When Mickelson turned pro, old hands like Paul Azinger and the late Payne Stewart invited him to play in similar stakes games. Now he returns the favor by bringing promising young players like Bradley, Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan into his orbit. Besides, any money Mickelson loses is practically an investment, because the youngsters gain valuable experience at match play and the kind of pressure that comes with having teammates at events like the Ryder and Presidents Cups. It’s become a finishing school of sorts.
Yet Bradley was good in the clutch long before Mickelson helped him hone his competitive edges. In addition to being the son of a golf pro, he’s also the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, whom renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella once called the toughest player he ever saw. When Bradley won the PGA Championship in 2011, he talked about following his aunt around at tournaments, “but she was so into it, she wouldn’t even recognize me.”
“And I thought that was cool,” he recalled.
Some of that toughness no doubt rubbed off on her nephew early. How early came as a surprise even to Mark Bradley, who talked about how he made his son putt out on every hole not long after he started playing.
“And talk about being good under pressure, I’ll never forget this,” his father added. “We’re playing a par-3 course, he’s down two holes when we get to the last one and he says, `Dad, you’re pressed.’ I had no idea he even knew how to bet. He was 8 years old.”
And no doubt already preparing for a day like Friday.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at http://www.twitter.com/JimLitke