Kiawah Island, South Carolina - Winning last year's PGA Championship was a “life changer” for Keegan Bradley who says he was especially delighted to be bracketed among the “young guns” breathing new life into the game.
At 25, the American became the first player to win a major using a long putter and his uncanny ability to sink long putts at crucial moments marks him out as one of the most exciting emerging golfers, along with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.
Bradley was a rookie on the PGA Tour last year when he first met four-times major champion Phil Mickelson.
Though the veteran American left-hander went on to become a mentor to Bradley, Mickelson has frequently said since how he himself has gained inspiration from his protege.
“It's pretty unbelievable to hear guys say something like that,” Bradley told reporters on Tuesday while preparing for his PGA Championship title defence on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
“It's an honour to be in that younger group of guys out here that's kind of making a move. I've always felt like I should be in that category, growing up with guys like Rickie and Rory, and I just wasn't quite there.
“I'm finally in that conversation now. After I won last year here at the PGA, it was a life changer for a lot of different reasons. A lot of people knew more who I was... and it kind of put me in a different category with some of my idols.”
Since clinching his maiden major title in a playoff with compatriot Jason Dufner at Atlanta Athletic Club, Bradley has viewed himself in a different light.
“When you win a major, you kind of are in this group of guys,” the Vermont native said after playing a practice round with Mickelson, Fowler and Dustin Johnson. “You look at guys who have won majors a little differently, at least I do.
“It definitely changed the way I look at myself as a player, not as a person but as a player. I realise that I get an opportunity to do some pretty special things.
“I realise that I can stand up and play well under the pressure of a major championship, and that means I can play well in tournaments to win. And it definitely changed my mind-set a little bit out here.”
Asked what would rate as a good title defence this week, Bradley replied: “A good defence for me to be to contend in the tournament at some point.
“What I envy the most about the best players in the world, like Tiger and Phil... is that they're up there (in contention) a lot. They have a chance to win.
“Any time you have a chance to win, no matter where you finish... I think that's a great accomplishment and shows that you're in it to win it. My motto this year is put myself in contention as much as I can.” - Reuters