BROOKLINE — Even if he falls short of winning the US Open Sunday, Keegan Bradley still had his Boston duck boat parade moment Saturday.
Walking up the fairway toward the 18th green, Bradley — the pride of Hopkinton, native of Vermont, a super-sized Boston sports fan and just two strokes off the lead at 2 under — found himself surrounded by a wall of noise cascading from the grandstand on his left, hundreds of fans getting up on their feet, shouting “Kee-gan, Kee-gan” over and over.
Bradley didn’t slow down and he didn’t try to wipe the smile off his face, either, as he gave a fist-pump to each section he passed.
“I got to feel what it feels like to play in Fenway, to play in the Garden, to play in Gillette Stadium, I felt like a Boston player there,” said Bradley, whose footwear here consists of white shoes with Celtics-green laces on his right foot, Bruins-gold laces on his left, along with the Red Sox’ No. 27 of his wife’s uncle, Carlton Fisk. “That was a moment I’ll never forget the rest of my life, and I appreciate the fans giving me that, and I hope to have them cheer again tomorrow.”
Everyone knows Bradley’s going to hear the love again Sunday.
And even though Bradley is locked in a tight competition with an elite field on an international stage, he was able to channel his familiarity with the New England vibe, weather and sports history into a moment to cherish.
“That walk up 18 was the best I’ve ever felt at a tournament, that was really cool, it’s got a British Open feel, that 18th, it really does,” said Bradley. “It was nice that I hit a good shot in there, so I could kind of walk up, and I told myself, ‘let’s try to enjoy this walk up 18 today because it’s been a hard-fought day. Let’s take this in.’ I didn’t know they were going to do that, and it just made it that much better.”
Bradley was peppered with questions after the round about his Boston sports fandom, and he delivered, citing Tom Brady as the protagonist of most of his favorite memories. He remembers “watching the first [Patriots] Super Bowl [victory] with my dad in the basement of my house in Vermont, I remember watching Vinatieri’s kick go through,” and Bradley recalled running onto the 18th green here as a kid during the Unites States’s Ryder Cup victory in 1999.
And now he’s starring in his own made-in-Boston highlight reel.
“As a kid, I dreamed of playing in front of Boston fans and being a Patriot or being in the Garden,” said Bradley. “Out here today felt like I was in a home game, which is something that as a kid, it’s a dream.”
Bradley is thriving on his home turf.
He said he has felt “this weird sense of calm over me this week” and his performance reflects that.
He shot par Thursday, and went 1 under Friday and Saturday. He said during practice rounds how pleased he felt with his overall game, and his performance backs it up. Despite all the ticket requests and being surrounded by his extended family, Bradley is keeping his pulse rate low.
“My wife sent me this picture as I was basically walking to the tee [Friday] of my son completely passed out sleeping on his bed, and I texted her back ‘It brings me such calm to know that he has no idea what sort of stress I’m under right now.’ ”
Bradley bogeyed three of his first six holes, an inauspicious start he was able to correct.
First, he birdied the par-5 eighth, then birdied No. 9.
Despite a bogey on No. 10, Bradley settled in and birdied three more holes before his “victory” walk up the 18th.
Before the birdie putt on No. 9, “I walked up to the green, and the crowd really went crazy for me, and then I made the putt, and they went wild, it really gave me a jolt of energy,” said Bradley. “It put me on a path to, ‘All right, we no longer are trying to save this round, let’s try to get ourselves into contention here.’ And I did that.”
And his fellow Boston fans let him know he did that, too.