Commentary

Jordan helped Bradley swap putters

Updated: May 30, 2014, 7:18 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The clock is ticking and Keegan Bradley can hear it counting down in his head, a constant reminder that big change looms and confronting it will be important as his golf career progresses.

Almost 19 months to the day before golf's anchored putting ban will go into effect, Bradley put a conventional model in his bag Thursday at the Memorial Tournament, shooting 5-under-par 67. It was the first time he had done so on the PGA Tour.

And how did it happen here?

Well, his mom, Kaye, and Michael Jordan had something to do with it.

As odd as that might sound, it would be in keeping with the somewhat quirky nature of Bradley, who admits the thought of switching putters has been weighing on him.

And a poor final round at the HP Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago -- where he played in the last group with a chance to win -- helped spur the process, as did a chat with mom.

"She said, 'I'm going to tell you something. I don't think you're going to like it,"' Bradley said after finishing 4 strokes behind 18-hole leader Rory McIlroy, who carded a 63 on Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. "I was like, all right and she said, 'I think you should use the short putter.'

"I hadn't put any thought into it up until that point. That was on Sunday last week. And so I thought I needed something to get me excited about playing because I was bummed. I took it out. And I played 36 holes a day with MJ last week. And I told him I really wanted him to chirp at me, make me uncomfortable. Which he's good at."

So the NBA legend might have played a role in the 2011 PGA Championship winner getting comfortable with a short putter? They played together at the Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla.

"We just kept playing and playing. And I felt better and better with it," Bradley said. "And I came here not knowing what I was going to do, and I just played a round with Brendan Steele and I felt good with it again, and I thought there's no reason for me not to do it. I thought I could slip under the radar a little bit as well."

Good luck with that.

Bradley, who turns 28 next month, became the first player to win a major championship using a belly putter when he captured the 2011 PGA. And when Webb Simpson and Ernie Els won majors the following year, suddenly there were three major winners out of four who used anchored strokes.

Golf's ruling bodies had been studying the issue for years and finally announced a plan in late 2012 to implement a rules change that first underwent a review period and then was adopted in May of 2013 -- after considerable debate. It won't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016, as the United States Golf Association and R&A implement new rules in four-year periods.

Then Bradley's belly putter -- as well as the long putter used by Adam Scott -- can only be used if they are not anchored to the body.

Bradley's Odyssey putter looks exactly like his belly putter model except it is 5 inches shorter -- 41 instead of 46. And he noticed some benefits in his opening round, which included just 28 putts.

"One of the positives is I feel as though I have a lot more touch on the greens," he said. "On a course like this or Augusta or any major championship that I play on, I felt like I've needed a little more touch than I've had. And so the positives of the putter are I can hit softer putts. My long lag putts are a ton easier.

"The negatives are just simply mentally. I'm aware that people are watching me. And that's the hardest part."

Bradley said his original plan was to try and make the U.S. Ryder Cup team and to start thinking about switching sometime in the fall. He got the conventional putter when he was at the Humana Challenge in January but had rarely even practiced with it.

The last time he used a conventional putter in competition was in 2010, when Bradley was on the Web.com Tour. It was the second tournament of the year and he didn't use one again until Thursday.

And with some prodding from his mom, a discussion with Phil Mickelson, more conversations with his parents and girlfriend -- "I talked to everyone around me," he said -- and some taunting from Jordan, it was in the bag.

"I just decided: I think that this is a good week to try it," Bradley said. "Again, I'm totally in a trial period here. I'm not in any way saying I'm switching for good from now on. This is just for right now and this week."

And yet, if he switched back, imagine how much grief he would get from Jordan.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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