There wasn’t much that separated Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele last year.
They were PGA Tour rookies and close friends. They won their first tournament in Texas about two months apart, Steele in San Antonio and Bradley in Dallas. They played in one of Phil Mickelson’s money games at The Players Championship. Both made their major championship debut at the PGA Championship, and both were in the final two groups.
Steele was tied for the lead. Bradley was one shot behind.
That’s where it all changed.
Steele stumbled out of the gate and shot a 77. Bradley took triple bogey on the 15th hole, but rallied to force a playoff and beat Jason Dufner to become only the third player in the last century to win a major in his first try.
Bradley went on to sign lucrative endorsement deals, play in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, make a case for being on the Presidents Cup team and was the overwhelming winner of PGA Tour rookie of the year.
All because of one round.
“That’s a fair assessment,” Steele said, before he laughed and added, “But it was a big round!”
Bradley said one of his fondest memories from Sunday at Atlanta Athletic Club was looking at Steele on the putting green before they headed to the tee, two rookies in their first major, each with a chance of doing something special.
“I remember saying to him, ‘If I don’t win, you better.’ We both said the same thing. It was a unique experience,” Bradley said. “Any other year, his year could have been a landslide for rookie of the year. He had a great year. He’s a great player. I envy a lot of what he does on the golf course.”
Steele said it took him a couple of days to get over the disappointment of his final round, but he took valuable lessons from the PGA Championship, and he has his own good memories of that major. Steele was out of contention, but had a great view of Bradley’s triple bogey, followed by his remarkable birdie-birdie-par rally.
“It was a special moment through my eyes watching him birdie 16, and I got major goose bumps watching him make that putt on 17,” Steele said. “I was standing right next to Dufner. It was interesting to be right there, seeing it all unfold.”
They got back together at the end of the year for the Shark Shootout as partners. It ended in a most appropriate fashion. They became the first PGA Tour rookie team to win the event.
BUBBA’S CAR: Bubba Watson made a deal with his wife that if he ever won a PGA Tour event, he would be allowed to buy the 1969 Dodge Charger made popular in the “Dukes of Hazzard.”
Watson said the hard part was winning a tournament.
Then again, it took some time before he could find the right one, but it was worth the wait. During an auction last week in Arizona, the three-time tour winner bought the original “General Lee 01,” the first one used in the TV series and the car that is shown jumping over a police car during the opening credits.
In a short video he posted on Twitter, Watson is seen filling the car with gas and honking the “Dixie” horn. He paid $110,000, which industry experts said was lower than expected for the winning bid.
“It worked out in my favor,” Watson said Tuesday. “I wasn’t going to go much more money than that because they were predicting a lot higher number. But, for some reason, it just fell in my lap.”
That it did. Watson usually can’t make it to the Barrett-Jackson auction, but he chose not to play the Humana Challenge last week. He was sitting at the auction, and “General Lee 01” was the first car brought out for bid.
“I almost passed out when I saw it,” he said.
Watson doesn’t plan to just admire the car in a garage.
“I’m going to drive it, honk the horn at people and all that good stuff,” he said. “It will be at Phoenix next week. It’s good enough to drive to Phoenix. But don’t tell anybody it doesn’t have any seat belts yet.”
THE TRANSITION: Gary Woodland did most of the giving at Christmas this year, bringing family and friends to Kapalua for the start of the PGA Tour season. He also was on the receiving end of a gift that left him speechless.
His mother, Linda, assembled all the jerseys Woodland wore when he was playing on baseball and basketball teams as a teenager. She cut out the front and back of the shirts and stitched them together in a quilt large enough to cover a king-size bed.
The quilt also includes a photo of Woodland swinging the club at age 3 and mementos from his first PGA Tour win last year at The Transitions at Innisbrook, with a message at the bottom that said, “A great transition.”
Woodland was overwhelmed.
“I’ve always saved everything I had,” Woodland said. “This was pretty meaningful, the kind of thing you keep forever.”
The jerseys had different colors and different names of the teams, but the numbers never changed. Woodland wore No. 5 in baseball because his idol growing up was Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett. For basketball, it was No. 23.
“Michael Jordan,” Woodland said, as if that even had to be asked.
FASHION STATEMENT: Adam Scott was at the Australian Open watching girlfriend Ana Ivanovic, the former No. 1 who was beaten in the fourth round by Petra Kvitova. She is not the only tennis player who dates a golfer. Caroline Wozniacki, the current No. 1, has been involved with U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy since last summer.
Their common interest led to an interesting conversation.
“She did ask me, ‘What kind of shoes should I take to walk on the course?”’ Ivanovic said.
Her answer: “Just the most comfortable ones.”
DIVOTS: Jaime Diaz of Golf Digest has been selected for the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. Diaz started with the Oakland Tribune and has covered golf for Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and Golf Digest. He will be honored April 4 at the Golf Writers Association of America annual awards dinner in Augusta, Ga. … Andy Walker has been given an exemption to the Northern Trust Open, set aside for a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf. The exemption originally was called the “Charlie Sifford Exemption,” in honor of the first black PGA Tour member to win a tournament. … Rory McIlroy’s 6-iron to a foot on the 10th hole at Congressional in the final round of the U.S. Open has been voted shot of the year on the European Tour. … Johnson Wagner is 48 under par through three tournaments this year, with 10 consecutive rounds in the 60s. … Lisa McCloskey, Erica Popson and Emily Tubert were added to the eight-player American team for the Curtis Cup, which will be played June 9-10 at Nairn Golf Club in Scotland.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Webb Simpson has played 59 official tournaments over the last two years, the biggest schedule of any player ranked in the top 20.
FINAL WORD: “I’ve kind of lost my sense of humor. When you don’t putt very well, your sense of humor doesn’t work very well.”—Ernie Els.