PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – When it was over, Keegan Bradley was gutted. His eyes of him were red and his voice of him was low.
Less than an hour earlier, Bradley was red-hot around TPC Sawgrass, making a loud run at the second-biggest victory of his career as he tried to chase down eventual winner Cam Smith and win The Players Championship.
The spirited bid by the former St. John’s star, however, was unceremoniously derailed by a three-putt bogey on the par-3 17th hole and a double bogey on 18 when his second shot, a punch from the pine straw, landed in the water.
Minutes after he walked off the 18th hole and spoke to two reporters waiting for him, Bradley apologized.
“I’m sorry, ” he said. “I’m having a hard time thinking of words to say. ”
No apology necessary.
Bradley, who finished 9-under par and in fifth place after shooting a final-round 4-under 68, was 12-under when he stood on the 17th tee just one shot behind Smith.
His tee shot on 17 ended up 62 feet from the hole and his birdie putt ran 9 feet past and onto the fringe. Bradley, whose lag putting had been brilliant all day and who had just two three-putts in his previous 37 rounds, failed to make the 9-footer and fell two shots behind Smith.
He pushed his tee shot into the right pine straw on 18 and was stymied behind a tree with no clean look at the green. From there, he tried a hero punch attempt toward the green, but hit it too far left and it ended up in the lake.
Double bogey. Dream dead.
What made the pain sting just a little bit more was the fact that Bradley, on Friday, had taken a two-shot penalty for an obscure rules violation when he marked his ball on the green but left the ball there and it moved.
He sure could have used those two strokes on Monday in his pursuit of Smith.
“Man, I’m so bummed out, ” Bradley said. “That was tough. I’m proud of the way I played. I played really well today. Really well all week. I had a two-shot penalty on Friday and still was right there. I didn’t let it faze me. ”
Bradley, who handled the penalty well on Friday despite being perplexed by the rule, was still hot about it on Monday.
“First off, I think the USGA needs to smarten up and change that rule, ” he said. “It’s so silly. They try to make the rules easier, and they never get it right. ”
Bradley said the penalty “pissed me off really and made me more focused. ”
After Bradley finished with his 1-under 71 in the second round in the worst of the weather this week – a round that would have been 3-under without the penalty – he called it one of the best rounds he’d ever played.
He made no excuses on Friday or Monday, didn’t blame the penalty for him falling short. He, in fact, reasoned that the penalty may have spurred him to play even better.
“It got me so pissed off that it refocused me, ” he said. “I think I played the rest of the holes 1-under. Maybe I don’t play those holes 1-under [without the penalty]. ”
“It was a fluke thing, ” Bradley said of the rules infraction. “I’ve spoken to a bunch of the guys and not one player knows this rule. We all thought common sense says you put your coin down, that’s where your ball is. I didn’t want to break the rules by moving my coin. I was trying to do the right thing. I put the coin down and as I’m going to grab [the ball]a huge gust of wind [came] and [the ball moved].
“The rule actually states you have to pick the ball up, so the coin means nothing for whatever reason. I’d like to hear the USGA’s explanation for that. They seem to like to screw everything up. ”
Success came quickly for Bradley, who won two tournaments his rookie year, in 2011, one the PGA Championship. That vaulted him straight into the elite class of the PGA Tour. He was suddenly on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams and he cherished being a part of that. He won again in 2012 but has won only once since, the 2018 BMW Championship. Since the early run, Bradley’s world ranking dipped and the invites to the team events have disappeared. He burns to be back playing with the in crowd.
More performances like this week will push him back toward that.
“I really felt like I was a good enough player to be on those teams, ” Bradley said. “I feel like I can bring a lot to those teams, especially now that I’m older. I would kill to be on those teams, and I feel like I will be. ”