Some members of Wheatley Hills Golf Club are coming to the Masters today. More to the point, the Masters is coming to Wheatley Hills. Everyone at the club in East Williston feels involved because the guy who used to work in the bag room is in the field at Augusta National for the first time.
Keegan Bradley had said, as he was winning the PGA Championship last August, that he probably never would have had a chance to go on tour, let alone win a major, if not for the people at Wheatley Hills. Here at Augusta on Tuesday, following his first news conference, he sheepishly spoke of the arrangement he had at the club after he graduated from St. John's.
"I worked in the bag room to be able to play golf," he said. "I was supposed to work 10 hours a week, I probably did 25 minutes."
Don't let him kid you. He made a huge impression on the membership, one that still stands. "It was just his demeanor, on and off the golf course," said Dr. Glenn Muraca, a member who noticed the respect with which Bradley treated people and the game. He also noticed what he saw as Bradley's considerable talent, so he made sure the kid got to play lots of golf. It led to Bradley being given a membership at the club. According to Bradley, a Vermont native, it led to him being here, shooting for a green jacket.
"I think it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream," said Muraca, who will be part of a foursome from Wheatley here. "Anyone who has ever picked up a club has wanted to play in the Masters. I think it's something he should be very proud of."
People at Wheatley like sharing the photos and memories of the reception they held at the club after the PGA last year. "I think a lot of people took it to heart. They see him as a local Long Island guy, someone who worked in the bag room and on the driving range," Wheatley Hills head pro Jamie Kilmer said. "They see someone who proved himself, starting from the ground up. It's easy to embrace and wrap your arms around a guy who's so likable."
The interesting thing about Bradley is he still is the same old guy to people who knew him when he was leading the St. John's team, playing every week at Bethpage Black, which he still considers his favorite course. Augusta is not so bad, either.
"I couldn't believe how green it was, to be honest with you. It's everything I'd thought it would be and a lot more," he said. "I've never been to a place that has exceeded expectations by so much."
His own expectations now include helping fellow St. John's alumni who are local pros to build a practice facility on campus.
"I'm not sure where. Inside Carnesecca [Arena] probably," he said.
For now, he is taking Wheatley Hills on quite a ride. Muraca, a golf aficionado, never has been to Augusta before. "I don't know what to expect," he said the other day. "I think it's going to be unbelievable, a surreal experience."