As a major winner, multiple Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team member and with over $20million in career earnings on the PGA Tour alone, Keegan Bradley would be forgiven for staying at home and resting in the upcoming quiet period of the PGA Tour season.
The American is instead set to head to Australia to tee it up in the 2018 Emirates Australian Open after receiving words of encouragement from some of the country’s biggest names. And armed with a new putting technique that appears to have helped the 32-year-old recapture the form that led him to the 2011 PGA Championship.
“I saw Ian Baker-Finch at a coffee shop today I was asking him, and he had a lot of good stuff to say and I was playing with Jason Day at the PGA and I kind of ran it by him and some of those guys and they all had nothing but great things to say about it. That said a lot about the tournament and the course,” Bradley told a teleconference from this week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Beyond the words of advice to visit our shores by Baker-Finch and Day, Bradley is looking forward to some warm weather and a holiday of sorts in Sydney, where he will be one of the bigger names teeing it up at The Lakes. With various personal and scheduling reasons meaning Day, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman will all miss their national open and the chance to hoist the Stonehaven Cup. An opportunity not lost on Bradley.
“Well I’ve gotten to play in Australia one time on the Web Tour, and I loved it there and I’ve always wanted to go back,” he said. “For the most part it hasn’t worked into my schedule but this year I had some open time and anytime you can play in a national open no matter where it is, it’s really exciting.
“I haven’t won overseas and that would be a really great thing to put on my resume and kind of add to my career. I have tried over the years to play globally as much as I can and I’ve always loved watching these tournaments on TV when I’m home, it’s kind of a down time for us on the Tour and I’ve always tuned in to watch these great tournaments and I’m just so excited to be down there and play.”
Bradley’s previous Aussie visit came in 2010, when he played the Moonah Classic in Victoria, a co-sanctioned Web.com Tour event that helped shape the second year pro’s career and attitude towards travelling the world playing a game that is in his blood.
“We had the best time. I couldn’t afford at the time to stay in the host hotel, so I stayed down the street in this like motel type deal,” Bradley said of the 2010 visit where he finished T21. “And it was a really cool experience for me because I got to know three or four of the guys on the Tour that I didn’t know before and we kind of bonded there. And it’s something that I always remember very fondly, of playing on the Web.com Tour how we were at this run-down motel but we loved it.”
The winner of the recent BMW Championship’s previous visit to our shores may have been on a shoestring budget and in relative anonymity, but as a major champion and top-50 player in the world, Bradley will draw far more attention this time around. Something the Vermont product has dealt with at home since turning professional as the relative of a World Golf Hall of Fame member.
Pat Bradley, Keegan’s aunt, was a prolific winner on the LPGA Tour and has been a constant source of help and inspiration for him. Particularly in recent years, where Bradley has struggled with his game at times post the 2016 anchored putting ban that saw his trusty belly putter outlawed.
“She’s always been my inspiration,” Bradley said of Pat. “I grew up idolising her, she doesn’t have to say much, I really just know how she went about her career and what she did. And I try to model what I do work wise and what I saw throughout the years. And what I saw was a person who was extremely driven, extremely hard working, and when times were bad I knew there’s only one way to get out of this and that’s to put the time in, put the work in, put the hours in.”
Bradley’s commitment to his game has seen him become one of the game’s preeminent ball strikers and drivers of the golf ball, but in a parallel to Scott’s recent career, he has constantly changed putting techniques and models since the change to rules that came into effect after a swathe of major victories with non-conventional putting strokes. With Bradley the first player to win a major championship employing an anchored putter.
As he continued to struggle on the greens at the beginning of 2018, Bradley made a decision to stick with an arm lock style of putting employed by Matt Kuchar, who will also tee it up at The Lakes, and fellow belly putting major champion Webb Simpson, who Bradley admits to watching closely as he made a comeback of his own to win The Players Championship this year on the back of vastly improved work on the greens.
“I think I’m always still working to get statistically to where I was with the belly. But every week that I play, and obviously winning, really can give you a lot of confidence you know going forward,” Bradley said of his new putting method. “I think I have a lot more touch with this style putter. So, you know my lag putting and when I’m on faster greens it’s a lot better, so I think this year will be a big tell-tale sign a about my stats and see where I am. But I’ve made huge improvements over the last year or so, I took a lot of what Webb did and used it to help me as well.
“I kind of, when I switched over from the belly I didn’t really have a plan and I was hoping all over the place. I’d go to the arm lock and then I’d switch back and I didn’t have a plan. And then I think it was around the Honda (Classic) I decided ‘Ok, I’m going to stick to this style putter no matter what.’ That was a big decision and turned out to really help me.”
Bradley’s return to form and the winner’s circle came as Jim Furyk was set to make his final captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup in Paris, an event the passionate American has thrived in previously. And although briefly entertaining the thought that he might be a bolter for the side, Keegan has set his sights on another potential Australian visit in 2019 and a return to team golf at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne as a goal to spur him on this season.
“I never really thought of it, and then somebody mentioned it to me right after I finished, and I looked at my phone and I had a missed call from Jim Furyk, and I’m like ‘oh god, maybe he is going to pick me’,” he said. “But I knew the picks were so cut and dry this year, I can’t remember a time in the past where the picks were so obvious.
“It’s fun to realistically look at that and say I’ve got a good shot to be on that team (2019 Presidents Cup). I could have said in the past I want to make this team but wasn’t realistic. But this year it’s very realistic for me to play my way onto that team. I would love to do that and you know get back on a US team would mean a lot to me and something that really drives me to keep going.”
If Bradley is to make it back into the fold to take on the Internationals at Royal Melbourne, it will be as part of one of the most hotly anticipated and closely watched Presidents Cups after the dramas of Paris that he felt were perhaps unfairly pinned on Jim Furyk. And making the trip to Australia this year can only help Bradley’s chances.
Continuing to hole putts with his new arm lock putting method and following the work ethic of his aunt won’t hurt either. And may even lead to a rare career achievement the younger Bradley can claim over his more credentialed family member. An Australian Open crown.