x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Rookie Keegan Bradley keeps cool in play-off to take PGA Championship

Keegan Bradley is the unlikely winner in Atlanta, with his play-off victory over Jason Dufner completing a meteoric rise from the lesser tours that few had noticed.

Keegan Bradley, a rookie on the US PGA tour, celebrates clinching the US PGA Championship after sinking his putt on the final play-off hole at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Keegan Bradley, a rookie on the US PGA tour, celebrates clinching the US PGA Championship after sinking his putt on the final play-off hole at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA // PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley was the unlikely winner of the US PGA Championship yesterday, with his play-off victory over Jason Dufner completing a meteoric rise from the lesser tours that few had noticed.

Bradley, ranked 108th in the world coming into this week, gave the US the boost they needed by ending a run of six straight major wins by non-Americans, despite never being one of the players picked out as part of the new generation.

Not that the former Hooters Tour and Nationwide Tour competitor cares about lack of attention.

"Ever since I was 10 years old, I've kind of flown under the radar," Bradley said. "I had what I thought was a pretty good college career but I never really got noticed. It was the same in junior golf and kind of the same out here.

"I've been having a good year, and that's just the way it happens with me, which is fine. I was happy with it. It's cool to be thought of as one of those guys now.

"I always wanted while growing up to win tournaments and win majors, and I can't believe this trophy is sitting next to me. It's an honour to be even thought of in that category."

Bradley's victory was all the more remarkable given that his late push came after the bitter disappointment of a triple-bogey on the par three 15 where he found water.

The 25 year old said his cool reaction to that setback, as he recovered to make two birdies and eliminate a five-stroke deficit, was aided by some sound advice from the four-time major winner Phil Mickelson.

"Phil has been great to me," Bradley said. "He's just told me to, you know, stay more patient out there. And the major thing I tried to do this week was under react to everything whether it was a good thing or a terrible thing.

"I underreacted to the triple and I overreacted a little when I made that putt on 17 but that was something that just came out of me. I didn't even know it was coming.

"That was the key — to underreact. And if you watch Phil play, he gets excited but he never gets too down on himself, and that was the key."

Mickelson is by no means the only influence on Bradley's career — his father is a member of the PGA, a teaching professional, and his aunt is Pat Bradley, who won six LPGA majors.

"I grew up going to Pat's tournaments and totally idolising her and wanting to be like her out there," Bradley said. "I remember as a kid going to her tournaments and literally staring her in the face and I'm her nephew, and she was so into it, she would not even recognise me.

"And I thought that was cool. I always wanted to be like her.

"My dad gave me the opportunity to be able to play endless golf when it was not snowing in Vermont. Endless golf, all day long, which is as much as I could get — and it's paid off."

The history books will also note that Bradley is the first player with a long putter to win a major championship.

"I'm very, very proud to be the first belly putter to win a major," he said, sparking laughter in the interview room. "I remember people telling me when I first switched: 'But nobody has ever won a major with it'.

"And I remember looking at them and going, 'I'm going to be the first one to win a major', just joking pretty much. It's a surreal thing that it's true."

Bradley holed a four-foot birdie putt at the first play-off hole, the par four 16th, to hold an early advantage over Dufner, who missed his attempt there from six feet.

Though Bradley could only par the tricky 160-yard 17th where a large pond guards the front of the green, he found himself two strokes ahead after Dufner ran up a three-putt bogey.

Bradley then sealed victory in the year's final major with a two-putt par at the treacherous 18th after both players found the front portion of the green with their approach shots.

After tapping in from less than two feet, the American acknowledged the roars from the crowd crammed around the green before shaking hands with Dufner, who had birdied the hole from long range.

"Hats off to Keegan for coming in there in the last three holes in regulation," Dufner, 34, told reporters after losing a play-off for the second time this year on the PGA Tour.

"He played great play-off holes and it's probably not the finish I was looking forward to."

Co-leader overnight with PGA Tour rookie Brendan Steele, Dufner had been unflappable for much of the day and was five strokes clear while playing the par-three 15th after Bradley had tripled-bogeyed that hole one group ahead.

However Dufner then fell back with bogeys at 15, 16 and 17 while Bradley sank birdie putts from nine feet at the 16th and 40 feet at the 17th to force a play-off.

"If you told me I would play those holes even par for the week, I probably would have taken at the beginning," 80th-ranked Dufner said of the brutal four final holes on the Highland course.

"Just a little disappointed right now, especially 16 and 17. Those are the ones that kind of stick out to me."

Denmark's Anders Hansen closed with a joint best-of-the-day 66 to finish third at seven under, two strokes ahead of Swede Robert Karlsson and the American veterans David Toms and Scott Verplank.