Ten years ago, Keegan Bradley was a wide-eyed rookie on the PGA Tour, but success came at a rapid pace for the 25 year old. After just 15 career starts, Bradley found the winner’s circle at the 2011 HP Byron Nelson Championship. Two and a half months later, Bradley arrived at the Atlantic Athletic Club for his first major, the 2011 PGA Championship. At week’s end — after one of the most stunning finishes in PGA Championship history — Bradley was a major champ.
Now 35, and as the Tour veteran gets ready to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his lone major title, Ryan Asselta caught up with Bradley as he prepares for the PGA at Kiawah Island. The four-time PGA Tour winner opened up about the nerves he felt that Sunday in 2011, how his life instantly changed, and how 10 years later the hunger to win another major is still very strong.
GOLF.com: It’s been 10 years since your PGA Championship victory at Atlanta Athletic Club. Does it feel like it’s been a decade since that moment for you?
Keegan Bradley: It really doesn’t. It seems like it just happened yesterday, but a lot’s changed in my life over the past 10 years. In some ways, it seems like it was yesterday and then in some ways, it seems like it was another lifetime ago. I really can’t believe it’s been 10 years but I’m thankful to be celebrating that anniversary.
What do you remember most about that week back in 2011?
It was the first major I had ever played in so I was in complete awe. There was a lot of pride in being able to say I was playing in a major. I was a rookie on Tour and everything was such a whirlwind in my life at that point. I got off to a really bad start. I was three over through four and from there on out I played some of the best golf in my life. I just remember being really calm throughout the whole week. Every tournament was a major for me at that time. It was my rookie year and every single time I teed it up was a major.
As a rookie you had played in some PGA Tour events, but going to your first major championship, was there a feeling that this was a little different than anything you’d played in before?
Yes, definitely. When you register at the PGA the Wanamaker Trophy is sitting right on the table as you sign in. It’s a very stunning trophy. I think it’s one of the best in all of sports, to be honest. It’s big and it’s very recognizable. When I walked into that room and saw it, I was like, Wow, this is unbelievable that I’ve gotten to this point in my career. Little did I know, four or five days later, I was going to be holding that trophy and winning the tournament.
The finish in 2011 was unbelievable. With four holes to play you found the water and made triple bogey on the 15th hole. You were five strokes back of the lead with only three holes to play. Did you think your chances went with your ball into the water that day?
Yeah, probably. I wasn’t doing a ton of leaderboard watching at that stage of my career, so I still had my head down. I knew a second or a fifth or even an eighth-place finish was a big deal. It was a lot of money and was a lot of FedEx Cup and World Ranking points. I was still really concerned about keeping my head down and playing those last three holes, which are maybe the hardest holes on the course.
How did you reset yourself after that triple bogey?
There’s like a 100-yard walk from the 15th green to the 16th tee and I just kept telling myself, Let’s just hit the best shot we can here on the 16th tee. And I got to that tee and I hit the most unbelievable drive. When people ask me the best shot I’ve ever hit in my life, it’s kind of a boring answer. But it was that 16th tee shot on Sunday at the PGA. I absolutely hammered it about 30 yards past where I’d been hitting it that week. I ended up making birdie there. And I always look back on that shot and that moment as probably the most important moment of my career.
You birdie 16, and then roll in a 35-footer for birdie on 17. Meanwhile Jason Dufner was stumbling down the stretch. You were tied with Dufner, while he was playing the 18th hole.
For a brief moment, I was in the scoring tent and Duf and I were tied. The 18th hole is a brutal hole and it crossed my mind — Holy cow, I could win this right here. Eighteen was a par-5 converted into a par-4 so a bogey was very likely considering how hard the hole was playing. I remember thinking, like, Wow, I could literally win this right now. I had to catch myself because Duf hit a great shot and hit the green and made par and we went to a playoff.
Here you are, a PGA Tour rookie playing in his first major, and now you are heading to a three-hole playoff. Were you nervous?
I remember being so calm and confident. I didn’t get really nervous until we were on the 18th green, which was the final hole of the playoff. I was two up at the time and I had about 20 feet left for birdie and Duf had about 20 feet just outside of me, right on my line. I remember thinking that if he missed his putt I’ve won. There was no way I can’t win. All he can do is make it and that’s going to put some stress in my life. And sure enough, he made it. That was when I got really nervous. Like how you read about guys getting nervous in majors. I was nervous. It meant I had to two-putt to win. I putted it up there pretty close. I then reset and tapped it in. To this day, I have a hard time watching that last hole because I still have that nervous feeling that comes back.
You were 25 at the time. How much did your life change when you became a major champion?
I remember I flew home on a private jet, which I had never been on. After the media tour I was on the plane and it was the first time I had been by myself in like a week. It was just me and the Wanamaker Trophy. It was just such a stunning moment in my life. The next day, I went to dinner with all my buddies at a local sushi place in Jupiter called Too Bizaare. I walked in and I could tell that people knew who I was. People were coming up to me, which had never happened to me in my life. It was pretty shocking, but pretty fun too.
How has your life changed since 2011?
I have two kids now and I’m married. My life is a lot different but it’s a lot better. I get to come to the PGA Championship every year for the rest of my life and go to the Champion’s Dinner, to walk around knowing that I’ve won the tournament. I usually never touch a trophy that I haven’t won. So before the PGA every year I always go touch the Wanamaker. I always look for my name on the trophy and then Ben Hogan’s name, Tiger Woods. It’s pretty cool that I get to relive that every year.
At 35 years old, how hungry are you to win another major championship?
This year will be the first major that I’ve played, other than the Masters, which I’m returning to the course I previously played. I feel as ready as ever to do it again. I think when you win a major you kind of crave that feeling again. It’s so different than winning a regular tournament.
You finished 3rd at the PGA Championship at Kiawah back in 2012. What’s the key to success for you there?
I think in all of the majors, but especially at Kiawah, ball-striking is going to be a big key. Driving the ball, which is one of my best parts of my game, will be important. If it’s a little bit windy, that’s only going to help me. I love the course. I think it’s a fun major venue because it’s unique. It’s not a course that has hosted 20 majors so it’s one that we look forward to going to.