By Ken Belson (NYTimes link)
St. John’s is perhaps best known for its basketball program, but it has a pretty good golf team, too — one that produced Keegan Bradley, the surprise winner of the P.G.A. Championship on Sunday.
St. John’s might seem like an unlikely cradle of golf champions. Sandwiched between the Grand Central Parkway and Union Turnpike in Queens, it has no course or dedicated training center. The team does not practice at a single course, either, but plays at various clubs in the New York City area.
But this itinerant schedule is the team’s strength, according to Frank Darby, the coach for the last 18 seasons, because the players practice in live conditions, not on a golf range where repetition is the norm.
“We bounce around to give them different looks, so they don’t get stuck on one course,” Darby said. “We’re not into hitting balls; we learn on the course.”
Depending on the day and the coach’s connections, the six-man team may practice at one of a dozen mostly private courses in the area. Because of St. John’s proximity to Long Island, the team most often plays there, including at Bethpage, Wheatley Hills Golf Club, the Rockaway Hunting Club, Seawane Country Club or the Glen Oaks Club. Pelham Country Club in Westchester County is another favorite destination.
The time spent traveling to and from the courses, the rounds played together and the fact that the players all live in a house two miles from campus have helped create a strong chemistry, Darby said.
Although the team does not have a home course, the university’s current campus in Queens is built on what used to be the Hillcrest Golf Club. Darby hosts several tournaments a year, including two in Florida and one in Puerto Rico, at Palmas del Mar, which Bradley won his senior year.
Because of the decline in the number of rounds being played at many clubs, it is easier for Darby to get his golfers on the course, even at some of the more prestigious ones. In fact, some clubs invite the St. John’s team to play.
Bradley, 25, was a workhorse for the Red Storm. Darby called him the Ernie Banks of golf, or a player eager to play two rounds instead of just one. The hardest thing about coaching Bradley, Darby said, was finding him a place to play during the Christmas holiday, when many courses in the Northeast are closed.
Bradley, who graduated with a degree in sports management in 2008, remains close to his alma mater. He spoke to Darby for 20 minutes Monday and stays in touch with his former teammates.
He also wore the St. John’s red and white colors Sunday when he became the first golfer in eight years — and the third in history — to win a major tournament in his first attempt. He defeated Jason Dufner in a three-hole playoff.
Bradley is one of the university’s best players ever. He won nine individual titles and set the program record for a three-round championship, shooting 21 under par at the Treasure Coast Classic. The golfer with the most individual titles, Andrew Svoboda, plays mainly on the Nationwide Tour.
Bradley’s victory Sunday may make it easier for Darby to recruit. Four of the six members of this year’s team come from New Jersey, the others from Connecticut and Long Island. Keegan, who was born in Vermont, fit right in, Darby said, except for his affection for the Boston Red Sox.
Still, Darby said, “he’s a big supporter and every time he speaks to the media, he talks about the school.”