BROOKLINE, Mass. — Keegan Bradley has had this week marked on his calendar for years.
He has done everything in his power not to put added pressure on himself or try to make it bigger than it already was in his mind. But this was always going to be an absolute must do for him.
Bradley, 36, is currently the PGA Tour’s unofficial dean of New England golf. He grew up in Vermont and built a heavy allegiance for the Boston sports teams as a diehard Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins supporter.
So, when the USGA announced that the 2022 U.S. Open would be played at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Bradley knew in his heart that somehow, someway, he had to be in the field.
That meant either performing well enough to qualify or going through the grueling 36-hole sectional qualifier the week before the Open.
In his mind, if a U.S. Open was going to be played in his backyard, Bradley damn well was going to be in the field.
And now, here he is, and he will tee it up alongside Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise on Thursday in the opening round.
And there he was Tuesday night at Fenway Park, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before his beloved Red Sox played the Athletics.
A ball has yet to be struck in competition and it already has been a special week for Bradley.
“My wife, Jillian, grew up in Vermont [and her] uncle is Carlton Fisk — [we] call him ‘Uncle Pudge,’ ’’ Bradley said Wednesday, still buzzing about the strike he threw Tuesday night. “What a fun night. I’ve thrown out the first pitch one other time [after he won that 2011 PGA Championship as a PGA Tour rookie], but I hadn’t even met my wife yet or [had] kids. To be out there with them and be on the field and have 20-plus family members there, it was really, really fun.’’
Bradley, who played his college golf at St. John’s, said he tried to put the fact that this U.S. Open would be at Brookline “in the back of my mind, because this was important to me.’’
He said he knew it was a big deal to everyone else when none of his family members would talk about it around him.
“It was never acknowledged or spoken about until I made it,’’ Bradley said. “Then I’m getting texts: ‘I can’t wait to watch you.’ ’’
Bradley essentially clinched his spot in the U.S. Open field with his runner-up finish in the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
“When I came in second, I was pretty bummed out,’’ he said. “But the silver lining was I was here, and I didn’t have to go through that horrible 36-hole day [sectional qualifying]. There’s something different playing in a U.S. Open when you qualify that way, I think. I’m excited. I love just coming back here. I love going into the local stores and hearing the chatter and the accents and talking about the Celtics.
“There’s a sense of calm being around here.’’
Bradley said he has never played The Country Club, which he called “sort of our crown jewel’’ of New England golf.
He did attend the first and third days of the 1999 Ryder Cup played at The Country Club, witnessing the iconic comeback by the U.S. side over Europe when it overcame a 10-6 deficit to win in singles.
“I was actually on my dad’s shoulders right on this 18th green,’’ Bradley said. “Everyone ran out into the green. I asked him if I could run out on the green, and he said, ‘OK, I’m going to stand [near a] crooked tree.’ ’’
Bradley, as he spoke on Wednesday, wasn’t standing far from that very tree.
“I don’t take this for granted,’’ Bradley said. “I don’t know when the next time a major will be in Boston, so this is cool.’’
Bradley said he was “a nervous wreck’’ all day Tuesday in anticipation of throwing out that first pitch at Fenway.
“I kept telling many I wife, ‘Why did I agree to do this?’ ’’ he said. “This is all I need this week … the pressure every time I walk through the player dining, they’re all, like, ‘I’m going to the game. I’m videoing it. You better throw a good one.’
“I was actually standing behind the mound before the pitch [and] things were getting fuzzy. That’s how uncomfortable I was. I was proud of the strike I threw … or the ball I threw. Sometimes in my life there are moments that are shocking, and being out on that mound at Fenway Park with my family there and playing here is really surreal.’’
Imagine how much more surreal the week would be if Bradley were to win the U.S. Open in his backyard.