NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Through 54 holes, Keegan Bradley had done enough to secure an invite to the Tour Championship.
He was three off the lead, hunting his first win in six years.
But when two days worth of rain threatened to cancel the final round of the BMW Championship, part of him thought, maybe that’s just fine.
“Truthfully I was really fixated on making the Tour Championship, and I kind of knew if we didn't play today, I was in it,” he said Monday, sitting next to both the BMW Championship trophy and the FedExCup.
“It was the weirdest couple of days because I knew in the back of my mind if we didn't play, I was in Atlanta. It was my goal to start the year. It was difficult to get ready to play because I was like, ‘Man, if they call it, I'm good.’ But I was only three back.”
Luckily for Bradley, the Tour was able to stage the final round outside Philadelphia.
And when it finally ended, a day late, with rain still falling on Aronimink Golf Club, it was Bradley celebrating on the 18th green, raising his arms in victory after defeating Justin Rose in a playoff.
A winner for the first time as a husband and a father, Bradley said he had to avoid looking at his wife Jillian and son Logan on his return trip up 18. He was struggling to maintain his emotions. Once it was over, he was able to do what he’s seen so many of his colleagues do so many times before – embrace his family as a champion.
“I've been dreaming of doing that with my wife for – we've been together for a long time. To have my son there, it's just like – you see it on TV so much, and as a dad and as a husband, you think, ‘Geez, that would be the most incredible feeling.’ …
“I was just so happy to see them run out. To win and to put everything together when I didn't know if I was going to win again, to get to the Tour Championship, to have them here and have what's going on in my life is just so amazing. I'm so lucky. This is an upper-echelon tournament to win. It's a great win to come back after six years. So I'm very proud of that.”
Monday’s victory marks the end of a six-year slump for Bradley, the 2011 PGA champion, who dipped as low as 122nd in the world in 2016. That year’s anchor ban was not kind to Keegan, leaving him to alternate between shorter and longer putters, to figure out how to hole putts with the grip of his club no longer pressed against his body.
He became so fixated on his performance on the greens that he soon lost track of his golf swing. And it was only once he fixed every other part of his game that he could once again focus on his putting. On Monday, Bradley credited his friend Webb Simpson, who went through a similar post-anchor transition, for inspiring him to rededicate himself to arm-lock putting.
“A lot has happened to me over these six years,” Bradley said. “The belly putter was a tougher transition than I thought, and I kind of fell off the radar there for a little while. It's tough to go from being on Ryder Cup teams, being on Presidents Cup teams, to outside the top 100 in the world.
“It was about two years ago, maybe. I had missed over 10 cuts. … It's scary when I look back because I didn't know I needed this much improvement. But to put it all together, especially with the putter the way it was this week and the way it's becoming, is so gratifying. Because for a little while, I didn't know if I was going to be able to get back to this spot, and today I did it.”
By virtue of his return to East Lake – his first trip since 2013 – Bradley will once again reap the benefits of being a top-30 player on Tour. Atlanta invitees are exempt into all four of the following year’s majors in addition to the season’s first two World Golf Championships. Bradley hasn’t made the Masters since his exemption for winning the PGA ran out, but he’ll be back at Augusta next April.
That kind of scheduling certainty is why he was so focused on qualifying for the Tour Championship, and why he really gave some thought to the benefits of what could have been a rain-shortened event.
“It's a game changer for a player like me that's not in the top 50 to get in the Tour Championship,” he said. “You’re in all the WGCs, or most of them. You're in all the majors. And that's so huge for a player where I am at this point because then I can play my way back into the top 50.
“So thankfully we got out here and played, and I made it to Atlanta and more now.”