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Friday, September 2, 2011
Keegan gives clan plenty to cheer about

By Tom Lakin
Special to ESPNBoston.com

NORTON, Mass. -- To everyone else, Keegan Bradley might be a rising star, an up-and-comer, a major champion. But to the 10th-tee announcer at the start of Friday morning's Deutsche Bank Championship, Bradley was still just "a boy from up North." Or at least that's how the Woodstock, Vt., native was introduced. And for the 50 or so fans who woke up early to cheer his first shot -- including his mom, Kaye; his dad, Mark; his LPGA Hall of Fame aunt, Pat; and a handful of uncles, cousins and friends -- that was just fine.

"This is just a blast," said Pat, as she watched her nephew stroll down the 10th fairway. "I think in his heart Keegan knew today was going to be big, that there were going to be a lot of people out here watching him. I just hope he can keep his focus."

There was little need to worry, as Bradley got off to a solid start with a string of pars on his first four holes, and then birdied the 14th and 15th to drop to 2 under.

As the morning wore on, his gallery began to swell, from the 50 hardy early risers to several hundred by noon, many of them wearing green buttons bearing the inscription "Keegan's Clan" and garnished with a shamrock.

Keegan Bradley
Keegan Bradley watches his tee shot at the 14th hole during the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship on Friday.

The buttons, which Pat was distributing throughout the round, are a nod to her days on the LPGA Tour, when her gallery was referred to as Pat's Pack and wore similar markers. Pat's brother, Tom, designed the buttons for her then and he makes them for Keegan now.

"It was Pat's Pack back then," Pat said, smiling. "Now it's Keegan's Clan."

Friday in Norton, Keegan's Clan was out in full sail, proudly flying the colors. One happy member was Jo-Anne McCarthy, manager of a golf course in Greensboro, Vt.

"I have nothing but praise for the young man," she said of Keegan, whom she met when she used to follow Pat at local tournaments. "He's paid his dues and he deserves this. He's worked hard since he was a little guy. We knew he loved golf even back then."

Gordy Jones, a longtime friend of the family, agreed. He likes to tell the story of the statue Bradley made in a first-grade art class.

"It was made of macaroni," Jones said. "And on the bottom it said, 'I'll be on the PGA Tour when I get older.' And here he is. It's a special day for all of us."

Bradley's support even extended to the volunteer staff. Pam House, who has volunteered at the tournament every year since its inception in 2003, was the group marshal for Bradley's threesome (which also included Jason Day and Mark Wilson) and sported a Keegan's Clan button on her blue Deutsche Bank jacket. House met the Bradley family at this year's Travelers Championship in Hartford, Conn., and "they made me an official member of the family," she said.

Not that Bradley needed any extra ones Friday. His uncle, Chris, was there -- "all the way from Chelmsford," he said, laughing -- and Chris' son, Kyle, was there, too.

"It's unreal," said Kyle, who grew up golfing with Bradley and joined him for Tuesday's first pitch at Fenway Park and Thursday night's coin flip at the Patriots-Giants preseason game at Gillette. "I followed him through high school and college and this is the next stage. It's surreal. It's been a whirlwind 48 hours."

With Chris and Kyle was Michael Carlisle, from Medway, a second cousin of Keegan's. "I followed Pat for years," Michael said. "Now I'm following another one."

After nine holes, the entourage was on edge -- Bradley had dropped to 1 under after a tough bogey on the 18th. His mother, Kaye, was fretting.

"My nerves have gotten better over the years," she said. "But they're there. But I'm so confident in him, so when he gets in trouble or something I know he'll know what to do."

"That's an unfortunate bogey," Mark said. "But those are the things that motivate him. He'll get just upset enough to turn the volume up."

Mom and Dad know best: After the bogey, Bradley started his second nine with two pars and then dropped in consecutive birdies on the third and fourth holes. When he sank the birdie putt on No. 4, Kaye leapt and pumped her fists.

"That's what he needed right there," Pat said. "No one is tearing it up, so that birdie is huge."

There was a little trouble on the fifth after Bradley's drive landed in a deep bunker, but the rules officials gave him a free relief drop and he responded with a nice shot to the green. He would save par, and then with another par at the sixth, Bradley set the scene for perhaps his best hole of the day -- No. 7.

After a good drive, Bradley buried his second shot deep in a bunker wall -- so deep, in fact, that he couldn't find the ball. Peering into the sand, Pat wasn't happy.

"Let's just take a bogey and get out of here," she said.

But after consulting with a rules official, Bradley and his caddie, Steve Hale, decided on an unconventional solution. They declared an unplayable and took an in-bunker drop, and the 1-stroke penalty that accompanied it.

"My ball plugged and I couldn't even see it," Bradley said. "We dug it out and then we thought that if I dropped it, it might not plug firm. It's just a chance you take. And then I hit one of the best shots of my life."

The shot was a perfect arcing draw to the green. It landed just 3 feet from the hole. As Bradley tapped in for par, the cries went up from Keegan's Clan:

"Amazing!"

"Wow, what a save!"

"Helluva par!"

Bradley would go on to par the eighth and ninth holes and finish at 3 under with a 68, tied for seventh after the morning wave. It was a gutsy day of golf, but for Keegan's Clan the score was just icing on an already luxuriant cake.

"This day has really been special," said Chris, Bradley's uncle. "You can't make this stuff up. He's a good kid. He's got a good head on his shoulders and he's loving this out here."

"It's been excellent," Pat said. "And I bet there will be even more people here tomorrow."

If there are, it'll be news to her nephew.

"I didn't expect that many people," Bradley said after the round. "It's very, very nice to get that type of support. My family has always given that support. I saw my Aunt Pat out there with all my uncles. It was very, very cool."

Bradley finished his day by signing autographs for a group of kids lined up along a fence near the driving range. One young boy took off his hat and carefully offered it to Bradley, who signed it and handed it back.

"Thanks, Keegan!" the boy said, beaming.

Someone better tell Pat they need more buttons.

Tom Lakin is covering this week's Deutsche Bank Championship for ESPNBoston.com.