Bradley-Mickelson a perfect pairing on Day 1

Ryder Cup rookie energizes Lefty, who enjoys his 1st 2-0 day in the event

Arm in arm, Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson ended their first day of the Ryder Cup by wearing goofy grins as they bounced blissfully toward the 17th green, a match made in Medinah.

As Bradley exhorted fans chanting "U-S-A!'' to get even louder, Mickelson kept giving everybody in the gallery the thumbs-up sign. As both golfers approached the tee shot on the 193-yard 17th hole that Mickelson had dropped within 2 feet of the pin for a conceded birdie, they came as close to resembling happily ever after as you will see in sports.

"That was the best shot I've ever seen in my entire life,'' said Bradley, 26.

That was no Keegan bluff. Mickelson's 7-iron with eyes gave America's most compatible golfing partnership its second win to carry a U.S. team that will take a 5-3 lead into Saturday. On a day full of highlights, it provided the biggest.

"To close it out with that shot, it feels obviously spectacular,'' Mickelson said.

From the moment Bradley wildly celebrated his 30-foot putt to clinch the morning match to the last chest bump after Mickelson's magic, the tandem dazzled us with equal parts precision and panache. As seeing Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen hanging around this week reminded everybody, Chicago knows what a dynamic sports duo looks like. Add Mickelson-Bradley to a long list that made an indelible impression on local sports history.

Mickelson won two Ryder Cup matches in the same day for the first time, combining with Bradley to best Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in the morning foursomes and Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in the afternoon four-balls. As for Bradley, he played nothing like a Ryder Cup rookie on a day he probably became America's most Googled golfer with his emergence into stardom on an international stage.

"This is literally what I've dreamt about since I was a little kid," Bradley said. "And I got to do it next to my idol all day."

Their relationship dates to last year, when Bradley credited the guidance of Mickelson, a frequent practice-round partner not afraid to take his money, with helping him win the 2011 PGA Championship. But the advice went both ways. When Mickelson saw how successful Bradley was using a belly putter, he turned the tables on his young friend and sought answers himself.

Again Friday, Mickelson described moments in which it was hard to tell who was mentoring whom.

"I would say to him a couple of times, 'I need a little pep talk,' and he would get me boosted right up and I would end up hitting a good shot,'' Mickelson said.

Teammate Webb Simpson told a similar tale of feeling sluggish during lunch with Bubba Watson before their dominant 5-and-4 victory when they saw Bradley zip past like he just chugged a quart of espresso.

"I was sitting there yawning, and I see his energy and it got me fired up,'' Simpson said.

Bradley fed off the revved-up crowd like a professional wrestler with that contagious enthusiasm. After he hit a 4-wood within 15 feet on the 245-yard 13th, Mickelson congratulated him with a pat on the butt. When Bradley drained the match-clinching putt in the morning, his caddie, Steve "Pepsi'' Hale, twirled the flagstick. Big shot after big shot, chests and fists bumped regularly as Bradley and Mickelson turned golf into a contact sport.

"I love playing with this man,'' Mickelson said. "He's just so fun and plays with such excitement. And, man, can he roll the rock.''

The rock 'n' roll atmosphere Bradley helped foster benefited Mickelson too. The combination of adrenaline and the best-ball format in the afternoon allowed Phil to flex, freeing one of the tour's best combinations of talent and creativity to play without inhibition. On the tricky 313-yard, par-4 15th that Mickelson said wasn't drivable, for example, Lefty pulled out a driver.

"I felt young,'' said Mickelson, 42. "Keegan's energy is so positive.''

Not bad for a kid from Vermont who initially loved skiing more than golf. The nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley, Bradley attended St. John's because nobody else offered a scholarship. He likes to tell people about having $85 left in his bank account before hitting it big as the 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

It was after winning his first major that the lifetime Patriots fan received a text from quarterback Tom Brady. Bradley considered that the biggest thrill of his career — until Friday.

"Oh, baby, I wish I could go 36 more,'' Bradley said. "I just enjoy going crazy and playing golf. It was like a Patriots game out there, a moment I'll never forget.''

He isn't the only one.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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