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Keegan Bradley’s bell of the ball

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1 Keegan Bradley’s bell of the ball on Mon Aug 15, 2011 8:25 pm

hatien


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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — When he showed up at the Atlanta Athletic Club yesterday morning, Keegan Bradley carried his own clubs inside from the parking lot. By the time he left, about 14 hours later, he was carrying the Wanamaker Trophy instead.

The snow-covered fairways of Vermont, where Bradley grew up, and the ones at Hopkinton Country Club, where his father was the club pro when Bradley won the Massachusetts Division 2 high school title in 2004, are fallow ground for golf. While a good time can be had there and the game can certainly be well learned, they have never produced the kind of golfers who win major championships, with but one exception.

Twenty five years ago, New England’s courses gave golf Pat Bradley, one of the greatest female players of all time and someone who laid claim to six majors, including three in 1986. Yesterday, they gave her a nephew who won his first in his first try, the 93rd PGA Championship.

It took a hardscrabble scramble to recover from a triple bogey at the 15th and close the 5-shot gap that had grown between him and Jason Dufner and then a three-hole playoff to defeat him after they tied at 8-under in regulation. Bradley used a birdie on the first extra hole (No. 16) to propel himself to an eventual 1-stroke victory that made him the first New England golfer since Connecticut’s Julius Boros won the PGA in 1968 to win a major and the first from Massachusetts since Francis Ouimet’s fairy-tale victory at the 1913 U.S. Open.

“It seems like a dream,” Bradley said after snapping a picture of the Wanamaker Trophy with his cell phone on the podium before he spoke. “I’m afraid I’m going to wake up in five minutes and it’s not going to be real.”

Among his hobbies, Bradley lists “sleeping.” It’s unlikely he did much of it last night, especially since the massive trophy was very likely lying next to him. At 25, he is the first player to win a major in his first try since Ben Curtis won the British Open in 2003, but don’t get the idea that kind of thing happens often. The last guy to do it before Curtis was Ouimet, 90 years earlier.

Although Bradley already had won once on Tour this year and was in position last week at the Bridgestone before crumbling on the final day, it seemed unlikely he could recover from that disastrous 15th when a fiendishly downhill chip ran past the hole, down a slope and into the water. He chose to go back 105 yards to hit his next shot rather than take a drop in a difficult area and put his ball within 10 feet, but missed his putt to end up at 6-under, 5 shots back.

His face showed no emotion as it seemed the title was slipping away. He simply stared with a grim look of acceptance, like a Vermont farmer realizing the sap had dried up in an old maple tree.

“I take tremendous pride being from New England,” he said. “New England is a huge part of my personality and even how I play golf.”

He accepted his problem and moved on in that stoic New England way, making birdie on 16 and again on 17 with a remarkable 35-foot putt. He double pumped his fist as it curled in, while behind him Dufner was unraveling.

With Bradley putting the pressure on, Dufner’s 5-shot lead disappeared after he bogeyed 15, 16 and 17 and that continued into the playoff when Bradley responded to a Dufner second shot on the first hole that went right over the cup by putting his ball even closer.

He extended that lead to 2 shots after the second playoff hole (No. 17) when Dufner 3-putted and then played as conservatively as a Yankee spinster on the final hole to win. Not long after, his aunt back in Hyannisport renewed a family tradition.

Every time Pat Bradley won an LPGA event, her mother rang a Swiss cowbell from the porch of her Westford home to let the town know Pat did it again. As the Golf Channel was in the midst of interviewing Pat last night about her nephew’s stunning victory, a bell rung out that was heard across the golf world.

“Now it’s time for Keegan to make his history,” his proud Hall of Fame aunt said. “We’re so proud of the way he fought back. We’re a tough Irish family. He just honored his dad with this win.”

It was his father, Mark, who first taught his son the game, but he never thrust it upon him. While many of his peers are the product of year-round golf and the national junior circuit, Keegan Bradley did what New Englanders must. He played golf when he could and then put the clubs in the cellar and skied all winter, skied fast enough as a downhill racer to think perhaps that was the way to go.

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