Keegan Bradley said Tuesday he would really like people to stop calling him a cheater for using a long putter.
As the first golfer to win a major title using a belly putter, the 2011 PGA champion has become ground zero for the increasingly heated debate over whether to outlaw the way he and others maneuver their flat sticks.
In what appeared to be a done deal when they did so, the USGA and R&A proposed a ban on the anchored putting stroke back in November. The PGA of America quickly declared its opposition to the plan and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem raised the decibel level of the discourse on Sunday when he announced his circuit was also against the scheme.
The European Tour is likely to go along with whatever golf’s rules-makers decide so Finchem’s pronouncement (for which Bradley tweeted his support) sparked angst from many quarters over the potential for separate rules governing various contests.
Bradley, not surprisingly, opposes the ban and said the negative reaction from spectators and media members had affected his game. The New Englander finished in a tie for fourth in the season-opening Tournament of Champions but has foundered in five events since.
"I take great offense to people calling me a cheater. I think that's unbelievable," he told reporters gathered for this week's Honda Classic. "It's been pretty difficult, especially lately. I'm being called a cheater more than ever by fans, by some writers....I can't imagine how people can say that to me or to anybody out here. I'm sick of it to be honest. I'm ready to be over it.”
Unfortunately for the 2011 Rookie of the Year, a reprieve from the controversy is unlikely any time soon. The three-month comment period for the proposal ends Thursday and the USGA said Sunday it would make its determination sometime in the spring. Should the regulators decide to adopt the ban, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2016.
"I realize this is going to be an issue now for the next couple of years at least," Bradley conceded. "I hope the USGA thought about us players before they did this because it's been really difficult on me and I know it's been really difficult on some other players too."
Bradley said a fan called him a cheater in December at Tiger Woods’ World Challenge and that such remarks had taken their toll on his game. Since the end of last year, he had slipped from 28th in the tour’s strokes gained-putting statistic to 60th.
"The word cheater, I mean, it's amazing that people can say that,” Bradley said. “It's probably the worst thing you could ever say to an athlete."