New England's Keegan Bradley comes full circle with Travelers title
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CROMWELL, Conn. – Always, Keegan Bradley was aware of the reality – that compared to nationally-ranked junior golfers and elite amateurs, his unconventional upbringing and geographically-challenged address didn’t earn him the respect he craved.
He took note, bottled it inside, and let it percolate deep within to fuel a passion that raged in his soul. But never did Bradley feel anything but pride for who he was and from where he came.
That time on the St. John’s team bus, for example, when he asked the driver to slow down, then stop. “There, that is where I once lived.”
He pointed to the Crystal Springs Campground, an RV park in a small central Massachusetts town, Bolton. It is where Bradley as a young teenager lived with his father, Mark, in a 28-foot trailer that they affectionately called “Tin Cup II.”
It was a quick stop, very few words were spoken, and Bradley told the driver to keep going to the college team’s tournament.
Keegan Bradley: From small town to golf stardom
But Bradley’s message was clear. He wanted his teammates and friends to know that he had loved his childhood as a ski racer in Vermont and even that brief time living in a trailer park, yet never had anything been given to him.
Which was OK, because from his early years as a golfer, Bradley came to understand he would have to earn everything. Fine. Only it’s worth wondering if he ever in his wildest dreams envisioned tens of thousands of fans chanting “Keegan, Keegan, Keegan” as they did Sunday at TPC River Highlands as this native New Englander closed out a victory at the Travelers Championship.
“At times when I was lacking a little bit, I would look to the crowd,” said Bradley. “If I just looked into the crowd, they cheered and I tried to just take that energy they were cheering at me.”
This was the most raucous of Bradley’s 13 appearances at TPC River Highlands, a natural byproduct of the 62-63-64 scores he had strung together to take a one-stroke lead into the final round. Thunderous roars greeted his early run and when Bradley birdied the 12th hole to get to 26-under and lead by six, you almost thought fans wanted to rip down the goalposts or for Red Auerbach to light up a cigar.
Keegan Bradley emerges victorious at Travelers
“I can’t even describe what that felt like,” said Bradley, whose gallery included his mother, Kaye, his sister, Madison, an uncle, Chris, and so many other members.
Ah, but if fans were letting their emotions out, Bradley kept his in check. He knew “every hole is a birdie hole” at TPC River Highlands, but so, too, is there trouble at every corner.
He proved it, too. A tee ball right and wet at the par-5 13th, an approach short at the par-4 14th and three putts from a bad lie in a deep swale for another bogey. Then, he missed a short birdie putt at the 15th.
“When I missed that,” said Bradley, “I was like, all right, this is definitely getting a little tight. I had to refocus.”
When he bogeyed the par-3 16th, Bradley was 23-under and leading by three. Gut-check time and that is a more advantageous position for him to be in. He is a Ph.D. in having to prove himself.
Keegan Bradley's interview after winning Travelers
Those elite junior tournament directors who never paid him respect? It spilled over when the big colleges didn’t recruit him, either. St. John’s did, a fact for which Bradley is eternally grateful, but oh, how he did wondrous things in college to prove everyone wrong.
“What I always remember was how he came back each year so much better than the year before,” said Kevin Velardo, a St. John’s teammate who came down to watch Bradley’s Travelers performance.
The infamous “chip on his shoulder” that is a secret to Bradley’s success? “Oh, yeah, he had it in college,” said Velardo.
It’s been chronicled for years, how Bradley broke onto the PGA TOUR in 2011, won twice – including his first-ever chance at a major (the PGA Championship) – and has annually been a force. One could argue that at 37 he’s having his best season (two wins, a second, three other top-10s) and that this joy at the Travelers, his sixth career win, ranks very close to what he did at Atlanta Athletic Club 12 years ago.
That’s because he’s got years of maturity in the tank and with a wife, Jillian, and two sons, Logan and Cooper, it makes him view things differently.
Keegan Bradley wins Travelers and climbs FedExCup standings
“You can measure other tournament wins with what happened out here today and the enjoyment level,” said Bradley. “Winning before family versus winning after family doesn’t even compare.”
That he passed the gut-check test by making a rock-solid par at the watery 17th – "arguably the toughest hole the course,” he said – and had some breathing room on 18 to close with 68 for 23-under 257, three clear of Zac Blair (62) and Brian Harman (68), was cause for a celebration that he didn’t want to stop.
He hails from Vermont, has skied in New Hampshire and Maine, has won golf tournaments in Rhode Island and first visited this Travelers championship as a teenager to chase after his favorite golfer, David Duval.
Oh, and he lives now in Newburyport, Massachusetts, at least for the summer months and into the fall. Why? “Because I love living here and I’ve missed it. My mother lives in the town, my sister, too, and we’re only two hours from Jillian’s parents.”
Yes, he understandably will remain a winter resident of Jupiter, Florida., to keep the golf game sharp. But through and through, he is a New Englander and this was a win on home soil for the home fans.
“One of my favorite things about myself is where I’m from,” said Bradley. “The bond that you have with people from New England is different than anywhere in the world . . . so to hear the fans cheer for me like they would a sports team, it means a lot.”
He has come a long way from those “Tin Cup II” days when he lived with his dad, a club professional. Unconventional as it was to be in a trailer, the reason resonates with him even now – his father had moved to Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to take a job so Keegan could play on a quality high school team.
He loves his dad for doing that. His dad cherishes that his son took that opening and ran with it. And if Bradley wants his win to resonate, it's for the kids.
“This is for all the kids like me who grow up in winters and can’t play,” he said. “I hope they know that they can come from this area and still make it in golf, if you put your time in and work when you can and enjoy the game. I hope they see they can do that.”