COMMENTARY | It's days like these that make the case to keep the anchored stroke legal.
Keegan Bradley nearly shot the sixth round of 59 in PGA Tour history on Thursday in Round 1 of the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Instead, he carded 10-under 60 at TPC Four Seasons to take the tournament lead.
Beginning at the 10th hole, the 2011 PGA Championship winner made five birdies in his first eight holes, all coming in a six-hole stretch. Then came the twist of fate that will keep Bradley out of the record books. He made consecutive bogeys at the difficult closing hole and the opening hole as he made the turn from the back nine to the front half. Bradley recovered with five more birdies in his final seven holes and an eagle 3 at the par-5 seventh.
In other words, Bradley could have shot the first 58 in PGA Tour history were it not for a wayward tee shot at the intimidating finishing hole and a 9-footer missed at the first hole for par. When posting a potential historically low score, the difference is very fine. Bradley will have to settle for the course record instead and a leg up on winning his second Nelson title. (Bradley won the 2011 Nelson for his first PGA Tour title.)
Over the course of the afternoon, Bradley made nearly 100 feet of putts with that belly putter of his anchored to his body. In three years, however, it's likely that won't be the flatstick Bradley wields -- that is, if the game's governing bodies decide to go through with a proposed ban on the anchored stroke. A tweet from PGA Tour veteran Joe Ogilvie suggests May 21 may be the day of reckoning, when the USGA and R&A share their final verdict on anchoring.
Despite staunch personal opposition to the anchored stroke and abnormally long putters, days like this are exciting. They're great for the game because they get people talking outside of golf's friendly confines. A 59 is special -- every sports fan knows that. While I may think that anchoring gives a player a distinct advantage over those who use a traditional stroke, that lament can be thrown out the window when a guy like Bradley has the round he does. It would have been great for him to shoot 59 or 58.
Instead, he ties good buddy and Tuesday gambling partner Phil Mickelson for the round of the year on the PGA Tour. Mickelson shot 11-under 60 in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
On that Thursday, Mickelson, too, had an opportunity to shoot 59. His putt at the last hole went halfway down into the ground before popping out to deny him the magical number on his scorecard. Mickelson also used an unconventional putting stroke at TPC Scottsdale. At the time, Mickelson used a variation on the "claw" putting grip. (He abandoned it the next month at the Shell Houston Open.)
The left-hander picked up his 41st PGA Tour win that week, taking the title at 28 under par.
Both rounds, Keegan's and Phil's, made me giddy as a golf fan, someone who plays the game and dreams of shooting a round even within five strokes of what they each did. In both cases, I knew full well that the putting stroke they were using wasn't normal -- and, in Bradley's case, likely to be written out of the Rules of Golf.
My excitement as a fan, however, proved to be more powerful than my traditionalist views on what should be an acceptable way to putt. Perhaps that is the litmus test on whether or not allowing unconventional putting strokes is good for the game: cheering on someone who is chasing history, regardless of the equipment and form they use catch it.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.
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