Bradley tosses the anchor

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2014, 7:44 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – It was always there. The ultimate deadline, looming like the storm clouds that annually blanket Muirfield Village the last week of May.

On Jan. 1, 2016, Keegan Bradley will no longer be allowed to use the belly putter that had delivered so much. A PGA Championship in 2011, a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, a World Golf Championship.

That Bradley had become the poster child during last year’s debate over a possible ban on anchoring didn’t make things any easier. For a blue-collar guy who more easily identifies himself with that gritty 2004 Boston Red Sox team than, say, a Kardashian, the attention was very much unwanted.

Bradley knew he’d have to ditch his anchored putter at some point, he just wasn’t looking forward to it.

“The negatives are just simple, mentally I’m aware that people are watching me,” Bradley said at Muirfield Village. “That’s the hardest part.”

On Thursday, however, Bradley decided enough was enough, ditching his trusty belly putter for a 41-inch version that was no longer anchored. He’d hoped to “fly under the radar” and just give it a test drive, but an opening 67, which left him one stroke off the early lead, and 28 putts ruined the best laid plans.

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Since the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient brought their rulemaking crosshairs onto the anchoring issue, Bradley has been a central character.

He was, after all, the first player to win a major championship (2011 PGA) using an anchored putter. Nor did he attempt to avoid the fray last year when the debate reached a crescendo. He didn’t actively lobby against the ban on anchoring, like Adam Scott and Tim Clark, but he also didn’t shrink from the issue.

“I do want to do what I think's best for me and what's right,” he said last February after being heckled by fans for using the belly putter. “I take great offense to people calling me a cheater. I think that that's unbelievable to me.”

When the anchoring ban was announced a year ago last Wednesday, Bradley and his Tour frat brothers who anchor found themselves on the ultimate stopwatch. With change looming he could either do it on his own terms, or wait until he no longer had a choice.

“My original plan was to hopefully qualify for the Ryder Cup team and really start to think about switching after the Ryder Cup,” he said.

The timetable began to be adjusted two weeks ago at the Byron Nelson Championship when he needed 112 putts to cover 72 holes on his way to a tie for 29th place.

When he returned home to south Florida his mother provided the final nail in the anchoring coffin. “She said, ‘You’re not going to like this, but I think you should use the short putter,’” he recalled.

A day later he joined Michael Jordan on the first tee at The Bear’s Club with the 41-inch model and told his famous playing companion to “make me uncomfortable, which he’s good at.”

After multiple trips around the course he decided he was comfortable enough with the non-anchored version to put it in play on Tour, just not the scrutiny that it was sure to create.

On Wednesday after he used the short putter during the pro-am your scribe asked him if he was planning to use it on Thursday. “No, maybe, we’ll see,” was his response.

“I kind of felt bad when you asked me,” he smiled. “I was pretty sure at that point. I had come so close to going completely under the radar. But I was pretty confident (he’d use the non-anchored putter).”

Consider it the unintended consequences of the USGA and R&A’s sweeping decision, the baggage that comes with finding yourself on the wrong side of a historically polarizing debate.

So much so he went to great lengths this week to keep his change under the radar, using a longer, counter-balanced shaft and the same model of putter head (Odyssey Sabertooth) as before, but with his solid play on Day 1 also came the spotlight and scrutiny.

Even around his friends during casual rounds, Bradley said he would switch to the non-anchored version just to see if they would notice, always aware that the anchored end of his putter is unfortunately just as much a part of his legacy as that 2011 PGA.

But on Thursday self-consciousness gave way to competitive reality. He’s nearly two years removed from his last Tour victory (2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) and his work with new swing coach Chuck Cook has produced solid early results. It was time to make a change.

It’s likely this is not the end of the story and Bradley stressed the fact that his decision to switch putters is very much a “trial period.” Nor was he putting too much stock in his opening-day effort at the Memorial, but after a year of waiting it was liberating to finally take the leap.

“It weights on your mind. You’ve got almost like a ticking clock in your head,” he said.

For the first time in over a year that clock doesn’t seem so intimidating.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.