Keegan Bradley fights idiosyncrasies
MARANA, Ariz. -- If living up to the promise that he displayed in his win at the 2011 PGA Championship were not enough pressure, Keegan Bradley now has to conquer spitting and slow play. In a Twitter post on Monday, the 25-year-old Woodstock, Vt., native apologized to fans for his obsessive spitting during the final round of the Northern Trust Open.
"It's like a reflex. I don't even know I'm doing it, but it's a longtime habit I've got to try to conquer," Bradley tweeted.
On Wednesday, the former St. Johns University star will face two-time WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship winner Geoff Ogilvy in the first round. A year ago, Bradley was an unheralded rookie off the Nationwide Tour. A place among the top 64 players in the world at the Match Play seemed far off. But then came his wins at the Byron Nelson and the PGA.
At 19th in the world rankings, Bradley's only major championship appearance is the one that he won last year in Atlanta. Coming off a gutty performance at Riviera, he has a chance this week at the scenic Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain to keep the momentum going headed into his first Masters in April.
But can he keep all the mean tweets from fans out of his head about his laborious pre-shot routine and the spitting? Can he play his game and at the same time try to control his idiosyncrasies?
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Bradley wouldn't be human if he didn't battle something mental on the golf course. His spitting is no different than Sergio Garcia's obsessive waggling and re-gripping early in his career. Bradley's not doing it to be peculiar; it's a part of his routine.
"It's something that I'm going to work on and I just ask everybody to just kind of bear with me as I go through this, because it's something I've done without even knowing it," Bradley said. "It's something that I'm glad that's come up because I'm able to kind of nip it now."
Dr. Dick Coop, a prominent tour Sports psychologist, said that he helped former tour player Joe Inman cure his obsessive re-gripping of the club by giving him a limit of three re-grips before he had to hit his shot.
"It's going to be a gradual thing for Keegan," Coop said. "He has to want to do it. I'm very curious to see how he's going to deal with all the criticism when he starts play on Wednesday.
"People sometimes criticize sports psychology for giving players routines, but if they didn't have a routine, they would be even slower. I don't think it's a routine that makes players slower. It's the extra stuff that they bring into it. I don't think spitting is a part of Keegan's routine."
On the PGA Tour, players basically have 45 seconds to play their shot once it's their turn. Bradley, who works with sports psychologist Bob Rotella, took considerably longer at times during the final round at Riviera. His pre-shot routine consists of several starts and stops. Just when you think he's going to pull the trigger, he goes back into his routine.
"It's about visualization," Bradley said. "It's kind of my way of not staying stagnant. It is a little different. But it's something that, you know, I've been doing and it's been working."
"I know that I am a deliberate player. But I have never been put on the clock for slow play by the PGA Tour."
Don't be surprised if Bradley doesn't make an immediate change, especially when it comes to his pre-shot routine. When Garcia battled the waggles and re-grips, Rotella defended the Spaniard.
"What's important with Sergio is not what his hands are doing, but what's in his head," Rotella told Golf Digest.
That's a defensible position, but Bradley shouldn't have to spit to concentrate on the golf course or take too long to play his shots. Clearly, no one wants to play until they are ready, but at some point you have to overcome the doubt and play your shot.
A number of players smoke cigarettes and dip smokeless tobacco. It's a habit that's probably important to their concentration. Bradley's spitting and nerve-wracking pre-shot routine might be very important to how he proceeds on the golf course. He won't know until he tries to change it.
Hopefully, this spitting habit will pass for Bradley and he can polish his pre-shot routine.
On Wednesday, he'll have to beat the 34-year-old Ogilvy, a player with a 20-4 record in his six appearances in the event. His three finals appearances are second only to Tiger Woods, who has four. In 2007, Ogilvy lost to Henrik Stenson 2 and 1. Bradley should have a slight edge over the Australian, who missed the cut last week at Riviera, but it's hard to discount the experience of the former U.S. Open champion.
"Geoff is going to be a really tough opponent, but so would my next opponent or the opponent after that," said Bradley, who by his count has played in only a handful of match play events. "So it will make it more fun to play guys like him."
Last week at Riviera, Bradley got a taste of match play in that epic three-way playoff that should help him this week. His talent and fierce competitive spirit is tailor-made for the format. He craves the limelight and understands some of the costs that come with getting extra attention. Had he not been in the final round on Sunday at Riviera, his spitting and slow play would have barely gotten a mention or been noticed by fans. It's a growing pain that he'll savor over the coming years.
"I can't wait to get out there on the golf course in front of everybody," Bradley said. "I'm ready to play and get that behind me."
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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