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Keegan emerges as American hero
The search for American heroes at Ryder Cups can sometimes be both long and futile.
But on a crisp Midwestern Friday, a nation’s lonely eyes turned to an emerging star in Keegan Bradley.
Just as he did at last year’s PGA Championship – when he became only the third man to win the first major he’d played – the 25-year-old seized the moment, helping the US to a 5-3 lead after the opening day at Medinah Country Club.
A bundle of high energy, wide-eyed, focused stares and idiosyncratic twitches — and a maker of clutch putts — Bradley played magnificently, and in the process rejuvenated his partner, Phil Mickelson, who’s lost more Ryder Cup matches than any American in history.
The two teamed to defeat Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who’d never lost in 15 matches in the tricky foursomes format – where players alternate in playing – then blitzed the European’s glamour pair, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, in the better-ball afternoon session.
Their efforts counterbalanced another downer of a day by Tiger Woods, who got shut out on opening day of a Ryder Cup for the fourth time — leading US captain Davis Love III to leave Woods out of Saturday's foursomes.
Bradley, who during the last Ryder Cup still was kicking around the minor leagues, was so amped after beating the celebrated Irishmen he christened Friday “maybe the best day of my life."
“Oh, baby,” he said, “I wish I could go 36 more.”
“It was like a Patriots game out there!”
Bradley, who’s from Vermont and a crazed New England sports fan, later described his birdie on the eighth hole as being “like a Tom Brady touchdown pass."
Europe’s captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, who knows a thing or three about passion at Ryder Cups, knew why his team was behind on the scoreboard, and facing an uphill battle to retain the Cup won back in Wales.
“Keegan was really hot today. He was full of confidence. He played extraordinary golf,” the Spaniard said.
Bradley, a former highly ranked downhill skier — and self-confessed adrenaline junkie — not only ignited the crowds with his energy and brilliant play, but he made Mickelson, who’s 42, feel young again.
“I felt young and it felt great,” Mickelson said.
“I love playing with Keegan.
“He’s just got a lot of great energy. He hits a lot of great shots and he drives the ball as well as I’ve ever seen a person drive it.”
But as important, Mickelson said, was Bradley’s infectious enthusiasm.
“I would say to him a couple of times, I need a little pep talk, and he would give me something, get me boosted right up and I would end up hitting good shot,” he said.
While some may have wondered if Bradley might be too highly strung for the cauldron that is the Ryder Cup, Mickelson said the opposite was true.
“There’s a really simple reason why Keegan is perfect for the Ryder Cup,” he said.
“It’s because the more pressure the situation, the better he plays; the better he sees the shot; the better he focuses; and the better the result.
“And there’s no higher pressure situation than the Ryder Cup.”
Nick Faldo marveled at what he saw from Bradley, who teamed with Mickelson to make five birdies in foursomes, then made six on his own ball in the four ball.
“His intensity: he turns it up and he plays better,” said the six-time major champion.
“Very few guys can do that. You’ve got to be able to control the intensity.
“He really does show it. We always say you’ve got to 'rev the engine the right amount.' This guy takes it to 15,000 revs and plays great with it.”
Love knew how important Bradley was to a team looking to win for just the third time in the past nine Ryder Cups.
“Keegan was great today,” he said.
“He’s got that intense look in his eye that the great players have.
“I was telling Phil, ‘How are you going to handle Keegan? Are you going to help him with his putts or not help him?’
“Phil goes, ‘As long as he gives them that little sideways look, you’ve got to let him do what he wants to do.'
“My son and I were sitting on the side of one green, and Keegan turned his head like that, and I said, he’s going to make this one. And it went right in.
“He’s a competitor and he’s confident in his game and he loves to be there. He loves walking out on the first tee.”
Despite the good vibes in the US team room on Friday night, Love knows that this Ryder Cup’s hardly over.
The last six times the Americans have led after the first two sessions, they’ve only gone on to win three of those matches.
They’ll need another big day on Saturday.
Another big day from Keegan Bradley and whether he plays well or not, Love will not have to worry about one thing.
The kid will be up for it.