Unlikely Journey

Keegan Bradley has come a long way in a short

By Bruce Berlet
Photography by Amber Jane Barricman

It wasn’t that long ago that Keegan Bradley was living in a trailer park in Bolton, Massachusetts, and sharing a bunk bed with his father. For seven months back in the early 2000s, his father, Mark, slept on the bottom bunk while Keegan had the roomier tabletop that converted into a bed.

“It wasn’t weird or anything like that,” Bradley says. “My mom (Kaye) 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. It was a lot of fun.”

Seriously?

“For sure,” the self-proclaimed golf nerd insists. “My dad and I would work at his club (Hopkinton Country Club) and then hang out together at the trailer. It was a blast.”

So much of a blast that he has a photograph of the trailer, nicknamed “Tin Cup II,” on his dresser in his bedroom in Jupiter Island, Florida.

Clearly, life has changed for Bradley. Since earning his PGA Tour card in 2011, the 29-year-old has pocketed more than $15 million, turning life in that 21-foot trailer into a distant memory.

The fiery Bradley became an overnight star when he won the 2011 PGA Championship. He was born in Woodstock, Vermont, where he became a competitive junior skier and golfer before his family moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 2001, when his father took a job as assistant pro at Portsmouth Country Club. The Bradleys moved again to Hopkinton, Massachusetts, when Keegan was 17. It was there that Keegan blossomed as a golfer, teaming with future PGA Tour player Jon Curran to lead Hopkinton High to a state title.

Bradley lived in Hopkinton for three years before attending St. John’s University, where he won nine collegiate tournaments. Certainly, golfing talent runs in the family. His aunt, Pat Bradley, is in the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“She was my hero growing up, and she still is,” he says. “I looked up, obviously, to Tiger (Woods) and Freddy Couples and all those guys. But my Aunt Pat was my inspiration to be a tour pro. I idolized her growing up. Any chance I could get, I would come out and watch her play.

“I always thought that the way she handled herself and played golf, I was just in awe of the way she did it. It just made me want to be a professional golfer even more so than most people, I think, because I got to watch her doing it.”

In recent years, Bradley has forged a friendship with another Hall-of-Fame player, Phil Mickelson.

“Phil sought me out,” he says. “He invited me and Brendan Steele to play a practice round on Monday at The Players (Championship) my rookie year. I doubt Phil has played on a Monday in 15 years out here. I haven’t. That is probably the last time I did. He went out of his way to invite us out, and for no reason other than to just help us. Ever since then we’ve become friends. It’s very strange when you become friends with an idol of yours. He’s just always there for anything I need. And we’ve been lucky enough to partner up and play and do well together, which is ridiculous. It’s hard to even believe still.”

Bradley also has to occasionally pinch himself that he’s in his sixth year on the PGA Tour and has three victories, including a major championship. He has played on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. And when he came from five strokes back with three holes left in regulation to beat Jason Dufner at the 2011 PGA Championship, he joined Francis Ouimet, Willie Park Jr. and Ben Curtis as the only players to capture a major in their first attempt.

Life hasn’t always been so fruitful. Bradley was down to $1,000 in his bank account when he turned pro in 2008. But a victory on the Hooters Tour turned his life around. He won more than $100,000 in two seasons on the Hooters Tour, and then moved on to the Nationwide Tour, where he posted five consecutive Top 5 finishes to earn his PGA Tour card in 2011.

Bradley had four Top 10 finishes in his first five months on the PGA Tour, capped by a playoff victory over Ryan Palmer in the Byron Nelson Championship. That earned him a spot in the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational, where he led midway through the final round before finishing tied for 15th.

His life truly changed the following week at the PGA Championship. Trailing Dufner by five shots in the final round after triple-bogeying the 15th hole, he made two birdies coming home to earn a spot in a three-hole playoff, which he won.

Bradley captured his third PGA Tour event at the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, rallying from four strokes behind to edge Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.

Bradley has become a marketable property. He has an endorsement deal with National Car Rental and calls Michael Jordan a close friend. A rabid Boston sports fan, he spent time last year in the Bahamas, playing golf and basketball with Jordan and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, with whom he says he has a “texting relationship.” He also got to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game, drop the puck at a Bruins game and flip the coin to start a New England Patriots preseason game.

Not bad for a kid who not long ago was living in a trailer park.

“I’m not immune to being in awe of a situation,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t realize what’s going on around me, but a lot of those times I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve come a long way.’”

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