BROOKLINE, Mass. – As a kid in Vermont, Keegan Bradley always wondered what it would feel like to be Larry Bird or Carlton Fisk or Tom Brady, or any of those Boston sports greats whose posters plaster bedroom walls across New England.
On Saturday at the U.S. Open, Bradley got the full treatment.
A cascading chorus of “Kee-gan, Kee-gan, Kee-gan” greeted the local favorite as he strode up the 18th fairway at The Country Club. He was on the way to making par and wrapping up a round of 1-under 69 that left him at 2 under for the tournament, only two shots off the lead.
“Honestly, it was one of the most amazing moments of my entire life,” said Bradley, the 2011 PGA champion and a four-time winner on the PGA Tour. “I got to feel what it feels like to play in Fenway, to play in the Garden, to play in Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there.”
Still stinging from the Celtics' loss in the NBA Finals, Boston fans were looking for something, anything, to get juiced about for a weekend that will no longer include Game 7. They got it in the form of a 36-year-old father of two whose aunt, Pat Bradley, is a six-time major champion and whose wife's uncle is none other than the Hall of Fame Red Sox catcher, Fisk.
Playing in windy, cool conditions that turned The Country Club into a “beast,” in the words of co-leader Will Zalatoris, Bradley started slow. He made three bogeys over his first six holes.
But he played the final 11 holes in four under. The game-changer came on No. 9, where he hit his approach to 12 feet and made the putt to get the grandstands buzzing.
“I made the putt, and they went wild,” Bradley said. “It really gave me a jolt of energy. It put me on a path to, ‘All right, we no longer are trying to save this round. Let’s try to get ourselves into contention here,’ and I did that.”
This is a moment that's been building for seven years for Bradley, ever since the USGA made the somewhat head-turning announcement that it was bringing the U.S. Open back to the Boston area.
"Well, I saw it was on the schedule, I was kind of, like, ’Wow, that’s a little surprising. I’m pumped for that,” Bradley said.
Earning a spot in the U.S. Open hadn't been a problem for Bradley — until last year, which marked the first time in a decade he didn't make the field. As this year's tournament grew closer, he started getting a better sense of what it meant by the complete lack of discussion about the upcoming U.S. Open among his friends and family. He finally secured his spot last month.
"I thought it was strange,” he said. “Then, as soon as I qualified, everyone is texting, excited to come, and let’s get some tickets.”
He has a chance to further cement his spot among a significant stable of champion golfers from this area.
It's a list that, of course, starts with Frances Ouimet, who lived across the street from The Country Club and helped put golf on the map in America with his upset win in the U.S. Open in 1913. There are Harriet and Margaret Curtis, whose last name is stamped on the cup that goes to the winner of the biennial women's amateur matches pitting the U.S. against Britain and Ireland. Also, Keegan's aunt. Pat Bradley won the U.S. Women's Open in 1981.
Walking down the fairways Saturday, Bradley said he saw and heard friends, and aunts, and uncles calling out from the gallery. By the end of the day, everyone was family.
“The crowds, as usual here in Boston, I think are the best in the world,” he said.
It could get better.
A week that opened with him throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park will close with him walking down that 18th fairway again, this time, quite possibly with a U.S. Open title in reach.
“It’s going to be intense, but I’ve had this weird sense of calm over me this week,” Bradley said. I don’t know if that will be here tomorrow or not, but I just have to try to just put one foot in front of the other and all the silly clichés we all say."
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