IRVING, Texas – Even though he was still a wide-eyed PGA Tour freshman at this point last year, Keegan Bradley was already living a Rodney Dangerfield kind of life – and not the Al Czervik-in-plaid-pants version, either.
His photo was prominently displayed in the annual media guide … next to the bio of veteran player Michael Bradley. No relation.
He was often asked questions about all those great Bradley performances over the years … Pat Bradley, that is. His aunt.
And with a pair of top-10 finishes entering the Byron Nelson Championship, he was sought out by autograph hounds prior to the tournament … only to be asked his identity upon signing.
Talk about no respect.
Just a few days later, they’d find out all about him.
Using Lord Byron’s tournament as his personal coming-out party, Bradley outlasted Ryan Palmer in a playoff to earn his first career victory, one that came as almost as much of a surprise to him as to those who had unknowingly collected his John Hancock.
“I was staying at the Hampton Inn down the street,” he recalled with a smile on Tuesday in advance of this year’s edition of the event. “I was just trying to keep my card.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for Bradley, undergoing a warp-speed metamorphosis from Nationwide Tour graduate to PGA Tour winner to major champion, claiming the last of those titles at the PGA Championship, just three months after his initial victory here.
It isn’t presumptuous to think that as part of that domino theory, the major victory never would have happened without first winning the Nelson.
“This tournament might have set up my whole career, to be honest with you,” Bradley said. “People don't realize what the stress level is of a rookie on the PGA Tour, trying to keep your card. I played on the Hooters Tour and thinking about going back is scary. And to know I was on the Tour for at least two-and-a-half more years was huge.
“At the PGA, I didn't have that pressure of having to win my first tournament or having to worry about making enough money to keep my card – stuff like that, where rookies have to think about that, and this tournament cleared the way.”
It almost never happened.
Bradley had planned to play at Colonial the week before, and then take Nelson week off. Through a conscious bit of serendipity, his caddie talked him into changing his mind.
“It was done,” he explained. “I had made my decision, and Pepsi [Steven Hale], my caddie, said, ‘Look, I think you should play’ – he's never said anything like this to me in my career. He's supportive. And he said, ‘I think you should play Nelson and skip Colonial. Nelson fits your game better.’ And sure enough, we came here and won. Pepsi knew something I didn't, and thank God he convinced me to do it.”
Looking back on that week “fondly,” Bradley says there are still some pinch-me, let-it-sink-in moments when it comes to what’s happened in his career over the past year.
They usually occur when he’s at his Jupiter, Fla., home, relaxing in his room and watching TV – until the silvery glint of a certain trophy catches his eye.
“I will be sitting around and I will realize that I won the PGA and start laughing, by myself, like I can't believe it,” he intimated. “It seriously happens all the time. I keep the trophy on my mantle in front of my TV in my room, and I'll just be watching TV and I'll look over at it and start laughing, because it seems so bizarre, that's the Wanamaker Trophy – it's in my room! I definitely sometimes I have to ask myself, ‘Is this really real?’”
The answer is, yes. It’s really real.
The unassuming kid from the golf-rich Bradley family has reached the big-time. Still just 25 years old, his photo now corresponds with the proper media guide entry, he receives questions about more than his Aunt Pat and those who seek his autograph know his identity without having to ask.
He’s finally shed that Rodney Dangerfield label, earning plenty of respect in the process.
And he’s hardly done, either.
“It's cool to be living it,” Bradley claimed. “But I have so much further to go, and that's what I'm happy about. I want to be out here for a long time and be one of the best players, so I have a lot to work for.”
Respected and respectful. What a difference a year makes.