- Associated Press - Friday, September 28, 2012

MEDINAH, ILL (AP) - Right guy, right time, and no better place on earth to drop an Ernie Banks reference.

The few Ryder Cup fans who hadn’t already fallen for Keegan Bradley because of his spectacular play probably couldn’t help themselves after that.

“Oh baby,” Bradley said in the fading light of an afternoon he didn’t want to end, “I wish we could go 36 more.”

The runaway star of the opening day is a 26-year-old Ryder Cup rookie from New England with an impressive golf pedigree and a major championship already on his resume. Bradley wasn’t even born when “Mr. Cub” lit up the gloomy half of this old baseball town with his stellar skills and a relentless optimism best captured by Banks’ trademark slogan, “Let’s play two today.”

But the only people at Medinah Country Club happy to see Bradley put down his clubs after two matches Friday were Europe’s players and their fans. He went off in a morning match with Phil Mickelson and handily put away Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who hadn’t lost in 14 previous alternate-shot matches.

“After that match,” Mark Bradley said, “Phil came running up to me yelling, `I love your son. I love his driver. I love his putter.’”

As well Mickelson should.

Besides crushing his drives down the middle of the fairway, or cleaning up approach shots with his deadly broomstick putter, Bradley’s upbeat attitude propelled Mickelson down the fairways feeling a lot younger that his 42 years. It marked the first time in nine Ryder Cups that the left-hander won two matches in one day.

But it wasn’t just Mickelson who cashed in on Bradley’s vibe. His adrenaline gave the entire U.S. squad a lift that was apparent in the 5-3 advantage the Americans built by day’s end. Teammates Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson recalled sitting in the clubhouse watching the morning matches while waiting for their turn at the top of the rotation for the afternoon matches,

“We don’t have to cheer on Keegan,” Watson said, “he does that for himself.”

And that wasn’t all. Bradley made the match-winner in the morning, dropping a 25-footer at No. 15 that his caddie celebrated by twirling the flagstick like a one-man pep band. Then he promptly birdied No. 1 in the afternoon better-ball match, the first of a half-dozen birdies Bradley dropped to keep the Europeans at bay. Mickelson shut the door on that match by parking his 7-iron tee shot at the par-3 17th to 2 feet. He barely had time to react before Bradley was at his side, throwing an arm over his shoulder and howling with joy.

“It was a really big deal,” Mickelson said, “because he’s got such great, positive energy.”

But Mickelson wanted the youngster by his side for more than an emotional lift. Six years ago, he took his family skiing at Jackson Hole in Wyoming, where Mark Bradley works as a ski instructor in winter and golf pro in the summer. Keegan had done some ski racing and was a college sophomore on the golf team at St. John’s, the only big school to offer him a full ride.

“They hit it off,” Mark Bradley recalled, “but who would have dreamed a half-dozen years later, they’d be playing partners on a Ryder Cup team?”

Mickelson, probably. Because not long after Bradley made his way onto the PGA Tour, he offered the kid a place in those high-risk, high-reward practice round matches where a lot of money can change hands.

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