JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - This, people. This is why we watch golf.
Look, you've heard your whole life all those lessons about never giving up and fighting till the end and all that, and generally by the time you're about eight you've figured out, consciously or not, how far you can push yourself and how much fight you've got in you. But every so often, a moment in sports comes along that reminds you that, no matter how high the wall, someone somewhere might just clear it.
The basic elements of the PGA Championship are these: Keegan Bradley won the 93rd PGA Championship in a playoff over Jason Dufner, after being five strokes down with three holes to go. The event took place over four surface-of-the-sun-hot days at Atlanta Athletic Club, days where we saw legends stumble into what may be the sunset of their careers. But basic elements, no matter how amazing, don't even begin to communicate this win. Let's sum this up in three defining moments:
1 .Hole No. 15. Dufner, wearing a sweat-spotted pink shirt and looking like a slightly more rumpled Rory McIlroy, had been destroying the field through the first 14 holes. He'd thrown double-digit red numbers up on the board, a number almost unthinkable earlier in the week. Dufner stood at the tee as Bradley, in the foursome ahead of him, triple-bogeyed the hole in a misfire that put Dufner up by five strokes. The championship seemed over; it was apparently time for Dufner's coronation to begin.
And then Dufner stepped to the tee ... and promptly dunked the ball. Is it any coincidence that storm clouds started to gather over the course precisely at that instant?
"I kept walking and said, 'don't let that hole define this whole tournament," Bradley said. "I didn't want to be known as the guy who tripled that hole and bogeyed in. I just said, 'pretend like nothing happened.'"
2. Hole No. 17. Bradley had recovered from his triple-bogey on 15 to post a clutch birdie at 16; he followed that up with a stiff shot to the treacherous, water-guarded green on 17. Meanwhile, Dufner had bogeyed 16. He walked up the steep hill from the 16th green to the 17th tee, offering gentle fist-bumps and low-fives, nodding as the gallery shouted "War Eagle!" at the Auburn grad.
And then he rounded the corner literally at the exact moment that Bradley sank a 50-foot birdie, one that traveled so far it needed to pass through a security checkpoint. The gallery exploded, Bradley exulted, and Dufner stood very still, realizing his lead was down to one.
3. Hole No. 16, playoff. Dufner bogeyed the 17th, and both players parred 18 to force a three-hole playoff. On the first playoff hole, No. 16, Dufner striped a fairway approach that landed short on the green and rolled within literally an inch of the hole, continuing on another eight feet. Bradley settled in for his approach ... and dropped it to almost the same distance as Dufner's. Whatever advantage Dufner had held to that moment was completely ripped from his hands, and soon afterward, the tournament would be, too.
We spend too much time trying to shoehorn metaphor into sports stories, trying to impart more meaning into the games than they warrant or deserve. But this win Sunday, this is something special, for so many reasons.
Less than three years ago, Bradley was playing on the Hooters Tour, which -- no offense to the esteemed wings-and-curves restaurant -- isn't exactly the most glamorous career path in pro golf. He was carving out a week-to-week living, the threat of Getting A Real Job never far. And just two hours before hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy, he was five shots back with three shots remaining.
You don't really need me to connect the dots any more closely than that, do you? What the hell, let's do it anyway. Dufner, who'd suffered the most painful final-round collapse in a major since Jean Van De Velde gave away the 1999 British Open, sat in the media center after his round was over and stared out into the middle distance, weighing the question of whether this misfire would define the rest of his career.
"I'm disappointed, yeah, but I'm excited to have been in that position," he said. "I've got a feeling that I'm going to have a lot of chances in majors, in golf tournaments, to close one out."
Perseverance. Persistence. Optimism. Combine all that with a bit of don't-look-down, don't-look-behind-you, and you've got all the handy suitable-for-framing life lessons you need, all in seven holes of golf. That, folks, is why we watch, and that's why, even if (maybe even especially if) neither of these guys ever wins again, this was one hell of an important tournament.
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