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A PGA Champ Who Had a Real Childhood

Mark Hyman is a sports journalist with special interests in the business of sports, sports and law and sports for children. He is the author of Until It Hurts: America's Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids, and is currently writing a book about the business of youth sports. He blogs at youthsportsparents.blogspot.com, where this post originally appeared.

HYMAN-UntilItHurtsKeegan Bradley, the new PGA Championship winner, set himself apart in so many ways last week. He won one of golf's four major championships in his first season on the PGA Tour. He won with an improbable back nine that included a triple bogey (to drop him five shots off the lead with three holes to play) followed by back-to-back birdies. Even more remarkably, he won the first major championship he ever played in. 

There's one more biographical footnote that separates Bradley from other tour pros. He had a childhood. 

More accurately, he had a normal childhood. Bradley grew up in Vermont, the son of a teaching golf pro. His aunt, Pat Bradley, was one of the most successful player on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in the 1970s and 1980s. The adults in Keegan's life had a the good sense to allow golf to be a part of his life, not his whole life. 

Increasingly, that's an unusual way for kids with sports talent to grow up, as Bill Pennington explained in the New York Times.

Although he is the son of a club teaching pro and the nephew of the L.P.G.A. Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, he did not specialize in golf as a youngster. He did not enroll in a hundred golf camps or travel away from home, boarding in a golf academy. He did not follow the path that is now so common to precocious athletes in most sports across America, which is to say he spurned suggestions he should quit all other sports and play golf year-round. 

Bradley grew up in central Vermont. He was a ski racer in the winter and a golfer in the summer. 

“People ask me all the time how I could be a pro golfer from Vermont, and they assume I must have went south a lot,” Bradley said Saturday. “But the truth is that when it started to snow, I put my clubs in the basement and didn’t touch them.”

In Until It Hurts, I write about kids who become early specialists. By eight or nine years old, they are full-time soccer goalies or tennis players. A small percentage of these children become fabulous players. They become varsity college athletes, attending school on full athletic scholarship. A few even become professional stars playing in big stadiums and earning millions of dollars a year. 

Sadly, most do not. They advance as far as their talent will take them, usually high school sports-- and no farther. Or the steady diet of one sport--spring, summer, fall, and winter--eventually wears them down before they even get that far. As I write in Until It Hurts, they become victims of overuse injuries, ruptured ligaments, growth-plate injuries and the like. Or the sport ceases to be fun. Or what they want to do. So they quit before ever reaching their potential. 

Keegan Bradley's parents played it right. They allowed their son to have a childhood, to explore many interests and eventually to excel at one. Keegan is the hero this week. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley deserve their own slice of the spotlight.