Bob Gillespie



Taking flight: Bradley kicks off run-up to PGA 2012 at Charleston’s USS Yorktown

Posted 3/24/2012 8:02:00 AM

Keegan Bradley stood on the breezy flight deck of the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, anchored in Charleston Harbor near Mount Pleasant, looked out across the water at his target and swallowed hard.

“I’m more nervous here than I was at Kiawah,” the youthful defending PGA Champion said, earning laughs from 200-plus spectators who crowded close to see one of the world’s best professional golfers do something no one had done before.

On March 22 at 4:20 p.m., Bradley – in Charleston to participate in media day for the 2012 PGA Championship (Aug. 6-12 at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course) – pulled a Cleveland 5-iron from his logoed golf bag, took aim and fired special, floatable golf balls toward a square of the harbor, 200 yards away and delineated by four orange inflatable buoys. If he was able to land at least one shot inside the square, all the day’s spectators would receive free admission to the tournament’s Monday practice round.

Adding to the pressure was a gathering of dignitaries that included tournament director and Kiawah Island Golf Resort president Roger Warren, PGA of America president Allen Wronowski, CEO Joe Steranki, Charleston mayor Joe Riley and others. “He does something like this every week,” PGA of America spokesman and event emcee Julius Mason joked to the crowd.

“You’re not asking me to do much,” Bradley responded. “Hit balls into a water target without any warm-up – and with boats going by.”

Bradley’s first two shots splashed inside the square – but, as practice shots, they didn’t count. “This is brutal,” he said. Then, after one miss, the lanky New Englander drilled his second official try into the square, eliciting a roar from his appreciative audience – who then began shouting, “Hit some more!”

Afterward, Kiawah’s Warren told the crowd, “I’m really excited that the PGA is going to be in my hometown. I can’t wait until August – and thanks to Keegan, we’ll all be there at least one day.”

Mayor Riley said the PGA will be seen in 193 nations and is predicted to have a $103 million economic impact. “This is just a foretaste of the excitement of having the PGA here. The impact is incalculable.”

As for Bradley’s performance, the mayor joked, “I’ve seen so many balls hit into the water – most of them mine.”

It was the end of a long but enjoyable day for Bradley, who stunned the golf world in 2011 by rallying over the final three holes to capture the PGA Championship in his first appearance in any major. He arrived at the Ocean Course just after dawn and played a round with PGA officials, using the same 7,607-yard tees that he and the rest of the 156-man field will see during tournament week.

“I got to play the course, and my partners showed me places not to hit it,” Bradley said after his round. He also watched a video of last summer’s victory in Atlanta, which he said “still gives me a panic attack” when he views it.

Bradley’s round included five birdies – three at the par-5 Nos. 2, 7 and 11 – and pronounced architect Pete Dye’s layout “hard,” “brutal” and “fair but tough.”

“When it comes to a major, you expect a tough test – I’ve only played one, but that’s what they tell me,” Bradley quipped.

Dye was also in attendance. The 86-year-old posted a score lower than his age and kidded Bradley, “I didn’t think it was so tough.”

If Bradley’s visit to the golf course was instructive, the USS Yorktown trip was a treat. “I’m so excited, really pumped,” he said. Afterward, he posed for photos with 13 U.S. military servicemen – the PGA is offering free admission every day of the tournament to active-duty military and families – and the tournament’s Wanamaker Trophy, and then signed autographs for fans.

As dusk approached, Bradley was ready to fly home, but had one more request: to view the carrier’s on-board Medal of Honor Museum. “My uncle was in the military, and it sounds really neat,” he said. Call it the end of a perfect day.

Tickets for the 2012 PGA remain for Monday-Wednesday practice rounds and Thursday’s opening round, while Friday-Sunday tickets are sold out.