Planet Golf — 06 September 2018 by GW staff and news services
Keegan putts his way back to victory

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – It’s easy to blame the belly putter.

Keegan Bradley used that club to win three times in his first two seasons, including a major and World Golf Championship. Then his promising career took a downturn, just as the debate about anchoring was beginning to heat up.

He was finally barred from using his beloved belly putter on Jan. 1, 2016. The ban became official in the midst of his worst season. By that summer, he was worried about missing the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time.

The putter wasn’t the only problem, though. His full swing was in disarray, as well.

Ball-striking, especially long and straight tee shots, had always been his strength. It allowed him to conquer tough tracks like Firestone and Atlanta Athletic Club.

So, when his swing left him, doubt crept in.

“I had missed over 10 cuts. I was in jeopardy of not making the Playoffs. I was really struggling,” he said. He finished outside the top 100 in the FedExCup for the first time in 2016. “I wasn’t really aware of how far off I was. I had to really get serious and put a lot of work in.”

Bradley’s strong will allowed him to make the PGA TOUR despite growing up in the cold weather of Vermont and playing college golf at a school, St. John’s, located in the midst of New York City. He used that same determination to fight out of this lengthy slump.

His victory at the BMW Championship on Monday, where he beat Justin Rose in a playoff, was his first in more than six years. He jumped to sixth in the FedExCup standings to qualify for the TOUR Championship for the first time since 2013.

“A lot has happened to me over these six years,” he said. “The belly putter was a tougher transition than I thought, and I kind of fell off the radar there for a little while. It’s tough to go from being on Ryder Cup teams, being on Presidents Cup teams to outside the top 100 in the world. That was difficult. I had to really sit down with my coach Darren May, and we put a schedule together.”

Bradley figured out his full swing about eight months ago. That allowed him to focus on the putter. He finally settled on the arm-lock method used by Matt Kuchar and another player impacted by the anchoring ban, Webb Simpson.

Watching Simpson hole puts from across TPC Sawgrass at this year’s THE PLAYERS Championship strengthened Bradley’s belief in his new putting method. Like Bradley, Simpson had won a major with the belly putter but struggled after that club was made illegal. THE PLAYERS was Simpson’s first win in more than four years.

“When I used the belly, I just putted,” Bradley said. “There was no thought process. And I had to really sit down and focus in on my putting stroke, which was something I had never done.”

Bradley is still near the bottom of the TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting but has enough good weeks on the greens to contend. His runner-up finish in his second event of this season, the CIMB Classic, was his best since 2014. In July, he finished fourth at the RBC Canadian Open with the sixth-best Strokes Gained: Putting performance of his career.

His strong long game – he’s second in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and sixth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green – takes pressure off his putting. He can still have a solid week with mediocre putting and contend when he gets hot on the greens.

That’s what happened at Aronimink. Bradley finished sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting this week. It was the third-best Strokes Gained: Putting week of his career. He holed 11 putts outside 10 feet this week, one short of his career-high.

Bradley almost didn’t have the opportunity to win this event. Constant rain forced the final round to be pushed back a day. But, with one eye on the FedExCup standings, Bradley sank 7-footers for par on Saturday’s final two holes to grab the 30th spot in the projected standings. Those crucial makes increased his confidence entering the final round. On Monday, he sank five putts outside 10 feet, including birdie putts of 17 feet and 10 feet on the back nine’s two par-3s.

“It’s scary when I look back because I didn’t know I needed this much improvement,” Bradley said. “But to put it all together, especially with the putter the way it was this week and the way it’s becoming, is so gratifying, because for a little while, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back to this spot, and today I did it.”

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