By Adam Hoge-
MEDINAH (CBS) Before Keegan Bradley arrived at the par-3 eighth green Friday afternoon, his mother, Kaye, walked past the crowd near the hole and responded to a cheering fan by throwing her fist in the air to get the entire crowd going.
So that’s where he gets his energy from.
By then, Keegan had already sparked the sold-out crowd throughout the morning and into the early afternoon with stellar play alongside partner Phil Mickelson. But it wasn’t just his golf game that stole the show, it was the Ryder Cup rookie’s yelling, fist pumps and yes, even chest bumps.
“I’m having a hard time holding in my emotions out here,” Bradley admitted. “I’m just enjoying going crazy and playing golf.”
And at the Ryder Cup, of course, going crazy is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged. Friday, Bradley’s energy sparked an American team that won three of four matches in the afternoon to take a 5-to-3 lead going into Saturday.
Alongside Mickelson, the duo topped a previously unbeaten pairing of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia (4-0 together in the Ryder Cup before Friday) 4 & 3 in the morning before taking on Europe’s most talented pairing of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and beating them 2 & 1 in the afternoon.
Bradley and Mickelson ended their morning Foursomes matchup by taking the last four holes and they continued that momentum in the second matchup by taking the first three holes against McIlroy and McDowell. Their lead reached its peak on the very hole where Bradley’s mother got the crowd going before her son even reached the green.
As it turned out, her fist pump foreshadowed what was to come on the hole as Bradley knocked in a 30-foot putt that started just outside McDowell’s marker. McDowell then missed his putt and saw the Americans take a four-hole lead.
“I was excited that I was outside of Graeme because I felt so good about that putt,” Bradley said. “Phil was on a similar line and I told him I was going to make it. It was just one of those putts that you barely have to read. You’re just excited to hit it.”
As soon as the putt dropped in, Keegan followed his mother’s suit with a big fist pump. Then, just for good measure, he threw up five or six more, looking straight at the crowd as it went nuts. He eventually made it over to Mickelson and two exchanged one of their many emphatic high-fives Friday.
“We don’t have to cheer on Keegan, he does that for himself,” fellow American teammate Bubba Watson joked when the day was over.
Confidence has become a regular thing for Bradley, the budding young superstar who burst onto the scene by winning the 2011 PGA Championship. The Vermont kid who has earned a reputation for being “fidgety” — he often dances around the ball before finally addressing it — was expected to be a key contributor for the Americans because he never seems to fizzle in tight situations.
“He’s got that weird eye,” Watson said. “Still not sure what he’s looking when he does that — scares the hole.”
“The more pressure the situation, the better he plays,” Mickelson added. “The better he sees the shot, the better he focuses and the better the result.”
And as it turns out, Mickelson, a veteran of nine Ryder Cups, is the perfect partner for the rookie. The two were more engaged with each other Friday than any other pairing on the course. While some players ask for advice from their teammates more than others, Bradley and Mickelson were helping each other out on almost every single shot. It was rare to see a putt they didn’t both read before addressing the ball.
Mickelson, who is 16 years older than the 26-year old rookie with a 13-17-1 career record in the Ryder Cup, said Bradley’s enthusiasm was a big reason why he played so well Friday.
“I think that it was a huge factor in my play. It was a really big deal because he’s got such great, positive energy,” Mickelson said.
And the mentoring went both ways. Suddenly, the student was teaching the teacher.
“I have Phil Mickelson,” Bradley said. “He’s hitting it in the woods, he’s hitting it over here — I told him, I know, I’ve played too many matches against you where you hit it in the woods and I think you’re done and you hit some big, high fade to two feet.”
It wasn’t quite two feet, but Mickelson pretty much did exactly that on the 12th hole after hitting his tee shot far to the left down a hill that left a blind view to the flag. With a big Oak tree in between he and hole, Lefty hit a high power fade around it and landed the ball right on the green about eight feet from the hole.
But that was far from Mickelson’s best shot of the day. No, that came on 17 when he put his tee shot within two feet of the hole, close enough for McIlroy and McDowell to concede the match.
“Without a doubt in my mind, it’s the greatest shot I’ve ever seen,” Bradley said about Mickelson’s shot over Lake Kadijah on the beautiful par-3 17th. “It never left the flagstick.”
Yes, with Bradley’s big drives and locked-in putter, and Mickelson’s ability to knock the approach shots in close, it’s going to be hard to beat what is looking like the Americans’ best pairing.
“When we were walking down the first hole and I’m 50 yards ahead of our playing partner in the middle of the fairway with a little L-wedge, I just knew that over the course of the 18 holes, if you keep giving me wedges in the fairway, and having Keegan putt it next, we are going to be really tough to beat,” Mickelson said. “And over 18 holes, I just think that the odds are going to be in our favor.”
The odds will be in their favor Saturday morning when Mickelson and Bradley take on Lee Westwood and Luke Donald in the second match (7:35 a.m. tee time) of the Foursomes.
And surely, even after two matches Friday, there won’t be any shortage of energy.
“Oh baby, I wish I could go 36 more,” Bradley said when he completed Friday’s second round.
That’s good, because at this point, it would be surprising if Bradley and Mickelson play anything less than 18 Saturday.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.