Keegan Bradley: 100% In It

At one point in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Keegan Bradley was six shots down to leader, Jim Furyk. Worse, they were playing in the same threesome and Bradley could see just how steadily Furyk was playing; he birdied his first three holes while Bradley could only manage one.

But slowly but surely, Bradley reeled him in until standing on the 18th tee, he was just one stroke behind…and thanks to a birdie on 14, he had the honor for four straight holes. There’s an ever so slight psychological edge to having control of the tee. There’s a fresh new hole out in front of you and you get to be the first one to paint your imagery on that clean canvas…without having to wait for others’ deliberations.

Bradley took his 3-wood and piped it a mere 307 yards right down the middle. Furyk hooked his driver into the tree line and got a great kick back out into the fairway 290 yards from the tee. (To get a sense of what Bradley, the 16th longest driver on Tour, gave up by hitting his 3-wood, their third player, Louis Oosthuizen, hit his trusty driver 342.)

Furyk hit first, flying it over the back right bunker:

I was trying to aim it right at that [left] pin and hit a nice hard draw and hold it in the breeze.  The breeze was pretty hard left to right.  It may have been too much club.  In hindsight it may have been an 8‑iron.

There probably was a little breath behind us, and I hit 7‑iron about 173 yards, but that ball flew — I’m not sure what the pin was off the top of my head, but that ball flew over the green.  I wasn’t really worried about the distance when I hit it, I was worried about that I knew I hung it to the right.

It was a fatal mistake. It wouldn’t play itself out until he barely cleared the bunker with his third and dumped it in a worse lie than the stance he began with. He bumped the ball on the green and then missed the five-footer. Double bogey.

Bradley followed him with a 9-iron from 165 which he plugged in the same bunker. He gouged it onto the green and dramatically made the 16-footer for par. With that two-shot swing, he won by one. When Furyk missed his, Bradley’s face filled with emotion as he realized that he had won.

Well, as soon as I hit it in the bunker, I said to Pepsi, I said, “Do you think that’s plugged?”

And he said, “I don’t think so because the bunkers are so firm because of the rain.”  And I get up there, and it was plugged.

Again, I had just a great — when you win, you just have a great attitude, and first I saw it plugged and then I saw the shot immediately of kind of going up that hill.  The way I’ve been putting, I just wanted to give myself a chance.  I hit a really spectacular shot from the bunker.  I just love those moments.

Because the putt was so unexpected, but so spectacular and dead in the middle of the cup, the media asked what his process was? Note that there was nothing in his answer about the mechanics of his putting stroke. This was all about operating at the highest level of cognition:

Yeah, I just kept telling myself, I was reading this putt, and I just kept telling myself that this is the exact moment that I live for, that you play golf for, that you grow up your whole life, and I’m living it.  It’s just an amazing feeling to be in that moment and just loving every second of it.

I didn’t think for a second I was going to miss it.  It was unbelievable.  I got behind it, and I barely even had to read it.  I knew the exact way it was going to break.  I just needed to hit it hard enough.  I knew that.  And it was dead center.

And this wasn’t the only moment that was that way. On the par-5 16th, Oosthuizen flew the green with his approach shot and then pitched it in for birdie. Furyk had hit his approach shot to 18 feet…and then drained that. Having watched two birdies right in front of him, Bradley matter-of-factly drained his 11-footer. Three birdies, move along.

There was another charming moment in Bradley’s media session where he described the state of euphoria and love that he found himself in as he basked in the aftermath of his win. It is a state of being that I raised in January of this year in, “Living a Life in Love.”

Yeah, you know, I hate to keep saying this, but I just absolutely love it.  I was in it.  Again, I was in the moment.

At the beginning of the year, I kind of took it for granted, I was there so much, and I kind of — didn’t realize really what was going on, and I lost it for a little bit, and I just missed it so much.  And to be there and be hitting the shots and executing the way I did, I just enjoyed every minute of it.  I love that Jim made that putt.  I loved it, because it meant that I had to make mine.

All this talk about love piqued the media’s interest, but in an “are you mad?” kind of way:

Just to clarify, is there anything you don’t love right now?

Absolutely not.  I love everything right now.  I love you guys (laughter).

Moderator:  That’s saying something.

To be honest with you, I hate to keep saying this, but when I’m out here on Tour and stuff like this happens, it doesn’t seem real, it seems fake.  I realize I’m speaking but it doesn’t seem like words are coming out of my mouth.

Finally, one of the endearing qualities of our heroes, in addition to their heroic achievements, is a sense of humility and gratitude. Contrast this response from Bradley with what’s become of Tiger, who appears to have neither humility or gratitude in this same way:

And to be coming down the stretch with a guy like Jim Furyk battling is — you dream about it.

I went through it [getting into the playoff] with Phil at Riviera.  And it’s moments like that where you kind of have to pinch yourself, where two years ago, three years ago I was in Hawkinsville, Georgia, playing on the Hooters Tour grinding it out.  It’s just an amazing experience.

Keegan Bradley is the defending champion at this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. It will be very interesting to see if he can come down from his euphoria, retain all these rich lessons he learned this week while they’re still fresh in his mind, and then defend his title.

It’s one of the hardest things to do in golf.

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