Breaking out hard to do

Bradley has lots of company as rising U.S. star

August 18, 2011|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

Add Keegan Bradley's name to the PGA Tour roster of rising young American talent. Maybe even at the top.

The Vermont native has power, charisma, a Hall of Fame pedigree and some serious moxie after shaking off a triple bogey and five-shot deficit to seize the PGA Championship in his first appearance in a major.

The Wanamaker Trophy also gives Bradley a better trophy shelf than those of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler.

It's a remarkable list. In one sense, the futures market on American golf is as bullish as ever. Yet its collective potential is also its biggest drawback — even the most ardent golf fan can't guess who might rise up in a particular week.

No breakout performer has emerged to lead the parade. Could Bradley seize that role too? Or is the 25-year-old simply a new flavor added to the monthly rotation?

"I don't want to be one of the guys that kind of disappears," Bradley said before leaving Atlanta Athletic Club. "I would love to be up in a category with the best players."

Introspection, though, tinged his next breath: "I hope I don't disappear. I don't plan to. And I think I can, honestly."

As competitive as the PGA Tour is now, it's all too easy to hit a dry spell and slip back beneath the radar.

Two years ago, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas were hailed as the faces of the emerging generation. Both won twice in 2008, including some prominent non-majors.

Kim had thumb surgery last spring and owns just two top-10 finishes in 2011, though one was at the British Open. Villegas has just one top-10 and stands 125th on the FedEx Cup points list, one spot from missing the "postseason."

Johnson had chances to win two majors last year and captured a FedEx Cup event, but he hasn't lifted a trophy in 2011. Watney and Watson each have two wins this year but were invisible in majors.

Rare is the young pro's rise without getting knocked back a few times. But to break from the pack, he has to win a few and at least threaten in front of the biggest audiences.

Bradley also won this spring, though few had heard of him before the Byron Nelson Championship. It was a soft spot in the schedule, won by a rookie best known as LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley's nephew.

He's not just the nephew anymore. He's extending a family legacy.

"I remember as a kid going to her tournaments and literally staring her in the face … and she was so into it, she would not even recognize me," Bradley said. "And I thought that was cool."

Golf fans saw a little of that intensity Sunday at Atlanta Athletic Club. Many liked what they saw.

Now the challenge is for Bradley to seize the moment again before fans turn their attention somewhere else.

jshain@tribune.com

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