Commentary

Keegan Bradley aims to rise above

Updated: November 30, 2012, 7:02 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- This casual, low-key, season-ending money grab on behalf of Tiger Woods' foundation has suddenly turned into a bit more for Keegan Bradley.

Perhaps much more.

[+] EnlargeKeegan Bradley
AP Photo/Bret HartmanKeegan Bradleys 3-under-par 69 on Thursday in Round 1 of the Tiger Woods World Challenge left him 2 strokes behind leader Nick Watney at Sherwood Country Club.

The World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual is a nice perk for those invited, with everybody going home financially happy. But Bradley stepped onto the Sherwood Country Club course on Thursday a bit more determined.

The first player to win a major championship using a belly putter, Bradley is now feeling the heat after golf's governing bodies proposed on Wednesday that anchored strokes be banned.

If the recommendation goes through, such putting strokes would be illegal starting in 2016. And that will make the next few years interesting, as those using such strokes will endeavor to transition to conventional putters.

"I've been catching such flak on Twitter, it would be good to kind of quiet them a little bit," Bradley said after opening the World Challenge with a 3-under-par 69. "I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application to Burger King for 2016. It always good to play well, but this feels better almost."

Bradley, whose three PGA Tour victories include the 2011 PGA Championship and this year's WGC-Bridgestone, trails leader Nick Watney by 2 strokes and is tied for second along with Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk.

Woods, the defending champion, shot 70 and has delighted in giving Bradley the needle about his anchored putter. They switched on the putting green Wednesday, and Bradley was proud to say he drained three of the four putts he attempted from 10 feet using Woods' conventional model.

As for Woods trying the belly putter?

"You don't want to see Tiger putt with that putter," Bradley said. "If it was up to me, I'd film him and send that to Mike Davis, and I think he would take the ban off."

Davis is the executive director of the United States Golf Association, which along with the R&A issued the rules proposal that would ban anchoring.

And although Bradley was joking, his message is clear. An anchored stroke is not necessarily an easy one, and certainly not a guarantee that putts will drop.

"It would be very difficult to take my [belly] putter and putt with it tomorrow," Bradley said. "Or Carl Petterssen [who uses a long putter]. It takes practice. It's not a cure, definitely not."

No matter your stance on long putters, belly putters or anchored strokes, this is not an easy situation for a guy like Bradley or Webb Simpson, the U.S. Open champion who also uses a belly putter.

In a game that prides itself on players' adhering to the rules, those who use anchored strokes are now faced with a stigma. The clubs and the strokes are not illegal and won't be for three years, under the current proposal.

But it is nonetheless awkward in that the ruling bodies feel such a stroke should not be allowed.

"I feel like the USGA has really put an X on our back and really shined a light on us, and I don't know if that's exactly fair," Bradley said. "I just hope that people look at us for the type of players that we are and the accomplishments that we've had and not because we use a belly putter and now the USGA says it's going to be illegal.

"When we started putting with it, they were legal, and they still are. It's a sticky situation, and I hope people can see through that."

And yet, Bradley is the type of player whom the USGA and R&A view as a reason for the anchoring ban. Not because he's had success, but because he began using such a putter at an early stage, even though he was not a bad putter the conventional way.

"What's changed in the last couple years is that we now are seeing a growing advocacy of players who are using it," said Davis. "Also, instructors saying that this is a more efficient way to make a stroke. It alleviates certain inherent challenges. It stabilizes the club and gives extra support and stability.

"I think the difference now is we are seeing golfers who no longer see this as a stroke of last resort."

Bradley certainly didn't. He began using a belly putter when he was in college at St. John's, although he won his first event as a professional using a conventional putter. He turned pro in 2008.

"It was just a matter of I really liked the other putter better for me, personally," he said. "It wasn't that I was a bad putter or any of that nonsense."

Among the complaints of those who use long or belly putters is that many have been doing so for years, legally.

"I think it's really difficult to go backwards," said Watney, who putts conventionally. "Having said that, I do think that anchoring the club makes it a little bit easier when you're dealing with nerves and having something that's not going to move.

"But it's also difficult to institute a rule now when guys have been doing it since the 1980s."

And that is the challenge Bradley faces, whether he chooses to deal with it immediately or over the next few years.

"It'll be an adjustment, but it's one that I kind of look forward to," Bradley said. "To get up and know I've got to work hard, and that excites me."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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