Every Monday was like a holiday for Keegan Bradley while he was at St. John's. It always was a special occasion because that was the day when members of the golf team got in their cars and headed east, to Eden. That was how he saw the trip for practice at Bethpage Black.
"I love it. It's my favorite course in the world," said the young man who has gone on from the campus in Queens to become one of the world's top golfers. He is eighth in the FedEx Cup standings, heading into the start of the playoffs Thursday at the course that sharpened his game and helped make him who he is.
"It's so hard, but it's like no other course. It's right in front of you. There are no crazy holes, there's no water. You just hit it as hard as you can, basically," said the 2011 PGA champion who is coming in on a roll.
In his past two starts, he has won the Bridgestone Invitational and tied for third in this year's PGA Championship.
This week, he will take major delight in the site. He knows where the superintendent's office is near the third tee because that is where the St. John's players used to park, far from the clubhouse so as not to attract attention while the course was closed to the public. "I get in trouble for saying that. My coach called me and said to stop talking about that," Bradley said, sheepishly, at a tournament recently. "But it was awesome."
So you didn't hear it from him. And it is confidential when he admits, "We played inside the road, which is 3 through 14." Credit the resourcefulness of St. John's coach Frank Darby, the former head pro at Nissequogue Golf Club, for finding the best spots.
His father, Mark, who was a club pro in Vermont and Massachusetts when Keegan was growing up and now works in Wyoming, had misgivings at first that his son was not playing for a high-profile college in a warm climate. "But I saw where they were playing, Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, and I knew this was a blessing in disguise," the elder Bradley said.
Keegan Bradley said during the Masters this year that golfers at the campus in Queens, which has no practice facility yet (they're working on it), have extra desire because they were overlooked by other schools. Bethpage brought out the best in them.
"It was a good place to be able to play," said Kevin Velardo, Bradley's teammate who went on to become an assistant pro at Cherry Valley Club in Garden City and now caddies for Bradley's friend Luke List on the Web.com Tour. "I know I went out there and shot par once and I felt I couldn't have played any better. Everything is right there. Keegan can go out and hit his driver pretty much everywhere there."
This week, he will be able to let fly on No. 7, which will play as a par 5, not a par 4 as it did during the two U.S. Opens on the Black. "I didn't even know that," Bradley said recently. "We used to play it from the U.S. Open tees, but it's a way better hole as a par 5."
After college, Bradley took a job in the bag room at Wheatley Hills Golf Club in East Williston in exchange for being able to practice. Some members, notably Dr. Glenn Muraca, saw his talent and encouraged him to work on his game. Muraca and many of his fellow Wheatley members will be at Bethpage to watch Bradley. So will Darby.
"I think it's pretty cool he's going back there," Velardo said on the phone from Florida, mentioning he was "staring right at" Bradley while he was speaking -- the former St. John's player still hangs around his college buddies all the time. "The way he's playing, I think he's going to do some damage this week."