ORLANDO, Fla. – Michael Jordan, fledgling sports psychologist to the stars, received a few after-hours messages on Friday night.
On the other end was Keegan Bradley, eight shots back heading into the weekend at Bay Hill and, apparently, in desperate need of a pep talk from the NBA legend.
The message seemed to resonate, as it always does with Bradley.
Play cockier. Be more aggressive. Believe in yourself.
“So I went out there and pretended like I was him,” Bradley said Saturday, after shooting a 6-under 66 that got him on the first page of the leaderboard, within striking distance of the leaders as the third round unfolded on an overcast and windy afternoon at Arnie’s Place.
Bradley missed a 6-foot par putt on the final hole to finish at 7-under 209, but that was one of only a few blemishes on an otherwise sterling day. He hit every fairway, all 14 of them, a feat so rare he couldn’t recall the last time he accomplished it. He had a birdie putt on all but three greens.
And for all the talk about the potential anchoring ban – and its supposed advantage for three of the past five major winners – Bradley said it has been the putter that has held him back this season. Entering the week at No. 62 in strokes gained-putting, and coming off back-to-back top-seven finishes, the 2011 PGA champion hopes the long wand has learned to behave.
But that didn’t stop Bradley from tapping out a few texts to MJ on Friday night. The two frequently play golf in the Jupiter, Fla., area, with Jordan playing from the tips and receiving five strokes a side.
“The easiest money I’ve ever made,” Bradley woofed, though he was quick to compliment Jordan’s short game, which is “above-average for a Tour player.”
Luke Donald, the world No. 3, has also credited MJ with helping sharpen his mental approach.
One of the Tour’s preeminent power players, Bradley knows that, at times, he can be too passive on the course.
“I have to keep telling myself that I’ve hit these shots a million times in practice,” he said. “I have to let my talent take over and not wonder if I’m going to hit a good shot, but know I’m going to hit a good shot.”