A professional golf, ski, and fly-fishing instructor—Mark Bradley has enjoyed the good life outdoors in Wyoming and New England.
Include life as a young man playing golf with his sister Pat and then include life as an adult watching his son Keegan succeed on the PGA TOUR—Mark Bradley has been remarkably fortunate.
And he appreciates it very much.
I met Mark at the PGA Merchandise Show in January where he was busy at the National Car Rental tour bus. National is the Official Rental Car of the PGA of America, and both Bradleys serve as ambassadors for the National Car Rental PGA Pro-Am Series. We had a short, lively conversation and set up a future phone interview.
Mark called me the Saturday night of the Farmers Insurance Open after following Keegan around the South Course at Torrey Pines. I had asked for 30 minutes, but Mark regaled me for an hour with what has made his life such a special one.
NEGM: How did you become a PGA golf professional?
MB: I started later in the golf business than most people and did not get my Class A card until I was in my mid-30’s. I was moving back East after having spent 10 years in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as a ski instructor and fly-fishing guide, without playing much golf at all. I told my wife Kaye that I’d really like to get back into golf because it had been such a big part of my life growing up with my sister Pat. Kaye bought me a membership at Woodstock CC in Vermont, and I started to work on my game again and became pretty good. I had the opportunity to become the head pro at Haystack GC in nearby Wilmington if I went through the PGA apprentice program, which I did. I got my Class A in five years, by which time we had Keegan and Madison.
NEGM: Why did you go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the first place?
MB: I left New England as a young man in 1973 to go to Jackson Hole, mostly for the skiing—my father owned a ski shop, you know—but I also worked one summer as the night water man at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club. Then I got the fly fishing bug and became a fly-fishing guide all over Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and even led two 30-day trips to the headwaters of the Missouri River.
NEGM: What influenced Keegan to become a TOUR player?
MB: When Keegan was three, I cut down a 4-wood and a 6-iron that he would wave around with great enthusiasm. At age six he came to work with me on a daily basis, and he just loved golf. He loved it! In first grade he had an assignment, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He wrote—and Kaye still has the piece of paper, misspellings and all—“I want to be a PGA TOUR player.” When he was with me at the course, he would play 36, 45, 54 holes a day. He would practice, chip, putt, and pick the range. It really was an amazing thing because, in all those years, Keegan knew his place at the course and never did anything wrong to get him or me in trouble. He was just a real grown-up kid in an adult and golf environment. And he had a great time to boot!
How lucky was I to spend all this time with my kid at work! He was just a joy to be around.
And then he started to become a player, and his desire continued to increase. I gave him a lot of instruction—no question about it—but I did not want to cloud his mind with a lot of technical stuff. I gave him a good grip and stance and set of fundamentals and taught him some specialty shots.
My best advice to Keegan was, “Hit it hard, and then we’ll go find it. Pound it, and develop some speed. Make a loud noise.” He got a steady diet of that, and it’s working so far. Pat has told me that the most important thing I ever did for Keegan was to instill in him a love for the game—and I think that’s a true statement.
NEGM: How did you and Pat learn to play golf?
MB: Through my dad. He was very serious about golf and demanded a lot, maybe too much, from Pat and me. He told my mother, “I am going to introduce our children to the only game with integrity—golf.” And he certainly did when he joined Nashua CC in New Hampshire. He was a wonderful man, but he was tough on us. He always expected us to bring home some hardware when we played in a competition. I sort of rebelled from time to time, but Pat just persevered and went on to win six majors and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
My approach to the game has been different from my father’s. I decided to make golf fun and lighthearted for my children. Madison had no interest in the game, which was fine with me. I never overloaded Keegan with instruction or demands. I wanted to be a presence; I wanted to be helpful; I did not want to dominate.
I use the same philosophy at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club, where I am currently the Director of Instruction. I meet 30 juniors each Wednesday during the season, and I give them some instruction, but we play and play and play. I want them to have fun and to enjoy the game because then I know the progress will come along.
So, you’ve got my father’s method and my method, and both have produced Major Champions!
NEGM: How close were you to your sister Pat as children?
MB: There were six kids in the family, but Pat and I were the nearest in age, so we spent the most time together. My dad would drive the two of us to Nashua CC in the morning, where we would spend the whole day until Dad closed the ski shop and then picked us up. Pat and I would do this day after day for the entire summer. We didn’t go to the pool. We were just totally focused on our golf.
Pat so impressed the head pro John Wirbal that he offered to give her free lessons if she would become serious about her game. And guess what? Pat accepted, and the rest is history. That was pretty cool.
To this day Pat and I have a special bond because we spent so many years driving back and forth and hanging out together. It was a wonderful time for us.
Pat is obviously way into what’s going on with her nephew, and it’s been very, very helpful to him. As a boy, Keegan would follow her outside the ropes, and he just loved that experience. And, of course, her playing on the LPGA Tour served as a great incentive for Keegan’s ultimate goal.
NEGM: When did you know Keegan had a chance to make the TOUR?
MB: You have to understand that Keegan was an excellent athlete. He was a very fine ski racer and won many events. That was the other side of our lives. We were a ski racing family and spent much of the winter on the Suicide Six ski area in Woodstock. But Keegan quit skiing at the age of 15 after the Vermont state championships. He told me he didn’t want to do anything to risk an opportunity to become a TOUR player. Keegan is now 28 and hasn’t put his skis on since that day he took them off.
When Keegan was 13, I knew he was something special. I could see greatness in his future if he continued to mature and improve. Which he did right up through his junior year in high school. Kaye and I had divorced, and I moved to Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for the season of 2003 to become the assistant golf professional at Hopkinton CC. Keegan and I lived in the “Tin Cup,” a travel trailer that I parked in the Crystal Springs Trailer Park about 20 miles away from the club.
Keegan played out of the club and played some superb golf that summer in important junior tournaments, even winning a big American Junior Golf Association event in New York State. However, I had to figure out where Keegan would spend his senior year, at Woodstock where he had previously spent all 11 years in that town’s school system or somewhere else.
As destiny would have it, Keegan played 36 holes of golf one Monday toward the end of summer with a bunch of kids at the club. When he got back to the Tin Cup, he had this wide-eyed look, and this look was a turning point for him and me. Keegan said, “Dad, I played so well today. I could smash my tee ball as hard as I could hit it, and it flew in a dead-straight rope. I played great!”
I said, “Wow, Keegs, it sounds like you’ve had a breakthrough.”
And he said, “No, Dad, this was freakish!”
And I said to myself, “Whoa! We’ve got something going on here.”
Then Keegan said, “Dad, those boys all want me to go to Hopkinton High because they said we can win the high school state championship going away.”
The next day I put a For Sale sign on the Tin Cup, found an apartment for us, and enrolled Keegan in the high school. His senior year was a fabulous one. Hopkinton was a neat community like Woodstock. Keegan enjoyed his classmates and was motivated by his teachers. And wouldn’t you know it—the golf team was loaded with incredible talent, including current TOUR pro Jon Curran, who became Keegan’s dearest, best friend. Just the other day I watched Keegan and Jon hitting balls side-by-side on the range at the Farmers, and I was flooded with great memories of that year.
Head Coach Dick Bliss, a former TOUR player, was a tremendous, positive influence for the team, and The Hillers won the state championship by 21 strokes. That 2004 team is one of the best teams ever in Massachusetts, and, arguably, one of the best anywhere in the country. Keegan shot 69, was medalist, and was named the Massachusetts Player of the Year.
Really, really wonderful stuff!
NEGM: Tell us about your return to Jackson Hole in 2005.
MB: I had not been to Jackson Hole for 23 years, so in February of 2005, I decided to drive to Wyoming to see my old buddies and to do some skiing. The Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club was looking for a new head pro, and, as luck would have it again, I got the job. This is my 11th year back to the club where I was the night water man more than 30 years ago.
Keegan came out for the summers while he was attending St. John’s University and worked with me in the pro shop and played a lot of competitive golf. He won the state amateur by 10 shots and felt really excited about the victory. I was on his bag, so that was really cool. He also won the state match-play championship. What I’m getting at is that Keegan participated all over the state for three years and became well known, especially in the Jackson Hole area. Then he goes out on TOUR and wins the PGA Championship. Cowboys, who don’t even play the game, are turning on golf broadcasts just to watch Keegan play. They love him in Wyoming.
Keegan and I have a cool thing going on this summer. It is the 50th anniversary of the club this year, and Keegan is coming back for the first time since he drove away almost five years ago when he declared himself a pro and then teed it up at the Vermont Open at Lake Morey, his first professional event. He won $1000. The celebration will be a nice Homecoming for Keegan and the members of the club.
NEGM: What do you remember about Keegan’s 2011 PGA Championship victory?
MB: What I remember is not being there at the Atlanta Athletic Club for Keegan’s first major because I had to work at the club. On Sunday, we had a huge member scramble, and I got everyone started, but then I went home to watch the last 15 holes by myself. I was just absolutely mesmerized when Keegan made that final putt in the playoff. The moment that really struck me was when Jim Nantz on national television said he was handing the trophy “To the son of a PGA club pro.” Then he concluded with, “Keegan Bradley is the 93rd winner of the coveted Wannamaker Trophy.”
I’m sitting there all alone thinking, “This is surreal. This is incredible.” I did remain pretty calm, however. In fact, I remain calm when I watch Keegan in person, and he does enjoy knowing I’m there. I’ll watch Keegan play six to eight events a year, maybe more this year. I really like watching Keegan alone in front of my TV and my computer, where I access pgatour.com and watch Keegan on Shot Tracker. I can see every shot he hits and get exact distances and other statistics.
NEGM: What are your favorite New England courses?
MB: Nashua CC, where I grew up; Vesper, the Augusta National of New England; Woodstock CC; Pleasant Valley; Paul Harney Golf Club, where I would take a young Keegan to play; and Brae Burn, a Donald Ross classic.
NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
MB: Keegan, Pat, and Tiger Woods.
A fivesome with Keegan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Kathy Whitworth.
NEGM: What are your plans for the future?
MB: I want to continue as Director of Golf Instruction at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club. I want to continue to be active and continue to ski. I want to continue to be involved in my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And I want to be a good Christian man who gives thanks to God for all I have.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?