But it wasn’t a smooth transition. Even with his father, Mark, a PGA professional, Bradley wasn’t a top junior player. His high-school coach says he was the third-best player on his team. Bradley went to college at St. John’s – a school known more for basketball than golf – and yet won nine times before graduating in 2008.
Still, he was recognized more for being the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley than for being a hot-shot prospect. He failed to make it through q-school his first try, played on the Hooters Tour for a year and missed making it through q-school by two shots, earning him a spot on the Web.com Tour.
Initially, that was a struggle, too, as he missed five consecutive cuts early in 2010. But late in the season, with the pressure on, he strung together four consecutive top-five finishes to place 14th on the money list and earn his way to the PGA TOUR.
He had mixed success as a rookie (two top-10 finishes, six missed cuts) before he broke through by beating Ryan Palmer in a playoff at the 2011 HP Byron Nelson Championship.
No longer was he known as Pat’s nephew. He was now a PGA TOUR winner.
“For Keegan, since he was a little boy, this has been his dream,” Pat Bradley said. “He’s been thinking it, he’s been feeling it, he’s been seeing it all his life.”
Said Keegan, “It’s fun to look around and see the boys I’ve been watching on TV forever. It’s fun to play in front of galleries.”
You get the feeling Bradley is enjoying his time on the PGA TOUR? How many more times can he say the word “fun?”
Just 10 weeks later, things got even more enjoyable when Bradley found himself in contention at his first major, the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. His hopes of winning appeared to be drowned when his chip rolled into the water at No. 15, leading to a triple-bogey that dropped him five shots behind leader Jason Dufner with three holes left.
Somehow, Bradley regrouped and birdied the next two holes. When Dufner finished with three bogeys, Bradley was given a mulligan of sorts by making the playoff, which he won by a shot over Dufner.
Two years after he was playing on the Hooters Tour, Bradley was holding the Wanamaker Trophy, joining Frances Ouimet and Ben Curtis as the only players to win their first start in a major.
“It seems like a dream,” said Bradley, who took a picture of the trophy while seated in the media room. “I’m afraid I’m going to wake up in five minutes and it’s not going to be real.”
Bradley admits he has been bummed out by the anchored putter controversy. He was the first to win a major with a long putter, and after he was joined by Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Adam Scott, the USGA and R&A announced in May it will ban anchored putters beginning in 2016.
Bradley has been heckled at several tournaments by fans calling him a “cheater” because he continues to use the anchored putter. The deplorable incidents caused the USGA to issue a statement in his defense. His aunt did the same thing.
“He’ll deal with this on a professional level and make the adjustments like all pro golfers,” said Pat Bradley. “Keegan is going to be successful no matter what he does. He is going to make the switch when it’s comfortable for him.”
To focus on his putter really shortchanges what Bradley has accomplished. In less than three full seasons on TOUR, the 27-year-old has three victories, a Ryder Cup appearance, earnings of more than $10 million and he’s risen into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. In 2012, Bradley – nicknamed “Keegs” – led the TOUR in its all-around ranking, and he’s been in the top 10 in that statistic for most of this season.
He does have his idiosyncrasies, such as staring almost cross-eyed at the ball as he lines up putts, and shuffling his feet and turning over his club face repeatedly as he prepares to hit a shot. But once he addresses the ball, he quickly uses his 6-foot-2 frame to lash the ball more than 300 yards.
With his game, his charisma and his ever-present smile, Bradley is certainly one of the most marketable young American golfers in the game. Pressure? What pressure?
“Keegs really gets joy out of his success,” Pat Bradley said. “In that way, he is much different from me. I got mine from fear of failure.”
Bradley isn’t ready to come down from golf’s mountaintop, either. “There’s still tons for me to do,” he said. “I want to keep climbing the rankings. I want to win more tournaments and majors, play in more Ryder Cups in the future. There’s still tons of stuff that I can accomplish.”
One thing is for sure… he will do it all with a smile on his face.