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Keegan Bradley very familiar with Bethpage Black

Former St. John's star Keegan Bradley is very

Former St. John's star Keegan Bradley is very familiar with Bethpage's challenging Black Course, where The Barclays will be played this week. Credit: Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

“Home games” are a rarity on the PGA Tour, so when Keegan Bradley arrived Monday at Bethpage Black, site of The Barclays, which is the opener for the FedExCup playoffs, he was eager to embrace the place he called home during his career at St. John’s.

“We got to play here when I was in college, and we had our host tournament on the Red, which is one of my favorite courses, as well,” Bradley said after a driving range session. “It’s just fun.

“I get together with a lot of the guys when they come out. We have a blast, just talking about the days when we used to park in the maintenance shed and go play.”

When Bradley was at St. John’s, members of the golf team had permission to come out on Mondays to play the Black Course when it was closed so long as they parked at the maintenance shed near the 14th hole and played only holes 3-14 on the opposite side of Round Swamp Road from the clubhouse, where they could not be seen.

“It’s one of the hardest courses in the world when the rough is up,” Bradley said. “The course is so long and big with big bunkers. It’s just a difficult place to play.”

The timing could not be better for Bradley, who ranks 106th in the FedExCup standings and needs a strong finish to move up into the top 70 to advance into the second round of the playoffs in the Deutsche Bank Championship next week in Boston. That would be another home game for a New Englander who grew up in Vermont and is a diehard Red Sox fan.

It’s been a difficult season for Bradley, who became the first player with an anchored putting stroke to win a major championship when he captured the 2011 PGA. This is the first season that the PGA Tour has accepted the USGA ban on the anchored putting stroke, and it has been a struggle to adjust for Bradley, who ranks 197th in strokes gained putting.

“I had thousands of hours of practice taken away from me,” Bradley said. “I’m trying to gain them back now. I’m getting there. It’s taking a little longer than I expected, but it’s going to be fun to get back up on top and have to work my way to get there.”

Although his earnings are down from $1.565 million a year ago to $880,581 this season, Bradley is showing signs of improvement. He ranks 14th in greens in regulation and 28th in driving distance with an average of 299.6 yards, which will be a major factor on the 7,468-yard Black Course.

“Here it’s a big deal to hit it far,” Bradley said. “It’s an advantage at every course, but this one in particular because of how big the course is. There’s a lot of bunkers that you can get it over where maybe other guys can’t. It’s very important.”

Bradley comes into the Barclays on a bit of a hot streak, having made six straight cuts, and 10 of his past 13 rounds have been in the 60s. “Things are going really well,” he said. “I’m definitely on an uptick here, and I’m coming back to where I need to be.”

The former St. John’s star most certainly will be boosted by support from a home crowd that claims him as one of their own. “I’m from New England, but I get as much or more support in New York when I play,” Bradley said. “It’s pretty cool. The crowd gets very loud for me, and they cheer for me very well. It’s amazing. I’m always blessed when I come to these tournaments.”

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