On the 17th hole of the Atlanta Athletic Club, former Red Storm
great Keegan Bradley ’08CPS sank a putt for the ages.
He’d just recorded a backbreaking triple bogey on the 15th, placing
him five strokes behind the leader and seemingly out of contention
to claim the 2011 PGA Championship.
But as Bradley stood over his birdie putt at 17, wearing his
Sunday red in honor of St. John’s, he told himself one simple
reminder: “Don’t let that 15th hole define your tournament.”
What happened next would etch Bradley’s name in the record books
– the confident stroke, the perfect line, the roar of the crowd,
the fist pump. His incredible putt became the quintessential moment
in one of golf’s greatest comebacks, a five-shot turnaround in the
final three holes that resulted in Bradley becoming one of only
three players in history to win his major debut.
“I told myself that if I could just end the round with a couple of
birdies, I’d be right back in the tournament,” Bradley recalled.
“And I was able to do that, which I’m obviously very proud
Winning the 2011 PGA Championship made Bradley the first Red
Storm alumnus to win a major title, and it was just the tip of the
iceberg for this promising young talent. He also claimed the HP
Byron Nelson Championship and earned Rookie of the Year honors in
His sophomore campaign has been similarly impressive,
highlighted by a come-from-behind win at the WGC-Bridgestone
Invitational over seasoned veteran Jim Furyk. Bradley’s stellar and
consistent play earned him a spot on the Ryder Cup, golf’s most
prestigious international competition.
And to think – just four years ago, he was gathered with his
classmates on the Great Lawn, graduating from St. John’s with a
Bachelor of Science in Sport Management.
“I’m not surprised by my success,” Bradley said, “because I’ve
worked very hard, and this is what I’ve always wanted to do. But
it’s been surprising how fast it all happened, the quickness of how
it all took place.”
Indeed, Bradley’s meteoric rise to golf stardom has been anything
but conventional. This Vermont native, son of a PGA Professional
and nephew of LPGA Hall-of-Famer Pat Bradley, grew up surrounded by
the game, but decided not to attend a traditional collegiate
golfing power in a warm-weather climate, such as Florida or
Instead, he chose St. John’s – a New York City university
known more for its basketball, baseball and soccer programs than
golf. But Frank Darby ’79CBA, the 18-year Head Coach of Men’s Golf
at St. John’s, had quietly developed his team into an elite program
in the BIG EAST, and the coach hit it off immediately with
“I have a friend who runs the Challenge Cup Tour,” Darby recalled,
“and one day he called me up and said, ‘Hey, I got a great kid for
you to meet.’ So I drove out to see Keegan and his father for lunch
in Fairfield, CT. We talked for a while, and he understood what our
program was all about and saw the success we’ve had developing
Bradley ultimately committed to St. John’s without ever stepping
foot onto campus, a decision he considered a no-brainer.
“I loved the whole history of St. John’s,” Bradley said. “I just
liked everything about it, and I was also interested in playing all
of these courses on Long Island. I enjoyed the team atmosphere, and
Coach Darby and the rest of the guys were great. So it was actually
a pretty easy decision.”
A committed Boston sports fan, it took some time for Bradley to
adjust to life in the Big Apple, a town notorious for its rabid
devotion to the Yankees, Mets, Jets and Giants.
“The Red Sox actually won a World Series while I was at St.
John’s,” Bradley said. “And the Patriots were coming off a couple
of Super Bowls, so I didn’t have any shortage of Boston sports in
Allegiances aside, the welcoming atmosphere of the
University made Bradley feel right at home, and he spent his
college days like most other St. John’s students: hanging out with
friends between classes and practice. Like so many alumni, he looks
back fondly on those four years of his life.
“People love the atmosphere at St. John’s,” Bradley said. “It was
fun and very independent, and I followed the basketball team every
chance I could.”
As the years flew by, Bradley enjoyed increasing success on the
golf course, gradually establishing himself as one of the Red
Storm’s all-time greats. By the time he finished his collegiate
career, he’d won nine tournaments, second-most in St. John’s
history, and Darby recognized his special talent.
“I knew he had a lot of firepower,” Darby said. “The one thing that
separates the good players from the great players is the ability to
make birdies, to score out there. Keegan’s freshman year was an
acclimation to New York City, and after that he just took off,
getting a little bit better every year.”
Bradley credits Darby as a mentor who helped his game reach the
next level and praises the coach’s hands-off approach.
“Coach was always helping me with certain aspects of the
game,” Bradley noted. “But he was really tremendous in how he let
me do my own thing, let me kind of teach myself sometimes. That was
huge for me.”
In 2008, Bradley turned pro and competed on the National Golf
Association Pro Golf Tour (formerly the NGA Hooters Tour), where he
won two tournaments but failed to qualify for the PGA. Undaunted,
he joined the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and finished 14th on the
money list, finally earning his PGA card.
Since then, Bradley’s legend has grown, winning three PGA
tournaments – including his incredible PGA Championship – and
emerging as one of the game’s top young guns. He’s signed
endorsements deals with Cleveland Golf and Srixon, modeled for
Tommy Hilfiger and even hit trick shots off the USS Yorktown
aircraft carrier as part of a promotional event. He routinely plays
in pairings with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and considers Phil
Mickelson a good friend and mentor.
So, in other words, Bradley is officially a golf rock star. Not bad
for a kid who’s less than five years removed from his St. John’s
“Success hasn’t changed me at all in terms of who I am,” Bradley
explained. “Things have changed a bit on the golf course and with
what I have to deal with in terms of the media, but who I am as a
person has remained the same, and that’s very important for me to
play good golf.”
One look at Bradley’s popular Twitter account (@Keegan_Bradley)
proves his point. Though he now boasts nearly 100,000 followers,
he’s still the same person he’s always been, tweeting about his
favorite movies, the Red Sox, his practice rounds and, naturally,
St. John’s sports.
“We have a lot of St. John’s red on the leader board at the Met
Golf Association Open,” Bradley tweeted in August. “Bring it home
Whether he’s shouting out to St. John’s or endorsing a local
charity in his hometown, Bradley’s recognition of his roots is
unique in an industry where loyalty is hard to find. He remembers
where he came from and wants to give back, something Darby thinks
will be important for future St. John’s golfers.
“Down the road, I see Keegan helping our players to develop on
the tour,” Darby said. “He’s always wanted the best for his
teammates, the team and St. John’s. And now, I think he likes the
idea of being a mentor, because he was mentored himself by a lot of
“The only issue we have with him,” Darby joked, “is the Red Sox and
Patriots. But luckily he’s been quiet about that this year.”
After two seasons on the PGA Tour, Bradley now leads a whirlwind
life, filled with tournament victories, Ryder Cup appearances and
high-profile endorsements. But from his Sunday red to the STJ logo
stitched on his bag, he continues to make his passion for St.
“I’m very proud of my St. John’s education,” Bradley said, “and I
really enjoyed my time there. Any time I can meet with fellow
alumni and Red Storm fans, it’s always a fun experience for
Keegan Bradley is now the face of St. John’s athletics, a
trailblazer for a Red Storm program on the rise. And though he may
have jumped into the national spotlight at the Atlanta Athletic
Club, there’s no question that his incredible journey began in
“It’s an honor to have been able to coach him,” Darby said, “and an
honor to have him as a friend right now. Keegan is a no-problem,
passionate kind of kid, a kid on the tour who genuinely loves being
there. He takes care of people and does things the right way.”