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PGA PREVIEW: A RETURN TO KIAWAH

Profile: Keegan Bradley

Livin' the life with the PGA champ from a family that knows how to have fun

August 2012

The first moments Keegan Bradley had alone with the Wanamaker Trophy were also the first moments he ever spent on a private jet. After the playoff against Jason Dufner, the awards presentation, the interviews and the endless handshakes in and around the nooks of Atlanta Athletic Club, it was getting late, and the PGA of America had the good sense to arrange travel home for its newest champion.

Keegan sat the trophy in the seat next to him, the heft and handles not dissimilar to a toddler, and buckled its seat belt. The new texts and voicemails on his phone totaled deep into the hundreds. Among the first was from Jim (Bones) Mackay, the caddie of Keegan's mentor, Phil Mickelson. The veteran looper knew better than most what winning a major meant for a career. As the jet gained speed on the runway and lifted, G-forces pressed Keegan's neck and spine back into the plush leather, and he couldn't help but think of where he'd come from and where he was going.

When Keegan touched back to earth in Florida, waiting to pick him up was his best friend, Jon Curran. Among many memories together, one was winning the Massachusetts public high school team state championship in 2004. Keegan also won the individual title that year, so this celebration, this memory, would vibrate on two amplitudes.

Coach Dick Bliss, who led (or at least chaperoned) that unbeatable Hopkinton High golf team, recalls Keegan received the third-most attention of his players that season. Curran was the No. 1-ranked junior golfer in the state, and freshman Kim Donovan (who would go on to play for Duke), was beating boys from tees forward, back and middle.

"Keegan was flying under the radar," Bliss says. "If a par 4 was under 350 yards he could think about driving the green, but still, not many big-time college recruiters gave him much of a look."

"I was longer in high school than I am now," says Keegan, which is scary if you believe it. At 26 his gangly frame has hardened from workouts with a personal trainer, and the accuracy of his 300-yard average helps him rank seventh in PGA Tour total driving. To imagine the freewheeling violence of his pubescent transition (at the top of the swing, that is) would make a chiropractor wince.

Even though Keegan spent just his senior year at Hopkinton, he and Curran grew close. This was the year after Keegan's parents' divorce, and it had been a quick move for his father, Mark, to take the assistant-pro job at Hopkinton Country Club while Keegan's mother, Kaye, and younger sister, Madison, stayed in Woodstock, Vt. Short on options, the man and boy took up in a 21-foot space in Crystal Springs trailer park. The top bunk was too short for Keegan's sprouting 6-3 frame, so the boy got to have the roomier tabletop that converted into a bed. They stayed here for seven months, until hard winter hit.

The trailer's nickname was the Tin Cup II. "Oh, yeah, we spent some time up there," says Curran, lounging on the giant L-shape sofa in Keegan's recently purchased home in Tequesta, Fla. Right outside the sliding-glass doors is a swimming pool, a grill, three basketball hoops of varying seriousness, a television and a dock with direct access to a fork of the Jupiter Inlet. Curran is playing the Hooters Tour, hoping to join his benevolent landlord on the big tour soon.

"It was a lot of fun," Keegan says. "My mom gets sad when I talk about the trailer because she thinks people will think I had an unhappy childhood, but I had the greatest childhood. It didn't have a bathroom, and there were a lot of interesting people living in the park. But I don't remember ever once thinking it was bad."

keegan bradley
Bradley's setup includes a pool, grill, basketball hoops and direct access to the water.

There was no reason to. This wasn't The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This was only a continuation of what Keegan had always done: roll with his dad and play golf all day. Food and shelter were plenty, and both kept their necks scrubbed enough to go to the club. And for Keegan to go to school, of course, but he didn't worry about that so much.

"He always wanted to be a golfer," his mother says. "From 5 and 6 years old."

It was at this age that Keegan began riding to work with his dad, every day in summer. Mark was the head pro at the Haystack Golf Club in Wilmington, Vt., and he liked to be there at daybreak. Keegan was as slow as most young children at waking. He was perpetually groggy, yet insistent he be woken.

"One morning I left him," Mark says. "I had a lot going on at the course, and I just had to get going. Later that morning he had his mom drive him the 25 miles. Out he gets from the car with his golf clubs. He had his lower-lip thing going like he was about to cry. He was mad as hell. One day, he must've been 9 or 10, I told Keegan, 'Look, why don't you take a day off? Go swim in a creek with your buddies or something.' You know, go be a normal kid. But he just looked at me and said, 'No, it's what I want to do.' "

The story of Mark becoming a golf professional is wrapped in the story of his meeting and falling in love with Kaye Hansen. After a couple of semesters at the University of Vermont, he ventured west to Jackson, Wyo., and dug in, part of the wave of outdoor-recreation enthusiasts to migrate to the fantastic possibilities of that section of the Teton range. For eight years Mark lived the modest life of a fly-fishing guide, and he skied a lot of really epic turns in the winter. But eventually Kaye, another avid northeastern ski émigré, convinced Mark to return to New England to raise a family.

Mark wasn't a member of the PGA, but he was a good player. The fishing guide took the job as Haystack's pro on the condition he would quickly pass the player-ability test and take the required steps, which he did.

And so life was perfect. In the summer Keegan rode to the course with his dad and behaved like he knew people were watching him more closely. In the winter, Mark skated on skis up the slopes of Suicide Six to set gates, and he would watch his two children race down toward him, growing larger and increasingly defined on the white snow.

By 13, Keegan was a scratch golfer and a near-scratch ski racer. To ask which sport he loved more was unnecessary; a Vermont boy simply celebrated life in accordance with the seasons.

But if he was truly serious about eventually making a living, it was time to decide. Uncle John handled it in the car one day on their way to go skiing.

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