Keegan Bradley helped ignite the long-putter explosion when he won the 2011 PGA Championship to become the first player to win a major with a belly putter. He has used a long putter for four years, but admits that the impending anchored-stroke ban that will go into effect in 2016 has been like a "ticking clock in your head."
On Thursday at The Memorial, Bradley went without a belly putter for the first time in his PGA Tour career, and it worked out just fine. He knocked in a 12-foot birdie putt on his opening hole, added four more birdies for a 5-under 67 and was one shot out of the lead among the early starters. It was also his best-ever score at Muirfield Village.
"I'm totally in a trial period here," Bradley, whose best score in eight previous rounds was a 71, told The Associated Press. "I'm not in any way saying I'm switching for good from now on. This is just for right now and this week."
Bradley was persuaded to give the shorter putter a try on the advice from his mother, and a week of practice and trash-talking with his good friend Michael Jordan.
Bradley didn't like the way he finished off the HP Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago, and while talking to his mother, she suggested he go to a shorter putter.
Bradley hasn't won since the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and he needs to get moving if he wants to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Inspired to experiment by his mother, he played with Jordan at The Bear's Club in South Florida, asking him to be relentless in heckling and make Bradley feel uncomfortable, "which he's good at."
"And we just kept playing and playing. And I felt better and better with it," he said. "And I came here not knowing what I was going to do. I played a round with Brendan Steele and I felt good with it again, and I thought there's no reason for me not to do it."
Bradley said he last used a conventional putter in 2010 in his second start on the Nationwide Tour, but switched over to the belly putter because he felt he was better with it.
His plan for the year was to qualify for the Ryder Cup team and start converting to a shorter putter after October.
The new putter is 41 inches, which is about 6 inches longer than a standard putter. The difference is that Bradley doesn't press the end of it into his belly. He felt better over lag putts, and he said the shorter putter improved his touch on fast greens.
"The negatives are just ... I'm aware that people are watching me," he said. "And that's the hardest part."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.