SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Keegan Bradley's PGA Championship goal: Break the jinx, serve more lobster
KIAWAH ISLAND — Winning the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club meant Keegan Bradley got to do splashy stuff, like pose with the Wanamaker Trophy and smack golf balls off the deck of the aircraft carrier Yorktown.
But the personable former all-state skier from Vermont was feeling the South Carolina heat early Thursday.
“I'm so happy (the wind) started blowing because it was so hot this morning,” Bradley, 26, said at the Ocean Course. “On the 14th tee was one of the hottest moments of my life.”
Not pressure-cooker hot. Bradley started fast. He finished strong, one shot better than playing partner Tiger Woods.
“I feel great,” Bradley said after carding a 4-under 68 in the first round of this 94th and utterly unique PGA Championship. “Any time I get announced as the PGA Champion, it gives me chills. It was really fun and I love playing with Tiger, so it was a great day.”
When rolling through the list of the 16 different winners over golf's last 16 majors, Bradley is mentioned right along with Rory McIlroy as one of the young players most likely to win big again.
Why not here and now? How about more Wanamaker hardware to match that gaudy thing inside Bradley's Jupiter, Fla., home?
After winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last week, Bradley vaulted to a No. 15 world ranking.
A year ago, he was No. 108.
Two years ago, he was on the Hooters Tour.
Pass the lobster
It's the oddest of American golf backgrounds. Bradley grew up skiing in Vermont, graduated from Hopkinton High School near the Boston Marathon start line and was an avid Boston Red Sox fan attending St. John's University in New York City.
Semi-golf fans think he's from Ireland, South Africa or Del Boca Vista.
Fellow former PGA champions know he's a New England guy with Beantown credibility. Bradley at the annual PGA champion's dinner Tuesday night handed out Red Sox caps and shirts as the guests ate from Bradley's heartily selected menu: Maine lobster, corn on the cob and ice cream sundaes.
So what's a little stroll at the Ocean Course playing high-stakes golf before neck-stretching crowds following Tiger?
“It's been really fun,” Bradley said.
Woods said the Ocean Course wind “kicked up” and “actually changed directions,” which happens pretty often on this particular sandy patch of the South Carolina coast.
A 'helpful' start
Some prominent players didn't handle it very well, including another former PGA champion in the Woods-Bradley grouping; Martin Kaymer shot a 7-over 79 and almost certainly will not make the cut.
Dealing with the elements is part of the week's workload.
“It's relatively soft because of the rain,” Bradley said.
“But it's very playable if you hit the ball well. If you hit the ball in the fairway you can make a lot of birdies. If you don't, you're going to struggle, and you've got to play these par 3s as best you can. Today, I did that.”
Bradley started on the back nine and had par 3s at Nos. 5 and 17, birdied No. 8 and bogeyed No. 14. He eagled the No. 11 hole, a 593-yard par 5.
“Any time in golf if you try to push it or force it, bad things can happen,” Bradley said.
“I just tried to stay calm and I got off to a really good start, which is helpful.”
Particularly when you're looking to serve your friends more lobster and corn.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff