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Bradley: More 'pinch-yourself' moments at Medinah

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MEDINAH, Ill. – Over the past few years, as Keegan Bradley has ascended from St. John’s standout to PGA champion to Ryder Cup rookie, he’s admitted to having plenty of “pinch-yourself” moments.

His first Tour start. His first money game with Phil Mickelson. His first event as a major winner.  

Well, the 26-year-old experienced another one Tuesday at Medinah: walking across the bridge toward the first tee during a Ryder Cup practice round.

“Probably the proudest moment of my entire career,” Bradley said.

And the actual competition is still three days away.

Keegan’s day began with a text message to his aunt, Hall of Famer Pat Bradley. It was a picture of his U.S. team bag, a photo that screamed, Can you believe I made it? Pat replied, “USA all the way.”

A few hours later, a crowd of about 30,000 fans lined the fairways at Medinah, craning their necks to get a view and chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A,” a few lucky fans receiving the Ryder Cup lapel pins that were dispensed throughout the afternoon. “It was basically a Sunday crowd at a major,” Bradley said.

He played alongside Mickelson, a frequent practice partner, and Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, the formidable pairing that debuted last year at the Presidents Cup. Those were the teams: Keegan-Phil vs. Webb-Bubba. When asked who won, Bradley’s expression suggested defeat. Good thing it’s only Tuesday.

Said Bradley, “But oh my God, I had the most fun I’ve maybe ever had on a golf course. It was honestly one of the highlights of my career today.”

Listening to him Tuesday, you get the feeling Bradley will be saying that a lot this week. More pinch-yourself moments. And can you blame the guy? He’s cutting up with Phil and Tiger, players he’s grown up idolizing. He’s surrounded by Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps and Justin Timberlake.

“It’s kind of a smack in the face almost to where I am,” Bradley said. “Sometimes it’s all happening so fast, you kind of don’t catch it. And there are times this week where I’ve said, ‘I’m in the same room with these guys, and that’s pretty special.’”

Bradley and Mickelson enjoy their practice-round battles, no doubt, but perhaps for different reasons – Keegan because he feels more nervous during their high-stakes games than the actual tournament, Phil because he’s recruited Bradley in preparation for moments such as the Ryder Cup.

“I’ve always played very well after I’ve played in a Phil match because he gets your juices flowing, you start putting balls into the hole,” Bradley said. “If I’m ever playing against Phil, I want to beat him so bad that sometimes it doesn’t bring out the best golf in me, and it’s a great way to prepare for a tournament like this.”

Of course, he will have little trouble getting jacked for Friday’s opening session.

It figures to be yet another pinch-yourself moment in a week full of them.