Fan charges Keegan Bradley with cheating for using belly putter

Stephen Dunn

Keegan Bradley has golf’s overlords to thank for an ugly incident on Saturday at Tiger Woods' World Challenge. Unfortunately, it’s one that may recur after the USGA and R&A announced that using an anchoring stroke with a long putter would be against the rules in three years.

"I had some guy here call me a cheater on the last hole, which was no fun," Bradley, who managed to par the 18th at Sherwood Country Club, told reporters Saturday after a third round 5-under 67 put him two shots behind leader Graeme McDowell. "That's unfortunate. It's very disrespectful. But it's fine with me. I've got to try and look at it as motivation to help me try to win this tournament."

Actually, it’s not fine at all, and while fans are free to say whatever they like, the powers-that-be must state firmly and frequently that jamming a long putter into a player's gut or sternum never has been, and will not be, in violation of any regulation until the rule change takes effect. Even strong statements from the USGA and R&A, however, are unlikely to convince hecklers to back off Bradley, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els, and a host of other PGA Tour players who wield long wands.

Bradley has been outspoken in his opposition to the proposal golf’s overseers announced on Wednesday. His status as the first player to win a major championship using a belly putter has put him, in particular, in the cross-hairs of the debate, which is likely just heating up.

Indeed, the 2011 PGA champ has said he would comply with the ban, which is slated to go into effect in 2016 but which the PGA Tour may enact sooner. Last year's rookie of the year, however, called out the rules-makers for making him a marked man.

“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,” Bradley, who’s become the poster boy for players wielding long putters, said Thursday.

The heckling will probably grow louder and more persistent no matter what golf's top officials may state, and such cries may push the tour to expedite the ban to take the heat off Bradley, et al. For sure, Tim Finchem’s troops in Ponte Vedra can’t be looking forward to three years of reactions like that from Saturday’s misguided onlooker should members of the belly brigade continue to chalk up Ws.

Agree or disagree with the proposal, now that the legislators have made their pronouncement, it is -- as Bradley’s favorite football coach, Bill Belichick, is wont to say -- what it is. Many players, including tour policy board member Jim Furyk, believe that the mandate (after 30 years or so of turning a blind eye to long putters) is blatantly unfair to Bradley and long-time anchorers like Carl Pettersson; moving the compliance date up would put that much more pressure on them to overhaul the way they make their living.

Taking flak from a Twitter follower urging him to apply to Burger King (intimating he would lose his current job without a belly putter), as Bradley did after the announced proposal, is one thing. Having to field charges of cheating for the next three years, however, is way out of bounds and may be even more injurious than an early anchoring ban enactment.

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