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Bradley Set to Defend Title in Byron Nelson Championship
Keegan Bradley got the attention of the golf world in last year's Byron Nelson Championship. The then-PGA Tour rookie heralded himself as a player to be reckoned with by closing with a 68 on the par-70 TPC Four Seasons Resort course in Irving, Texas, to tie Ryan Palmer in regulation; then he won on the first sudden-death hole with a par on the par-4 18th.
The victory propelled Bradley to one of the best seasons ever for a Tour rookie. The Vermont native, now 25, went on to his second win in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, again in a playoff, this time in a three-hole aggregate score over Jason Dufner, to become the third player in history to win a major in his first attempt, joining Francis Ouimet (1913 U.S. Open) and Ben Curtis (2003 British Open). In addition, Bradley became the first major winner to use a long putter.
The nephew of LPGA Hall of Fame member Pat Bradley capped his year by winning the season-ending Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda, out-dueling Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy and Claret Jug owner Darren Clarke.
Bradley earned $3,758,599 in 2011, ending up 13th on the season money list thanks to the two victories and a total of four top-10 and 12 top-25 finishes in 28 events. In recognition of his outstanding season, Bradley was named the Tour's 2011 Rookie of the Year.
Bradley has continued his fine play in his second season, logging his third victory in Northern Trust Open, once again in a playoff - over Phil Mickelson and Bill Haas. In addition, he's had three top-10 finishes and nine in the top-25 - in 13 starts, earning $1,656,527 to rank 22nd on the money list.
On Tuesday, Bradley met with reporters in Irving to discuss his Nelson victory and what it meant to his career. He also discussed his 2012 season and the ongoing attention to the legality of the long putter. Here's what he had to say during that Q&A with the media.
MODERATOR: We'll get started. We would like to welcome Keegan Bradley into the interview room, our defending champion here at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Welcome back. Can we get your comments on being back and your reflection on your win last year?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, very excited to be back here at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. A lot of very good memories, even just driving in the gates and walking up 18 again, kind of remembering how my life changed a year ago this Sunday for sure. It's great to be back and see all of the guys in the red and white; it's a great tournament.
MODERATOR: Talk about what this tournament did for you, giving you the confidence to win the PGA and your golf this year.
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I went from an unknown rookie trying to keep his card to winning a PGA Tour event and locking up my future a little bit. I was able to draw on my experience here, especially at the PGA playoff, and this tournament will be special to me.
Q. Keegan, can you compare what you were doing a year ago today, the reaction from fans, the interaction with people around here as opposed to what it's like here now?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: A lot of signing autographs and them asking me who I am, last year. It was just a completely different time. I think back on it fondly, even, because it was so much different than my life now. I was staying at the Hampton Inn down the street, I was just trying to keep my card. So it was a much different time and but it's cool to come back and remember all the weird memories of where I called my parents after I won, walking down that tunnel after I won, being in here. Just a lot of really amazing memories that come rushing back.
Q. You've won since, but talk about the idea of being a defending champion. Have you figured out how to approach it mindset-wise?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I knew this tournament was coming, and I didn't think much of it. But coming here, it's definitely special, just like I said, the memories. I go into it knowing that I love this course, it suits my eye well. I'm looking to win tournaments, so this is a great opportunity for me to contend this week. The course is in amazing shape, as it always is, and they treat us well here. It's a great week all together.
Q. Keegan, the list of guys who have won their first Tour event at a major is very short. Do you think it would have been more difficult to win the PGA if you hadn't already won here?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yes, definitely. This tournament might have set up my whole career, to be honest with you. I was able to - people don't realize what the stress level is of a rookie on the PGA Tour, trying to keep your card. I played on the Hooters Tour and thinking about going back is scary. And to know I was on the Tour for at least two and a half more years was huge. At the PGA I didn't have that pressure of having to win my first tournament or having to worry about making enough money to keep my card, stuff like that, where rookies have to think about that, and this tournament cleared that you.
Q. I know you've told the story before but can you rehash Pepsi talking you into coming here last year?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, it was interesting. I was setting up my schedule and I was going to play Colonial and skip this tournament; it was reversed last year. It was done; I had made my decision, and Pepsi, my caddie, said, "Look, I think you should play" - he's never said anything like this to me in my career. He's supportive. And he said, "I think you should play Nelson and skip Colonial. Nelson fits your game better," and sure enough, we came here and won. Pepsi knew something I didn't, and thank God he convinced me to do it.
Q. You talked last year about your conversations with your Aunt Pat and growing up with her as a pro. How different are they now that you've won and how have the conversations changed?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: That's a good question because they've changed a lot, actually. We talk about off the course stuff, business kind of stuff, media, stuff that - talking about winning major championships, how she won her first when she was about my age, but the conversation changed a lot. It's more of how to win tournaments now and how to be in contention and handle it as opposed to just feeling comfortable at a golf tournament on the PGA Tour. So it's cool how it's evolved, but she has helped me a great deal.
Q. How rare is it for a guy like Matt to win the Players Championship and then come back and win the next week? How do you feel about that?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I won the Nelson and played the week afterwards, the Memorial, and a big difference between me and "Kuch", because this was my first win, but I was wasted at that tournament. I couldn't sleep, I was so excited I couldn't stop talking to people about winning, and I finally - I missed the cut at the Memorial and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because I was able to rest and lay in bed. He's got a big obstacle ahead of him this week, but for "Kuch," he's a veteran; he's won a bunch of times. I wouldn't be surprised if he contends at all.
Q. If you had won the Players would you be here?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Definitely. I love this tournament.
Q. Obviously you figured out how to do the Tour because you have been consistent since the win. You talked to Phil Mickelson? Talk to anyone else about how to do things, manage your time?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I talk to Phil a lot about stuff like that. He's been a huge help to me, also Jim McLean, my coach, has been a huge help. Everybody has been great to me. If you take away those wins, the progress from a rookie to the second year is your second year is so much easier. It's just been easier this year - a little bit. There are some things that are definitely harder but it's a process of getting used to life on Tour and then your second year is easier; you're more comfortable and know what's going on.
Q. Where is the state of your game right now? Are you happy with it? Do you feel like you've gone on a little roller coaster, been in contention a few times obviously.
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I've been playing very well. I had some chances to win some golf tournaments, which maybe I should have. Last week at the Players I played really good golf, my stats were good. Last year at that tournament I finished near the end of the pack, and this year I shot under par and doubled my finish, which I actually think is a good step and that's a good course for me. I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel comfortable, more fit than I ever have in my whole career. Everything seems to be coming together really well.
Q. In Maui the big story was the putter. We talked about that, and only Carl and Matt have won tournaments with the long putter, but how do you feel about that now at this point?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I respect the USGA and the R&A, whatever decision they make. I don't make the rules of golf so I can't decide whether or not they should be legal. If they say they're illegal one day, I won't use it, but for now they are legal so I will use it. I have put years of my life into that putter and I know a lot of guys have. If it does come a day where they think it's illegal, I respect that decision. For now I'm happy to use it.
Q. Your aunt introduced you to Byron at a young age. What do you remember about that meeting?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I just remember being kind of in awe of him, just his aura that he had about him, and I grew up reading a lot about Ben Hogan, and when you read about Ben Hogan, you read about Byron Nelson. It was nice to meet him, and he was nice and kind to me. I was just a kid at the time. It's amazing that I was able to win his tournament, because you look at the trophy of the Nelson and the names on it are as good as a Major. Tiger Woods, Phil, you know, back in the day all the guys. He's just a great guy, and he's a pro that all of us try to model ourselves after.
Q. Has everything that you've done in the last year sunk in so far? Are you pinching yourself to believe what happened has really happened?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: It's hard to say this without sounding cliche, but honestly it doesn't sometimes. Sometimes I will be sitting around and I will realize that I won the PGA and start laughing, by myself, like I can't believe it. It seriously happens all the time. I keep the trophy on my mantle in front of my TV in my room, and I'll just be watching TV and I'll look over at it and start laughing, because it seems so bizarre that's the trophy, it's in my room! Definitely sometimes I have to ask myself "Is this really real?" But I've been wanting to do that my whole life, and it's cool to be living it. But I have so much further to go, and that's what I'm happy about. I want to be out here for a long time and be one of the best Players, so I have a lot to work for.
Q. Can you talk about playing - this course played difficult last year; you have played well in the Majors. Is this a difficult course?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I like to drive the ball well and this is one of those courses, and especially when you can drive the ball long and good. And any course that's demanding off the tee like Akron or the PGA, I like them. I'm not a player that likes wide open golf courses. I like 'em tight. That's because that's one of the strengths of my game. And people say this is tough because driving the ball is so important on the PGA Tour, and people don't realize, I think it's the most important thing out here, and that's the correlation I've seen.
Q. Can you say why is this course so demanding with regard to your driving?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: There is a bunch of tee shots out here, dog legs that you must hit the fairway. If you don't you're in Bermuda or you are blocked by trees, and if you hit the fairway you can have a chance at making birdie. It's important. I've always said on the PGA Tour driving the ball is so important because it sets you up for the whole rest of the course. It's a course that's demanding off the tee and precise shots that need to be hit.
Q. Keegan, slow play was an issue last week. Everyone talked about it with Kevin. You have been criticized for it at times. What's your take on slow play?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: I think that Kevin handled it well. I mean, you know, it seemed like he was struggling against himself a little bit out there, but, you know, I give him credit for coming forward and talking about it and I sympathize with him. It's a touchy subject because you don't want to affect the other Players in your group. I feel like if it gets bad, people should be penalized, if you're behind. I have struggled with it a little bit. I have never once been put on the clock on the PGA Tour, so I've never felt that I have affected others, which if I did, I would be mortified. I think if it's a serious issue, maybe they should - they need to start penalizing or fining, something like that.
Q. Is it a tough balancing act for you guys? So much is at stake and you have to watch the time.
KEEGAN BRADLEY: The guys you see on TV, like Phil, that are smooth; they have been doing is for so long, that this is just another day for them. For us rookies or newer guys, sometimes it's just a different atmosphere, different animal. It's just a matter of getting used to it, which I think you kind of have to go through it a couple of times. You have to be thrown in and fend for yourself. I think that Kevin handled it really well. I feel bad for him for some of the criticism he's gotten, because he's a good guy. I think he realizes he has a problem and he's addressing it, which is all you can do.
Q. Seems to be a spectrum of joy of playing the game and life on the PGA Tour and working at it. You seem to be on the joy of playing the game side. How do you respond to the differences?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: When you start playing bad golf out here it seems like you get too serious, too much like a job. When you're out having fun, laugh and go playing golf well like "Kuch" did all week, it's fun. It's important to remind yourself you're a PGA Tour player and some people are working in offices in the city and we're out here. I try my very best to realize that this is fun playing on the Tour and sometimes it's not, but I try to remind myself every day that I'm a PGA Tour player and this is what I wanted to do my whole life, and I'm living my dream. I think it's important for me to realize that and enjoy the game and enjoy the time out on the Tour and try to win tournaments.
MODERATOR: Keegan, we appreciate your time, thank you. Good luck as you go for two in a row, here.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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