It’s been a couple of days since Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a playoff to win the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. In doing so, Bradley became only the third player in the history of golf to win a major championship in his first attempt. He also joined four other PGA champions whose fathers were PGA club professionals- Jack Burke Jr., Dave Marr, Davis Love III and Rich Beem.
Dufner will be remembered as the guy who blew a five shot lead in the PGA with four holes to go. History will record his demise as one of the most catastrophic in major championship history. I had a chance to play the Atlanta Athletic Club on Monday and I have plenty of sympathy for Dufner.
I played the course from 6.600 yards- not the 7,467 yards that the PGA championship field did. Even so, I can attest to the difficulty of those final four holes. Bradley appeared dead and buried after he made a triple bogey on the 267 yard, par 3, 15th hole. He had a downhill pitch shot from the rough on the left edge of the green and helplessly watch his ball travel across the green into the water. The way the hazard was marked he had to take his drop approximately 70 yards in front of the green. He hit his shot on the green and two putted for a triple bogey six.
On Monday, I played the hole from 210 yards. I landed my ball on the left edge of the green with a 24 degree hybrid and wound up about 10 feet from where Bradley made his triple. The big difference was that I was in the shorter rough. Remembering Bradley’s fateful shot, I pitched it gently on the edge of the green and watched the ball trickle ten feet past the hole and I made the putt for par.
Dufner hit his shot in the water, right of green at 15. He was able to get it up and down from the drop area for a tremendous bogey.
Bradley went on to birdie the difficult 16th hole, which is a 485 yard severe uphill par four. Dufner made another bogey on the hole. I drove it into the left rough and had 168 yards to the pin from a shorter set of tees. I hit a solid six iron, trying to account for the elevation change. I hit a rocket and my ball landed on the back of the green and bounded 15 yards long onto the bank behind the green. I had a downhill lie out of the Bermuda rough and hit a soft 58 degree lob shot onto the back edge of the green. When my shot landed on the green all three of my playing partners said, “Great shot, Ted.”
The ball slowly rolled towards the hole, but it started picking up speed near the hole. It kept going and rolled off the front edge and down the approach, some 50 yards off the green. It was an unbelievably bad break. I pitched it up and made a double bogey even though I never hit a bad shot.
On the 186 yard, par three 17th, Bradley made a bomb for birdie. Dufner three putted from about 60 feet right of the pin. In fact, he would later three putt from virtually the same spot in the playoff. My tee shot wound up in almost the same identical place as Dufner’s. I am thinking ‘okay, you know this is fast, just let it drift down there.’ From that angle on the green, the ball first travels slightly uphill and then it’s all downhill. My putt limped to the crest and still rolled past the hole about 10 feet.
I missed the putt and three whacked it just like Dufner. It made Bradley’s birdie putt on the 16th green from the same angle seem even more miraculous.
Then I faced the 18th hole. Sergio Garcia dumped two in the water here on Sunday. Lee Westwood gave his second shot a bath a few minutes later. Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods did the same in round two. This hole played as a 512 yard, par 4 during the PGA. Bradley and Dufner each smoked drives during their final hole in regulation. Both safely found the middle of the green and gingerly two putted downhill for pars.
On Monday, I played the hole 447 yards. I hit a high cutter into a fairly stiff wind and had 210 yards left over water. I elected to layup short of the water, figuring my wedge and putter could still make a closing par possible. After all, that’s how David Toms sealed his victory in the 2001 PGA. I hit a good shot to the front left pin placement and then missed a 10-footer for par.
The point of this is to say that I went four over par on the last three holes to shoot 81. I could have blown that same lead that Dufner did. I have played a lot of great courses in the past few years and those final four finishing holes at the Atlanta Athletic Club are the toughest I have faced. So, I am really commending Keegan Bradley for his phenomenal finish and conceding Dufner a fate that could have befallen many.
Heading into Sunday, Bradley and Brendan Steele were tied at -7. At the end of 72 holes, Bradley and Dufner were knotted at -8. Bradley then played the three hole aggregate at one under par while Dufner was one over par.
Interestingly, Woods sent Stricker a text of encouragement on Saturday night. The message was simple, finish the PGA at -8 and you will win a major. Stricker needed to shoot a four under par 66 to do so. He fell short, but Woods had the number figured correctly.
Personally, the fact that Tiger had things pegged was good to hear. It tells me that he went back to Jupiter, FL on Friday night and watched some golf on Saturday. Even if it was from satellite TV on his yacht somewhere off the Florida coast. However, golf needs Tiger back as a player, not an analyst like he was for Stricker.
Bradley will be a great PGA champion and he will definitely win more tournaments. He is a St, John’s University grad and my daughter, Ambry, is the women’s golf coach there. Maybe Bradley’s victory will help her recruiting.
Sunday night I stood a few feet from Bradley as we awaited the CBS awards presentation on the 18th green. He had tears in his eyes and he was clearly overcome with emotion. Somebody told him this PGA Championship would be a life changing victory.
Bradley smiled and softly said, “I know. I am afraid this is all a dream and I am going to wake up.”