Rookie, Keegan Bradley won the HP Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas, in a one-hole playoff with Ryan Palmer. He wasn’t supposed to. Palmer was the star playing at home in Dallas. Palmer had the better story going: “I’ve given up trying to figure this course out, I’m just going stop thinking about it and get my caddie to tell me what to do.”
Keegan Bradley? Oh, yeah. Isn’t he retired LPGA Tour superstar Pat Bradley’s nephew?
Sergio Garcia was supposed to finally get over his worst-nightmare traumas, his soaring talent for shotmaking was supposed to flourish once again. But he shot 7-over 77.
But it still wasn’t supposed to be Keegan Bradley. He’s not seasoned enough.
With his victory and all those Tiger practice rounds, Arjun Atwal should have won. He was used to the big winds they get in Texas because of all the big winds he practiced in in Florida. And, even par through 10, he looked good for it. But the wind threw four bogeys at him on the back. Same with Ryuji Imada. He had it won until he bogeyed 17 and 18.
That was the point that they began talking about Keegan Bradley. If he could just get it into the clubhouse at 3-under and hold on. But they didn’t really think he was going to win. He hadn’t made a birdie since 10 and besides, he was playing with local high schooler, Jordan Spieth, who missed his graduation to play Saturday’s round. Surely Karma would dictate that he would shoot a low round on a course he knew very well. Who would be a better story and more deserving? He missed his graduation for crying out loud.
Turns out it was Keegan Bradley.
Talk about the day. You played with Jordan Spieth, and you had a great following around you all afternoon. Talk about how the day unfolded and your game.
Yeah, Jordan is a spectacular player. He had a lot of pressure out there. He had a lot of spectators. Pepsi [my caddie] and I knew, on the 10th hole, he hit one to about 6 feet and there was a huge ovation, and I hit mine to about 2 inches, and there was two claps, and we’re thinking did it go long, is it short? So he had a lot of pressure out there.
He played spectacularly. I couldn’t imagine myself in high school contending out here like he is, so he’s a great player and he’s only going to get better.
Did that take the attention off your game?
Yeah. It was definitely different. This is a smaller version of playing with Tiger or Phil, but their fans are so loyal to them, and he has loyal fans, and it was actually a little bit relieving and he was a great kid — couldn’t have had a better pairing, so it worked out perfect.
Could you talk about flying under the radar? You played with Jordan, and a few shots back going into the weekend, was that any kind of advantage for you? Do you like playing like that?
That’s been kind of my role my whole career, I flew under the radar. I grew up in Vermont. I didn’t get many looks for college, even though I felt like I was winning my whole career, even in college I won a bunch of times at St. John’s University in New York, I didn’t get much credit. It’s kinda been my thing my whole career. I was in a great spot today. I knew I was in a great spot – once I made the turn at 1-under, I figured I’m in a good spot if I can continue to hit good shots, which I really did, and I made some really big putts coming down the end.
Going under the radar is kinda my thing. I hope to someday not go under the radar, but I’m fine with it.
But then, as all of the supposed-to-wins were falling by the wayside on the way in, it looked like Bradley’s dream was going to be crushed again. Ryan Palmer made only the second birdie of the day on 18 to get into a playoff with Bradley. But oddly, it had a calming effect on him.
I got done, and I went over to the range and there is a little room there with a TV. I start watching TV with Pepsi, and I thought, I gotta get out of here, I can’t watch this. I went out and sat under the shade under a tree on the range, and I’m getting updates, and he made bogey, and I started hitting wedge shots and trying to stay loose.
It’s 100 degrees outside. You don’t really need to warm up again, but it was terrifying to be honest with you. In the back of my mind I’m like, just don’t go into a playoff, just let me win this thing, let me sneak it out, but it happened, and Pepsi kept reminding me you’ve got to keep thinking he’s going to make birdie.
And it was funny, I was really, really nervous and then when he made the birdie, I calmed way down. I don’t know what that was or what happened but as soon as I heard the roar of him making that birdie, I felt my heartbeat slow down, I calmed down, which I don’t know why but it probably was, I got to go back out there and play.
So instead of being fearful in the face of having to play some more, he saw it as an opportunity. Apparently too much of an opportunity, because he flared his drive way right into the tree line and behind a Texas-sized lemonade stand. Ryan was out in the right rough too, but he had a shot. They had to wheel the four-cart lemonade stand out of Bradley’s way. And haul away the two big shade umbrellas too. It was a circus before he was actually able to figure out and then hit his shot.
But some things are meant to be:
I had 163 to the hole, I had a tree in front of me that I had to keep it under, I had a big tree further than that, and an even bigger tree to the right, so I had to hit a low hook. And I was thinking worst case I hit it to the right, and do anything but hit it in the water [left of the green], and I can get it up and down from there.
I struck it perfectly. As soon as I hit it I could feel that it was good. I couldn’t see anything because the crowd ran across but I – as soon as I hit it I felt it, I thought, man, I can’t hit it any better, and I ran out and then I see it coming down sideways, and I was thinking for a split second I was like, that thing could go in the water, and it sat right there. Two inches to the left, it goes in the water, so it was a good break but also a good shot.
For his part, Palmer hooked his open approach shot into the water Bradley barely stayed out of and that was his undoing.
At the end of the day, the wind was so brutal all week long that there were only five players who managed to shoot under par for the tournament and, even though the best of them wasn’t supposed to be Keegan Bradley, it was.
Never give up. Never say die. Never lose heart. Just keep believing. Just keep playing because you never know what could happen.
That’s what Keegan Bradley would say.
And you know who the other underdog was who came through? Poor, beleaguered Harrison Frazar whom I wrote about here, who also shot a 2-under 68 in that nasty wind and finally made a nice, $107,250 check. Who says nice guys finish last?
Never say die, Harrison.