now Bradley’s assignment is avoiding a sophomore slump, an undertaking he’s ready to handle with a team that includes veteran caddy Steve Hale and Cleveland Golf in Huntington Beach, which just signed the rising star to a multi-year contract extension.
“We are extremely pleased that Keegan has chosen to remain a member of our PGA Tour staff,” Greg Hopkins, CEO of Cleveland Golf/Srixon, said in a statement. “His passion for the game of golf and his competitive drive make him the type of brand ambassador that any company would be honored to have on their team.”
Bradley shared Hopkins’ excitement and later posted on his Twitter account that he loves the new retro-style Cleveland Classic driver: “Been playing the Cleveland Classic driver the past few weeks. I love it.” Bradley was in Southern California in December for the Chevron World Challenge, where he addressed the media in the following Q&A:
Can you sum up the year for us?
It’s all been a dream and a whirlwind, but I’ve been able to kind of sit back and enjoy what I’ve done and it’s been awesome.
What has been the biggest change in your life over the last few months?
People know who I am a little more going to the course. It’s just an adjustment to my regular routine that I’ve been so used to, but all of it is so worth it. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not happy to be on the PGA Tour.
What do you take from this year into next year, and what were you most concerned about as far as your play this year that you’ll work on in the offseason?
You can always improve your short game and chipping, wedges, stuff like that. But this time around I’ll be able to know more what I’m doing, picking my schedule, skip a few events, rest. I’m so excited to get back out there because there are certain courses that I’m excited to have another shot at, and being able to go there the second year around not worried about my Tour card.
Being an East Coast guy, what is it that makes you excited about the West Coast Swing?
It’s something to do with the courses, the history of Riviera and Pebble, and places like that. The courses just seem to fit me, and I really enjoy playing out here. They’re just very classic courses, and it gets you excited about playing golf.
Obviously a lot of good things have happened. But what’s been hard to adjust to, away from the course, that sort of thing?
I pride myself on being well-prepared for every event that I play in, and there’s a lot more that I have to do during a tournament week, like a photo shoot or something. That’s been my biggest adjustment, but I’m starting to get used to it now. I think back to the days when I could just show up and do my thing, and I kind of miss it a little bit, but all this is worth it.
Can you talk about the Bob Hope Classic (now Humana Challenge) and how the changes with fewer rounds and fewer courses might affect players’ willingness to play that event?
I think it’s very smart that they managed to do that to their tournament, and I think it’s just going to attract more players. Coming here excites me about playing on the West Coast, and it just reminds me of the Hope; it reminds me of these other tournaments. I think what they did is brilliant. I think it’s really going to help the tournament, and I know the players think it’s a big help.
We always hear about players who win a major and have so much thrown at them, such as opportunities to chase appearance fee money. How have you managed it?
There’s a lot that comes with winning a major and winning any tournament, actually. But luckily enough I love to play golf, and I’ve got a great group of guys looking over me at Gaylord Sports. They would never allow me to get into a weird situation. I could see it happening, though. There are so many events you can play in the off-season; it’s not even really an off-season anymore. It’s just another tour basically, and I was lucky enough to go over to China and experience that. It’s a good experience.
There’s a lot of talk about athleticism on the Tour, more and more guys like yourself and Gary Woodland that come from other sports or did other sports. Can you give some examples of where your athleticism has given you an edge?
I think you’re going to see that more and more. Some of the best athletes are going to be golfers; like it’s happened now. Gary Woodland, Jamie Lovemark, these guys are phenomenal athletes. I think if you’re athletic, you can pick things up easier, maybe a swing change or a style of putting. Athletes enjoy that aspect of making the change and working on it. I know I do, and I think it’s a huge help in playing good golf.
Growing up, did you play much golf with your Aunt Pat?
Yeah. I played a bunch with Pat, actually. Not as much anymore because I’m out on Tour, but we talk all the time, and I’ve learned a lot from the way she plays; more on the mental side than on the physical side, but yeah, I talk to her.
You do some work with Jim McLean. When did you need him and how did that relationship start?
Jim has been a huge part of my success to get here. We work on very simple stuff. I can’t get technical. You see a lot of guys out here that get very technical. I can’t do that. I have to be alignment, ball position, stuff like that, stuff that you don’t have to think about.
The PGA Tour in 2011 really didn’t have much domination. Is that something you see continuing?
I think so, yeah. I think that there’s so many good players out here now and that are coming behind us that it’s going to be tough for somebody to go win a bunch of tournaments in a row. Granted, it could definitely happen. Tiger and Phil [Mickelson] and Dustin [Johnson] and all these guys. But I think it’s so good for the game. I think it’s good to see guys winning tournaments that you haven’t ever heard of maybe – a guy like Webb [Simpson], who could’ve had the best year of anybody. He was in Q-School three years ago, and it’s just really cool. It really shows guys are working really hard out here to get better.