Bradley No Longer a “Nervous Wreck” Rookie
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

I made it!

What a difference a year makes — A year ago, Keegan Bradley, who was best known as LPGA great “Pat Bradley’s nephew,” was getting ready to tee off at the Sony Open, his first-ever PGA Tour event. He was a wide-eyed rookie, living largely in the shadow of good friend Jamie Lovemark (the 2010 Nationwide Tour money title winner and the one who was supposed to be the big star), but staying at a house with three other rookies (including Jamie) helped ease his transition from the NWT to the bigs.

“I was a nervous wreck last year,” Keegan told me at the range at Waialae Country Club on Wednesday. “I’m feeling a lot better this year.”

He shot 70-69 in his debut and placed T68 — heavy rains washed out the first round and in order to finish the event on Sunday, Tour officials designated the “MDF” rule, meaning only the top 60 made the cut instead of the top 70.

“I was devastated (when I MDF’d),” said Keegan, who is coming off a 16th place finish at last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, including an eight-under 65 in the final round. “It was a terrible feeling.”

It’s true. I remember he looked like he was going to cry and we gave him some grief (and beer).

Things have a way of working out, though. The following week, Keegan tied for seventh to notch his first top-ten finish at the Bob Hope Classic.

Since he didn’t have to endure the 36-hole Sunday marathon at Sony, he was well-rested for the Hope, which was an especially quick turnaround with a Wednesday start that consists of five rounds, four of which are with three amateur hacks playing partners.

Twelve months later, Keegan still remembers how upset he felt at the time, but partly because he played better than he scored.

“I actually played very well, I just didn’t putt very well,” he said, convincingly. “And it was my first ever Tour event. I played good golf…I really enjoy this course.”

Well, now, Keegan has two victories under his belt, including the PGA Championship. In fact, this year’s crop of rookies look up at him, hoping they can pull a “Keegan Bradley.”

While he’s not quite a seasoned old-timer, he’s certainly no longer a tense rookie who is still amazed that he’s hitting balls next to guys he grew up admiring, like Steve Stricker and Vijay Singh.

“I don’t feel like a veteran, but I do feel more comfortable and know a lot of the guys now,” he said. “It’s my first tournament ever as a pro that I’ve returned to — Hooters, Nationwide, PGA Tour — where I’ve got to play the course a second year, so it’s a lot easier.”

Aside: It was interesting going back and reading this story (or stories) I wrote right after the Sony, especially on Keegan and Jamie’s “rookie bromance.” I’m obviously biased, but I think they’re worth a look…oh, how things can change so much in just a year…

*Rookie Bromance: Friendships Take Unmatched Course on PGA Tour

*Meet Keegan Bradley, the Rookie Who Loves Pro-Ams and Drives It Longer Than Bubba Watson

*Keegan Bradley Draws on a Career of Wisdom

*Bradley Hits the Big Time

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)