2012 PGA Tour Season Begins in Hawaii; Bradley Excited to Start


The traditional first event of the PGA Tour season is set to start. The $5.6 million Hyundai Tournament of Champions tees off Friday at the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii.

The tournament pits the previous year's winners in a 72-hole, stroke-play competition on the windswept, par-73 course designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. On hand to defend his title will be Jonathan Byrd, whose sole victory in 2011 was in this event.

The field will be comprised of 28 of last year's winners. Electing not to participate is Phil Mickelson, winner of the Shell Houston Open. Also opting out are U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, Masters' winner Charl Schwartzel, British Open champion Darren Clarke, two-time winner and world No. 1 Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Adam Scott.

Other eligible players not entered include Fredrik Jacobson, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, all of whom are recovering from injuries or coming off surgery. Justin Rose, who won the BMW Championship in September, is staying home with his wife, who just delivered their second baby.

Keegan Bradley is the only reigning major champion in Hawaii for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and the 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is thrilled to play in the event for the first time. "This is kind of the bonus for us players, to be able to come down here to Kapalua and play in the Hyundai."

Also entered and vying for the $1.12 first-place prize are Aaron Baddeley, Michael Bradley, K.J. Choi, Ben Crane, Harrison Frazar, Lucas Glover, 2011 FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas, Chris Kirk, Martin Laird, Bryce Molder, Kevin Na, Sean O'Hair, Scott Piercy, D.A. Points, Rory Sabbatini, Webb Simpson, Scott Stallings, Brendan Steele, Steve Stricker, David Toms, Jhonattan Vegas, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Mark Wilson and Gary Woodland.

Bradley, Simpson, Stricker, Watney, Watson and Wilson all won two titles in 2011.

All four rounds will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel. Considering the five-hour difference between Hawaii and the East Coast, all four rounds will broadcast in prime time ET.

For complete scoring, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboards/current/r016/.

On Wednesday, Bradley met with reporters and discussed his first impressions of the Plantation Course and rehashed his remarkably successful first season on the PGA Tour. Here's what the 25-year-old from Vermont had to say.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Keegan Bradley here to Maui, Hyundai Tournament of Champions. First of all, just get you to look back on the reason you're here, just a phenomenal 2011 season.

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, it was a great season, and this is kind of the bonus for us players, to be able to come down here to Kapalua and play in the Hyundai. It's been a great year, but I'm ready to put that behind me and start over again this year and get a second chance to look at these courses.

MODERATOR: Not a bad course to get a look at. Comment on your first impression.

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, the course is crazier than I would have thought. I knew it was going to be hilly and rolling, but this is a lot more intense than I thought it was going to be. It's a fun course to play, but you've got to try to get out there and learn these breaks. I'm trying to do that this week.

Q. What were you doing on January 3rd or 4th last year? Were you getting ready to sit down and watch this event, and what were your thoughts when the new year started last year?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: I was getting ready to head to Sony, and I was flipping out that I was starting my PGA Tour career, and I was a mess. I was so uptight about it. I was just nervous about starting the year and getting on to my first-ever PGA Tour event. At this time this year, I wasn't thinking this tournament at all, I was thinking about how I wasn't ready to play on the Tour, how I needed to practice 12 hours a day to get ready. So it's pretty remarkable to be here.

Q. After a year, you win Rookie of the Year, two events, won a major. Do you feel like in your own mind that the expectation level has risen dramatically from a year ago, and do you feel from outsiders that the expectation level has risen for you, too?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I do, but it's actually really fun to have those expectations. Nobody puts higher expectations than myself. This is what gets a lot of players in trouble. I still need to have that mentality that I had last year of trying to keep my card, trying to be a rookie and have that chip on my shoulder. The moment you relax a little bit I think is when you don't play as well. So I'm trying to keep the same attitude I've had since I was five years old, and hopefully that'll keep me going.

Q. A lot of people talk about the dreaded sophomore slump or whatever. Have you looked into why people sometimes fall into that trap and ways that you can avoid that?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I think that what happens sometimes is players get comfortable. You know, you might have a two year exemption or whatever it is. You don't have to worry about keeping your card. To me that's what keeps players working hard is the thought of losing their job. For me personally, I don't take a year or any tournament for granted out on the PGA Tour. I grew up having to work for everything. So I think the biggest thing for me is to continue to be hungry and have that mentality, like I said, of just keeping my card, and that I've got to work hard, that I'm not good enough, stuff like that. That keeps pushing you to play better.

Q. Did you find over the course of last year that you played different courses better than you did other ones, and the reason I'm bringing that up is you won two tournaments at different venues. How has that kind of come together for you and is there a formula for you as far as golf courses go?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I love - both the courses that I played were tough. The HP Byron Nelson was blowing 30 to 40 miles an hour; only 3 under won. And then the PGA obviously, Atlanta Athletic Club, was super challenging. I kind of like those courses where you've got to play well. I consider myself a good ball striker, so that's important. I think anybody at this level if you play well that week, you can win. I've played well at courses I didn't think suited me very well, and then courses that I thought would be perfect for me, I'd miss the cut. You know, it's kind of - for me personally, that week - I don't personally think there's a course that fits me better than another one, but the ones that play tougher I seem to play well, too.

Q. You just got here, I think, so you probably haven't played here, right?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: I played yesterday.

Q. And your thoughts on this place?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: It's interesting. You've got to really learn the breaks in the fairways even, which is something I've never had to deal with. I was asking some guys if Augusta was kind of like this with the hills, and they said this is still times ten of what Augusta is. You've got to hit a lot of shots off some funky lies and downhill lies. So you know, it's about getting out there and playing it as much as I can, which I'm going to do. We're lucky they give us carts so we can go out there and fly around, because I wouldn't want to be a spectator on this course. It's a great course. It's so fun. I think this course would be - it fun to play, which is interesting.

Q. Talking about - it almost sounds like you're playing some mind games with yourself and telling yourself I'm not that good or trying to put 2011 behind me. Is that something that - I mean, I guess is my observation correct that you're almost trying to talk yourself into driving yourself forward by saying, I am the PGA champion but I'm not that good?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah. You know, I know what you mean. That is true, but I've kind of always had that throughout my whole career I've kind of gone under the radar, and I've always had to kind of prove myself. I swear to you, still in the back of my mind, I still think I've got a lot to prove, a lot to play for. Some days I forget what I've done, and then I realize that I'm only a second year player on Tour. I look at a guy like Steve Stricker or these big name guys that are out there working hard, and they don't seem to be relaxing at all. So I just try to emulate them as much as I can.

Q. You obviously want to work harder and get better and so forth. What are the things maybe that you're trying to get better or that you think you can do better than you did last year?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: My coach and I, Jim McLean, we've worked a lot on wedges and short game stuff, chipping and - when I notice the best players in the world, they're all world class wedge players and chipping around the green, stuff like that. That's something that I think you can try to improve your whole career. I know Steve Stricker is one of the best wedge players, but I always see him working on his wedges. I try to just keep an eye on all these guys and see what they're doing, try to copy them if I can. I think it's a matter of improving everything. I think you can always improve.

Q. You didn't make the Presidents Cup team but you start the year with some pretty good Ryder Cup points off of the PGA win, so I've got to think that the Ryder Cup is even more of a not necessarily a focus but certainly another incentive?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, the Ryder Cup is one of my main goals this year. I am No.1, but it really doesn't mean much I don't think. I don't really know exactly how it works, but I know that the points this year double. But that's something - I've missed out on the Presidents Cup, and it was tough for me, and I really - it would be really cool to just bounce back the next year and play on the Ryder Cup team. And I hope to do that, and I know it's a tough challenge. You've got to play well. There's a lot of really good young Americans, and I think the team this year is going to be really good.

Q. Just to kind of follow up on Shed's question, prioritizing your goals, is it Ryder Cup? Is it consistency? Is it Player of the Year, because obviously you were in the mix this past year. Do you have kind of a priority of goals that you want to have this year?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, consistency is number one. I want to - you know, I could care - I want to make as many cuts as I can, but I'm more interested in contending more, playing in tournaments. The best players in the world are always contending. I want to contend. I want to be up at the top of the leaderboard as much as I can and win as much as I can. And then the Ryder Cup is high up there. Really, my aunt - I grew up watching her on Solheim Cups and I went to Scotland and watched her captain a team. It's very important to me personally to be on a team like that. I think that The Presidents Cup, I wanted it a little too bad at the end of last year and it kind of got in my way, so this year I'm going to try not to worry about it too much.

Q. You talked a few minutes ago about your instructor and working on things. A lot of guys when they win tournaments and they want to do what you said there, which is contend, they want to change something or they think they need to do something else with their game. It sounds like you want to improve on what you kind of already have going.

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I'm not going to change anything. My coach Jim McLean is very adamant about that; don't change. I'm just trying to fine tune some things. And I think short game, like I said, is - no matter if you're Tiger Woods or me or a rookie, you can always improve your short game. That was my main focus in the off-season.

Q. I wanted to ask you also about just the impact of the 20-somethings on the Tour last year, obviously a huge year, a lot of wins for the young guys. When you look at that and you look at going forward in 2012 and beyond, what do you see for the Tour? What kind of future do you see for all you guys and how it's going to shape out?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: I think that it's great. I think that the rookie class this year is unbelievable, and there's more guys coming. And the cool part is we're all kind of friends, the younger guys. I got to know a bunch of the guys this year. So it's really fun to kind of share it with them, to have Chris Kirk win or Brendan Steele or Webber winning all the time. It's really fun, and I think it's something that when we're a lot older we can look back and remember, remember our rookie year together where we all were winning and contending, and I think it's just a really cool thing.

Q. Kind of on a different topic, were you surprised at all at how big of a deal the long putter situation became last year, obviously you and others winning, and just how much of a news event it became?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I am a little bit. I think when Phil started using it, it kind of shot up - everyone noticed. I hate when people think that the belly putter is a crutch for us to putt with. For me it's just a better way to putt. I always considered myself a good putter before I had a belly putter. I just putted better with a belly. With Webber, he was known throughout his whole life as being one of the best putters, and he was just a little better with that. I know I've seen guys grab it and it looks like they've never played golf before. It's not like it's something you grab it and you automatically are one of the best putters on Tour, which is a huge myth. I hate the negative press it gets because it's not some magic thing that you grab and you can just the first week out you win. It takes hours and hours of practice, and I hope people realize that.

MODERATOR: Keegan, thanks for your time, and good luck this season.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


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