By BRAD TOWNSEND
Dallas Morning News
IRVING _ Keegan Bradley drove down MacArthur Boulevard, past the Hampton Inn where he stayed last May, and was reminded of how much his golf career and life have changed.
And that it all started here, with his victory in the HP Byron Nelson Championship at the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas.
“This tournament might have set up my whole career, to be honest with you,” Bradley said Tuesday.
Before last May 29, when he overcame a four-stroke final-round deficit and defeated Ryan Palmer on the first playoff hole, Bradley was a little-known PGA Tour rookie who had been given 200-to-1 odds of winning the Nelson.
The victory gave Bradley a two-year PGA Tour exemption, which he says was a huge pressure relief, one that may have liberated him just enough to win the PGA Championship in August and easily claim Tour Rookie of the Year.
And to think, Bradley planned to skip last year’s Nelson until his caddie, Steve “Pepsi” Hale, intervened.
“It was done, I had made my decision,” Bradley said. Hale had never advised him about his schedule, but told Bradley that he thought the TPC Four Seasons suited his game.
A player with 25-year-old Bradley’s talent probably would have broken through at some point, but the Nelson certainly put his career on fast-track.
“Sometimes I will be sitting around and I will realize that I won the PGA and start laughing, by myself, like I can’t believe it,” he said. “It seriously happens all the time.
“I keep the trophy on my mantle in front of my TV in my room, and I’ll just be watching TV and I’ll look over at it and start laughing _ because it seems so bizarre that’s the trophy. It’s in my room!”
Nancy Lopez honored:
Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez came to the Four Seasons on Tuesday to accept the 2012 Byron Nelson Prize.
The award, underwritten by T. Boone Pickens, recognizes a person in golf who embodies the same philanthropic spirit for which Nelson was known. The Salesmanship Club makes a $100,000 contribution to the charity of the Nelson Prize recipient’s choice.
Lopez chose Dayton, Ohio-based AIM for the Handicapped. She has hosted a golf tournament to support that charity for 25 years.
“The (Nelson Prize) means a lot to me because as I look back at my golf career, you can win a lot of tournaments, but what do you want people to remember you for?” said Lopez, who won 48 tournaments and was LPGA Player of the Year four times. “I think it’s for what you give back.”
Good vibes for Kuchar:
Matt Kuchar is coming off a victory at last week’s Players Championship. He finished sixth at last year’s Nelson Championship. His instructor (Chris O’Connell) and caddie (Lance Bennett) are from the Dallas area.
Plus, Kuchar and his family love staying at the Four Seasons.
“My kids always want to put on their cowboy boots,” Kuchar said. “They know that cowboys live in Texas, so when they come here they want to be cowboys.”
Neal Lancaster, winner of 1994’s rain-shortened 36-hole Nelson Championship, withdrew on Tuesday. Taking his place in the field is fourth alternate Chris Riley.