By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist
Pat Bradley might wonder if it was coincidence or fate that her nephew Keegan was born in 1986, the year she made LPGA history.
That’s when Bradley joined Mickey Wright and Babe Didrikson Zaharias as the only women to capture three majors in one season en route to being named player of the year.
When Keegan was 5, he went with his father to St. Augustine, Fla., for Pat’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He saw the Swiss cow bell his grandmother, Kathleen Bradley, had rung from her front porch in Westford, Mass., for each of Pat’s 30 victories from 1975 to 1991, displayed in her glassed-covered locker at the museum.
Now seven months into his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Keegan Bradley could be hoping to change the subject from his Aunt Pat and the noisy Bradley tradition, which Kathleen continued when Keegan captured the HP Byron Nelson Championship on May 29 and earned a trip to this week’s Bridgestone Invitational.
“There were some bells ringing on Keegan's day,” Pat Bradley said. “I called his grandmother, and I could hear her ringing a bell.
“Bless his heart, he's probably tired of hearing about that damn bell. I think his mom and dad are going to start a new tradition for him.”
But for the foreseeable future, Keegan Bradley insists that he doesn’t mind the inevitable connection with Pat.
“That’s fine with me. Pat is an LPGA Tour hall of famer, one of the greatest ever,” Bradley said at the Memorial Tournament in June. “It's an honor for me to be Pat's nephew. She's a great lady.
“Maybe some day — I don't know, it may never happen, but maybe someday it won't be mentioned.”
It wasn’t Pat who tutored Keegan, but his father Mark, Pat’s brother and head pro at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club in Wyoming. In a recent telephone interview from her home in Hyannis Port, Mass., Pat said she and Mark took up the game at the same time, when she was 11 and he was 9.
Mark spent most of his career managing golf facilities in Vermont. As a youngster, Pat said Keegan would get up with his dad to open the pro shop at 6 a.m.
Opportunities for lessons from Aunt Pat were few. When he was in his early teens, Keegan caddied for Mark when he teamed with Pat for a JC Penney event in Tampa, Fla. When he was attending St. John’s, Keegan toted Pat’s bag for a couple of Legends tournaments.
“Keegan watched my course management,” said Pat, 60. “I think he picked up a couple things from watching his aunt play.
“What I did on the LPGA Tour I think enhanced Keegan's desire to be inside the ropes and not be outside the ropes, like his dad. He’s been thinking about being on the PGA Tour since was a little boy.”
Keegan shared perhaps their most special moment after his victory at the TPC Four Seasons in Irving, Texas, although he wasn’t able to speak to Pat until about three hours afterward.
“I texted Pat and said, ‘I want to talk to you so bad. Give me a second.’ She texted me back, ‘Keegan, I know what you're going through, don't worry about it,’ which was cool for me because it's the closest we've ever come to something in our careers.
“She was so happy. It's amazing to me that Pat is so into it after playing for 35 years.”
If Keegan had pursued his other dream, Pat might be watching Keegan ski in the Winter Olympics. (Mark also teaches that sport at JH Mountain Resort in Jackson Hole.) But when Keegan was 12 and found himself freezing on the slopes of a resort in Killington, Vt., he made his choice.
“I was on the hill, it was raining, cold and miserable. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t as much fun as golf,’?” Bradley told the Florida Times-Union before the Players Championship.
“Keegan was a great skier,” Pat said. “He was racing up in Vermont [when] he decided, ‘I want to walk the fairways with Freddie Couples and Phil Mickelson.’?”
Pat described Keegan as a long hitter (his 299.1 average driving distance ranks 22nd on tour), a hard worker and “a grinder” who can bounce back from his mistakes. She joked about the $1.17 million he earned at the Byron Nelson — “I never saw that kind of money in my 30 years of playing,” she said.
She looks forward to Keegan’s first trip to the Masters in 2012. He’s in the running for rookie of the year, and she hopes he’ll become a fixture on the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams.
“It will be fun to watch his journey,” she said.
She’s already done that at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (where he tied for 15th), the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., (missed the cut) and at the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., (tied for 63rd). She excitedly hopes the next is the Deutsche Bank Championship, one of the FedExCup playoff events, at TPC Boston Sept. 2-5.
“That's just like a driver up the street,” Pat said. “One of his drives.”