Keegan Bradley, the sensational rookie winner of the PGA Championship, says he can’t wait to take his place at Asia’s only World Golf Championship, the WGC-HSBC Champions, in Shanghai in November. Tim Maitland reports.

The 25-year-old nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley had already booked his ticket to China when he sealed his maiden PGA Tour win at the Byron Nelson Championship in May. He guaranteed he’d be one of the stars of the show in Shanghai when he joined the flood of recent first-time Major winners and put his name next to those of Francis Oiumet (1913) and Ben Curtis (2003) as only the third player in the history of golf to win such a prestigious title at his first attempt. Further icing on the cake came last week when he won the four-player (2011) Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda.

“I’ve watched that tournament on TV for as long as it’s been there. I can remember a lot of the holes. It’s exciting to think I’ve qualified to play in that tournament. I always think of that 18th hole and the water on the right with the huge red HSBC pyramid floating in the water. That’s what comes to my mind,” Bradley says.

“I remember when Phil slid his wedge right under and then chipped it and made par (in 2009). I remember that. It’s a great tournament. It’s going to be an honour to go there. It’s an exciting thing. For a rookie like me it’s a no-brainer; that’s one of the highlights of the schedule.”

Born and raised in New England, Bradley graduated from St John’s University in New York City and worked his way through the Hooters and Nationwide Tours before earning his PGA Tour card for the 2011 season. His only previous experience of playing in Asia was in 2009 at the Korean Golf Tour’s SK Telecom Open at the Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon. He finished 14th place in an event won by Park Sang-Hyun.

“That was fun. I had a buddy who worked over there and he got me a sponsor’s invite and I got to go over: people were so nice and it was really, really fun so I’m really looking forward to getting back over there. My buddy Brendan Steele played over in Europe earlier this year and he loved it. It’s a fun thing to be able to go and play over there and to be in such a great tournament. I think the tournaments over there are first class and it’s part of the game now to play worldwide and to get some exposure over there is an exciting thought. Everybody’s so nice. It seems like golf is a worldwide game so people really can relate and understand what you’re going through. It’s exciting.”

Bradley’s eagerness to get to China can be traced back to a more humble upbringing that the name of his illustrious aunt might suggest. His father Mark was originally a night waterman at the Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club in Jackson, Wyoming before returning east to become a golf professional just before Keegan was born.

“Everything for me is a bonus out here. I didn’t grow up with a lot so anything that happens out here is a huge bonus. I try to look at it that way. I got nothing to lose, pretty much. Dad was a club pro and I’d just travel around with him. I’d get up early and go to work with him and hang out at the course all day. Golf was what I always loved and I still love it. I’m lucky to be out here!” Bradley explains.

Bradley’s also lucky that one of the players to take him under his wing this season has been four-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, who is also a two-time winner of the HSBC Champions. The stories he heard from Mickelson and his other friends on tour just made Keegan even keener to go to China.

“Everyone’s got nothing but great things to say. I would be honoured to play. Every single person I’ve talked to says it’s a great experience. They just said China’s a really cool place and that the tournament treats you great and cater to whatever the player needs, which is really, really cool. I’ve played on a lot of mini Tours and they do just about the opposite of that. When you get out here and get to be treated like this is a pleasure,” Bradley says.


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