The closing holes of the Byron Nelson Championship may have looked like a long, drawn-out grind, but to a PGA Tour rookie waiting nervously in a cabin behind the eighteenth green, events were reaching fever pitch. Keegan Bradley, who was possibly on the verge of his first PGA Tour victory, had just carded a final-round 68. Now, he had to play the waiting game.
“I was so nervous,” Keegan told me after his practice round at Muirfield Village on Tuesday. “I went into the clubhouse and watched about 30 seconds worth of coverage and then I couldn’t watch it anymore and went to the range.”
After he had signed his scorecard, he turned his phone on briefly (his caddie, Steve “Pepsi” Hale, advised him not to) and found he already had 185 text messages. He only responded to one, which came from fellow Tour rookie and good friend Chris Kirk, because it made him laugh “hysterically.”
“It was just a nice thing for me to be able to sit back and relax and laugh,” said Keegan.
While most viewers were left to listen to Jim Nantz wax poetic cliches for forty-five (more) minutes, at the ground level Keegan was experiencing a mixture of nervous enegy and hysteria, waiting for the remaining five groups to finish. One by one, the players fell victim to Nos. 17 and 18 at TPC Four Seasons, which were playing more difficult than usual due to the blustery conditions.
When Ryan Palmer, who was in the final pairing, reached No. 18, he was the only guy standing between Keegan and his first professional win.
“I was freaking out,” said Keegan. “I was so excited. But Pepsi was in my face and kept telling me ‘You just gotta know he’s going to birdie 18.’ Two separate people came up to me, including a major guy at CBS who said, ‘You’re fine, there’s only been one birdie on 18 all day.’ As soon as he said that, I knew there was going to be a birdie.”
Palmer couldn’t have hit a better shot into the 72nd hole, knocking a dart to six feet of the pin.
Meanwhile, Keegan was waiting nearby on the practice green, but the 18th was out of his sight.
“Right before Palmer was going to putt, it got so quiet,” said Keegan. “Like way more quiet than it was the whole time. We were waiting for the roar if it went in because he’s a Dallas guy. Then we heard the roar and it was time for a playoff. And it was intense.”
He was scheduled to take a 5:30pm flight on Sunday to Ohio for this week’s Memorial Tournament, but obviously, he missed it, so he booked a room at the Four Seasons for the night.
“They gave me a room overlooking 18,” said Keegan, who, despite the luxurious accommodations, was too enthused to sleep. “I don’t know if they did it on purpose. It was overlooking 18 with a balcony. I got to stand out there and look at it. It was so cool.”
Two days removed from his victory, Keegan is still on cloud nine. He’s still sifting through the hundreds of text messages and thirty-five voicemails.
“The coolest part is everyone congratulating me,” he said on Tuesday. “Phil [Mickelson] texted me. [Jim] “Bones” [Mackay] texted me. Camilo [Villegas] texted me. [NHL Hall of Famer] Ray Bourque from the Boston Bruins called me. He’s friends with my family.”
Keegan grew up in Woodstock, Vermont, and Hopkington, Massachusetts, so he’s naturally a Boston-sports fanatic. He played Borque’s voicemail, which was nearly two-minutes long, for me, and it’s pretty cool. Here’s Bourque going into fan-boy mode!
“This is Ray Bourque. I used to play on the Boston Bruins. I’m a big fan of yours. I’m not sure if you know who I am, but I’m a golfer…I was watching today and congratulations on a great win and you’re off to a great start.
I’ve been in the sporting business and I know how you must feel and you should be so proud and just keep doing what you’re doing…You gotta be dedicated and working hard and doing all those things that you need to do to be the best. Just enjoy this moment and keep going forward, buddy…
I can’t wait to meet you…Have a great night and I’m babbling now. I’m also a Bruin, so let’s go Bruins. Maybe we’ll have a few things to celebrate. Not only your win today, but the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup.”
Oh, it gets even better. On Tuesday afternoon Keegan was walking through Player Dining at Muirfield Village with his manager Ben Harrison when he saw Fred Couples, whom he played with at the Shell Houston Open.
“Everyone has been congratulating me, it’s been unbelievable, but Freddie is my hero,” said Keegan, beaming. “I kinda walked by him and I hear him say, ‘Hey, Keegan.’ I turned around and he said, ‘That was unbelievable to watch, that was so cool. Great job.’ And I was playing it cool, like, ‘Yeah, thanks, Freddie.’
“I was with Ben and I said to him, ‘Ben, you just witnessed the highlight of my career.’”
(AP Photo/LM Otero)