The hard part of the week is over. Keegan Bradley survived it. Now all he has to do is get ready for the U.S. Open. Easy peasy.
A native of the New England area – Woodstock, Vt., principally, although he also lived in Portsmouth, N.H., and Hopkinton, Mass. – Bradley is the local favorite in the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club, a course that Bradley refers to as the “crown jewel” venue in this area of the country. The 2011 PGA Championship winner will compete in his 10th national championship but first for him in the area where he grew up. The Country Club last hosted a U.S. Open in 1988, won by Curtis Strange.
Needless to say, it is a special week for the world’s 47th-ranked player, and that doesn’t even include his interest this week in the NBA Finals, in which one of his favorite sports teams, the Boston Celtics (yes, all the Boston teams are his favorites), trails 3-2 to the Golden State Warriors with Game 6 Thursday night. He was kidding, mostly, when he said, “Jeez, what a time to be in Boston. I wish I wasn't playing in the tournament so I could have fun with all these sporting events.”
No, he wants to be playing. The Country Club is a “mystical place” to Bradley, who was in attendance for the 1999 Ryder Cup with his father and celebrated on the 18th green after the USA completed a record comeback against Europe. “To be out here playing in the U.S. Open is pretty fun.”
Bradley is the nephew of 1981 U.S. Women’s Open champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, and his wife Jillian has ties to a famous athlete as well – former Boston Red Sox great Carlton Fisk, whom they call, predictably, “Uncle Pudge.”
Speaking of the Red Sox, Bradley threw out the first pitch at Tuesday night’s game at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox beat the Oakland A’s, 6-1. It was the second time that Bradley had been invited to do the honors, which was equal parts enjoyable and nerve racking.
“I was such a nervous wreck yesterday,” said Bradley, 36. “I kept telling my wife, why did I agree to do this? This is all I need this week, you know, is the pressure. I walk through the player dining, they're all, like, ‘I'm going to the game. I'm videoing it. You better throw a good one.’”
Bradley wasted no time on the mound. He was handed the ball and within a second it was on its way to home plate. No windup. He just reared back and threw a high strike.
“I was actually standing behind the mound with the First Tee before the pitch. Things were getting fuzzy; that's how uncomfortable I was,” he said. “I was proud of the strike I threw – or the ball I threw. Sometimes in my life there are moments that are shocking and being out on that mound at Fenway Park with my family there and playing here is really surreal. Truly it is.
“The last time I did it,” he added, “I said, if I do this again, I'm going to enjoy it more, and I didn't. It was worse.”
Hopefully, things will be clearer when he begins the championship at 8:02 a.m. Thursday off the 10th tee in a group with Aaron Wise and Marc Leishman. A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, Bradley hopes to improve on the career-best T-4 finish that he collected in 2014 at Pinehurst. This would be the perfect place, it goes without saying.
“I love where my game is at,” Bradley said with a grin, exuding confidence. “This U.S. Open brings a lot of challenges. Being in Boston and home, it brings even more. It's going to be a tough test this week, but it's one that you look forward to for sure.
“I don't take this for granted. I don't know when the next time a major will be in Boston, so this is cool.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.