THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – One day after the U.S Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews jointly announced their momentous proposal to ban anchored putting, reminders of the decision loomed ominously throughout Sherwood Country Club.
There was Keegan Bradley, walking into the World Challenge interview room after an opening-round 3-under 69, looking toward the assembled media, smiling and imploring, “No belly putter questions.”
There was Tiger Woods, striding past Bradley on the practice green after his round and without stopping, casually offering his buddy some grief: “You’ve got to cut that thing down.”
And there was the leaderboard, boasting Bradley and fellow anchorman Webb Simpson amongst the World Challenge leaders after the first round.
If Wednesday will be remembered as a day that shook the golf world, then Thursday was its aftermath, like scattered branches littering a neighborhood after a major storm. It’s undoubtedly been a whirlwind ride for Bradley, the first player to win a major championship while anchoring his putter and thus one of the faces of the movement to ban the style.
In a share of second place two shots behind leader Nick Watney, Bradley scoffed at the notion that any success he achieves prior to switching to a new putting style should be marked with an asterisk.
“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,” he maintained. “You know, 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.”
Not everyone can.
In the time since the proposal was announced, Bradley has already heard from plenty of fans and, well, those who aren’t exactly fans.
“I've been catching such flak on Twitter and these other places,” he confided. “I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application in to Burger King for 2016.”
Hey, at least there he could have it his way.
If the social media jabs were malicious, those coming from his fellow players were of the more playful variety.
“A lot of joking around, a lot of ribbing,” he said. “I finally had enough of it on the putting green the other day. I was putting with Tiger, and I grabbed Tiger's putter, and all of a sudden I see everyone start to walk around and start to look. I took his putter, which is about the opposite of what I putt with -- it's upright, it's light, it's a blade -- and I made three out of four putts from 10 feet, so I made sure to remind those guys every time I see them that I made those putts.”
Maybe he should have stuck with it. Anyone suggesting Bradley owns an unfair advantage with his oversized flatstick found their argument losing traction on Thursday, as he anchored his way to 32 total putts while hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation, thereby creating some ammo against those who claim he’ll struggle once the ban goes into effect.
The story was eerily similar for Simpson. The reigning U.S. Open champion posted a 2-under 70 not because of his anchored putter but in spite of it, needing a pedestrian 31 rolls on the day.
“I played well,” he said afterward. “Made a bad mistake on the last, but overall a pretty solid day.”
If Simpson and Bradley accomplished anything in their first round after the announcement, it’s more fodder for the side of the debate which steadfastly claims sticking a putter into your belly is hardly a solution or cure-all to poor putting, nor is it the lone reason that some elite players using anchored putters are considered elite.
Then again, Bradley could probably find some more proof for his argument.
When he used Woods’ putter to drain three of those four 10-footers on the practice green, Woods declined to return the favor and test out Bradley’s belly.
“You don't want to see Tiger putt with that putter,” Bradley joked. “If it was up to me, I'd film him and send that to [USGA executive director] Mike Davis, and I think he would take the ban off.”