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Back From the Putting Abyss, Keegan Bradley Brimming With Confidence at PGA

The 2016 ban on anchored putting strokes ruined the 2011 PGA champion's game for a while, but a new coach has made all the difference.
Keegan Bradley holds his putter aloft at the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship.

Keegan Bradley and his putter are allies again, and the results have him in a good place coming into the PGA Championship.

TULSA, Okla. — The focus this week at the 2022 PGA Championship can fluctuate largely between Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.

That's a who’s who of favorites, plus the biggest name in the sport, but the list does not end just with those six.

As good as the players are in professional golf, the list of potential winners becomes too voluminous to write with practically anyone in the field having a chance.

Keegan Bradley is on that longer list of potential winners, even if Vegas has installed the 2011 PGA champion at 80-1, keeping the love for others.

At 35, Bradley has four career victories and more than $27.9 million in earnings, with his career on a rollercoaster tied mainly to the rules change in 2013 that would preclude Bradley from using his belly-putter stroke as of Jan. 1, 2016.

“I don't agree with what the USGA is saying, but I do respect what they are trying to do,” Bradley said about the anchoring decision in August 2013. “They are trying to protect the game in different ways, which is what they think they need to do in terms of the putter.

"There's one thing I never doubt, and it's my work ethic. I'm not afraid to put time in, and once the time comes for me to switch to a different putter, I'll be ready to do it.”

At the time of the ban Bradley hoped he would make a smooth transition, but that turned out to be a pipedream. After moving into the top 50 at 29th after his 2011 major title in Atlanta, he would fall out of the top 50 in fall 2015 as his experimenting with different putters and strokes in anticipation of the ban cost him his game and confidence.

“It took away one of the best parts of my game, in the middle of my career. That was difficult.” Bradley said of the ban effects on his game after his practice round at Southern Hills on Monday.

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While Bradley did win the 2018 BMW Championship, his game was never as consistent as it had been when he was using a belly putter — until now.

Two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship, Bradley finished tied for second, his fifth top 10 of the season. He also had a T8 at the Valero Texas Open and a T4 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans with partner Brendan Steele.

While Bradley gives kudos to swing coach Darren May, who he hooked up with in 2016, the significant change to his game can be attributed to his work with short game guru Phil Kenyon at the beginning of the year.

Between 2012 to 2014, Bradley was a whiz on the greens, with his strokes-gained putting rankings never worse than 49th. Then the putter change occurred.

From 2018-21, Bradley's best in that stat was 174th, but the work with Kenyon has made appreciable difference. He's now 92nd in strokes-gained putting.

The combination of Kenyon’s putting prowess and May’s work on Bradley’s swing has produced top-30 ranking in most of the ball striking categories and a 24th in scoring average this season.

“He worked more on green reading and alignment and stuff like that rather than stroke technique,” Bradley said of the Kenyon philosophy. “And it just clicked for me.”

When Bradley was on top of his game with the belly putter, he felt he could make almost everything.

Now after the short time with Kenyon, Bradley has similar feelings that he can stand over any putt within 25 feet and make it.

“This is probably the best I’ve ever felt coming into a major,” Bradley said. “To me right now this is as well-rounded as my game has felt. "I feel like I've done all my work and now I've just got to prepare to play this course.”