U.S. golf fans finally got a homegrown winner of a major championship. It just wasn’t who they were expecting.
Keegan Bradley’s victory at the U.S. PGA Championship yesterday, the first by an American since Phil Mickelson won the 2010 Masters Tournament, drew chants of “U-S-A” from the galleries around Atlanta Athletic Club. It also had fans wondering exactly who the winner was.
“The kid’s a golf geek,” Ben Harrison, Bradley’s agent, said in an interview on the 18th green after his client defeated Jason Dufner in a three-hole playoff. “He’s a grinder.”
A geeky grinder isn’t likely to produce big ratings or make fans and television networks forget about Tiger Woods, who failed to advance to weekend play for first time in PGA Championship history. And with U.S. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in the midst of negotiations on television contracts, the lack of star power may hinder those discussions.
“Even now, the news of the PGA Tour is not who the leader is, it’s what Tiger Woods is doing,” Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media Inc., a New York-based advertising company, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Until the news is no longer what is Tiger doing? it’s still not going to generate the kind of interest.”
Bradley, a 25-year-old rookie, became the first golfer since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win in his major-tournament debut in the U.S.
“It seems like a dream and I’m afraid I’m going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it’s not going to be real,” Bradley said in a press conference.
With a final-round leaderboard full of unheralded names like Bradley, Dufner, Brendan Steele and D.A. Points, the best chance CBS Corp. had of generating strong ratings was a playoff.
“They need a poor man’s Tiger vs Rocco,” Adgate said, referring to Woods’s 2008 U.S. Open playoff win over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in California.
What they got was a playoff featuring Bradley, a Vermont native who was best known for being the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, and Dufner, whose closest brush with fame came while working as a caddie for former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino at Weston Hills Country Club in Florida.
Bradley becomes the 10th player in the last 11 Grand Slam events to win a major in his first appearance. Only Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for 19th yesterday, has won twice during that stretch.
The victory vaults Bradley into numerous marquee events, including the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin Aug. 25 at the Barclays championship in Plainfield, New Jersey. It also puts him on a list with unlikely major winners, including recent PGA champions Y.E. Yang, Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem.
In an attempt to distance itself from its dependence on Woods, the tour began this season with a marketing campaign promoting the “New Breed vs. The Establishment.” Bradley wasn’t featured in any of those commercials or advertisements, which focused on players such as Australia’s Jason Day and Americans Rickie Fowler and Anthony Kim.
That could change, according to Harrison, Bradley’s agent.
“It’s absolutely life changing,” he said. “It’s huge. His endorsement income is going to get significantly higher.”
Bradley, who entered the tournament ranked 108th in the world, has agreements with Cleveland Golf and non-golf companies including Putnam Investments LLC, the Boston-based money-management firm, and Oakley Inc. While Harrison declined to disclose Bradley’s endorsement income, it’s significantly less than the $70 million Sports Illustrated magazine said Woods earned in 2010.
With the 14-time major winner on the sidelines for most of this season due to knee and Achilles tendon injuries, Finchem delayed his contract discussions with General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal and CBS until recent months. The broadcasting agreements expire after the 2012 season.
Until Woods is able to defeat lesser-known players like Bradley again, the networks aren’t likely to pay more than the current $2.95 billion.
“It would be hard to justify a rate increase,” Adgate said. “When it comes to golf these days, you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Bradley said his performance is an example of the wide variety of players capable of winning on the world’s top golf circuit. It doesn’t answer the question most golf followers are still asking, according to Rick Burton, the former chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“If Tiger is done -- and that’s a really difficult statement to make -- then who are the next stars?” Burton said in a telephone interview. “They’re still waiting for that one guy to emerge.”