|Keegan Bradley runs on the 18th green after his putt rolled close to the cup during the final round of the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga., Aug. 14, 2011. (HANS DERYK/Reuters)
PHILADELPHIA - Rookies are supposed to take their lumps, supposed to finish second to the veterans or not finish at all.
This year has been different. The rookies aren't doing what they're supposed to do.
For some reason, first-year players keep finding themselves at the top of the leaderboard this year, even at major championships on Sunday afternoon.
We were undoubtedly shocked by Keegan Bradley's win this past week at Atlanta Athletic Club in more ways than one. Not only was he a rookie on tour, but he trailed unheralded veteran Jason Dufner by as many as five strokes down the stretch.
But really, his win fit in perfectly with the type of year golf is having.
Bradley is one of six rookies to win on the PGA Tour this year, the second to win a major and the only one to win twice. In comparison, the top three players in the world -- Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Steve Stricker -- have combined for zero majors in over three decades worth of attempts.
It really speaks to the depth of the Nationwide Tour, and Bradley became the first player to win a major championship the year after graduating from that tour. Funny enough, Bradley never won last year in his only full season on the Nationwide Tour.
Five of the rookie winners in 2011 played on the Nationwide Tour last year, with the only exception being Charl Schwartzel, who was a Sunshine Tour mainstay until breaking through at the Masters in April. It's questionable whether Schwartzel can technically be considered a rookie; he's much like Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, winning the Rookie of the Year award in baseball despite having been a Japanese superstar for a decade.
With some of the big-time talent on the PGA Tour fading into the sunset, it's about time the PGA Tour got some new faces for the fans to start recognizing. It's tough to say if fans would recognize Bradley and the rest of the rookie class walking down the street like they would a Tiger Woods or a Phil Mickelson, but it's a start. These guys can't stop with a victory or two, though -- they have to start piling up the victories.
With the FedEx Cup playoffs only a week away, it's a good place to start.
The way the postseason is set up, it's likely we'll see each of the six rookie winners deep into the four-event postseason. All six are in the top 39 in the standings, where the top 70 make the third event and top 30 make The Tour Championship.
In the first four years of the current setup, three big names have combined to take home each title and the corresponding $10 million prize. People know Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh, but the way 2011 has gone, it will probably be one of the rookies who takes the crown.
The PGA Tour really has to take an opportunity during the playoffs to start promoting its sensational rookie class before the Europeans gain more ground and more publicity than they already have. The first-timers haven't been this successful in about 40 years, and there hasn't been signs of slowing down yet.
Maybe we've been looking in the wrong spots for the next great golfer, or maybe these guys are simply flashes in the pan. Either way, it's time to start paying more attention to the rookies.