AVONDALE, La. – The last eight winners of major championships have been first-timers. In that small cohort, each seems to have a strong bond with at least one of the others.
The Ulsterman trio of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have their nationality. McDowell introduced Clarke to his new bride. McIlroy and McDowell share a friendship much more profound than the first two letters of their last name. Clarke and McIlroy were a part of the ISM team behind the thwarted Chubby Slam.
Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen were boyhood competitors whose relationship has evolved into a special bond as the next torchbearers for their country.
The last two majors, however, have been won by Americans in Georgia in playoffs. Keegan Bradley took the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club while Bubba Watson is fresh off a stirring Masters triumph.
At first glance, the two may seem to have little in common. Look again. The parallels to their successful careers may explain the recipe for the American resurgence in majors.
Both grew up in small towns. Bradley, nearly 26, was born in Woodstock, Vt. – population 926. The 33-year-old Watson is a product of Badgad, Fla., with double the number of people but probably the same number of traffic lights.
Watson's father wanted his boy to be great at baseball. Bradley could not be a bigger Red Sox fan, whose dreams were probably filled with equal parts Fenway green and Augusta green.
Each went on to a rather unheralded collegiate golf career, despite the manifestation of some serious game. Watson eventually became a bulldog at the University of Georgia while Bradley quietly honed his game at St. John's in New York City.
'I've always kind of been a player that's been under looked my whole career,' Bradley said Wednesday. 'I just never seemed to get any credit. I'm glad it happened, I'm glad that kind of was my path.'
After school, both players had a year on mini-tours, which Bradley said was a crucial experience for his future success.
'I was able to luckily play a year on the Hooters Tour where at one point I was down to $1,200 in my bank account,' Bradley said. 'I ended up winning that week and I think that that was the start of the PGA Championship.'
Seems like such a short road. For Watson, it was a longer road to the PGA Tour, with a three-year path through the Nationwide Tour. Watson gleaned a lesson he may have just finally fully understood in the last few seasons.
'Golf you can play a long time, and just take your time at it,' he said Tuesday. 'Don't get overwhelmed, don't get frustrated, just keep playing, keep doing your thing.'
They both did their thing – both bombing the ball and finding a way to the cup and the PGA Tour. Bubba finally broke through in an emotional playoff win at the Travelers. Bradley won the Nelson unexpectedly.
Now in 2012, both are world-class players with major championships titles to call their own.
When he beat Jason Dufner last August, Bradley said he kept focus on himself during the playoff. He saw some of that in Watson, too.
'In that situation, I was able to really just focus in on myself and what I needed to do. I really just enjoyed the moment and it looked like Bubba was doing that,' he said.
Bradley is further along than Watson in one important regard: completing the metamorphosis into a full-fledged major champion.
'It's very different. I don't envy him in that aspect. I envy the green jacket that he has, but it's something that you just have to get through, basically because it is a lot,' he said, referring to the onslaught of attention from friends, strangers, family and media.
He expects Watson to pull through with flying colors.
'Bubba seems to really enjoy it which is what you need to be able to do,' Bradley said.
Meanwhile, the PGA champion has moved beyond his landmark win to show he is more than a one-hit wonder.
'Now I'm starting to prove that I can play out here and it's really fun to feel like you're a part of the PGA Tour and one of the better players out here, and it's a lifelong dream,' Bradley said.
Watson intends to simply keep on doing his thing and seeing how the chips fall.
“If I go out there and play my game, I have a chance to win,” he said. “If the other guys go out there and play their game and hit good shots, they have a chance to win. So we're not looking at [winning], we're just looking at trying to play good golf.”