American Keegan Bradley experienced a bitter-sweet third round at the World Challenge on Saturday when he was heckled for the first time in his career while charging into contention.
Winner of last year’s PGA Championship, belly putter-user Bradley has been among several players under the spotlight since Wednesday’s proposal by golf’s rulemakers for a ban on putters being anchored to the body.
Though that ban would not come into effect until 2016 at the earliest, Bradley was criticised this week on Twitter before finally experiencing his first taste of heckling at Sherwood Country Club.
“I had some guy here call me a cheater on the last hole, which was no fun,” Bradley told reporters after firing a five-under-par 67 to end a day of intermittent drizzle two shots behind pacesetting Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.
“But I look forward to hopefully making everything tomorrow with that belly putter and hopefully it [the criticism] will get a little louder.
“I never have [been heckled before]. I’ve never heard anything negative. Today I heard a few things but I also heard way more positives than negatives.”
Asked if he had responded to the fan on the 18th hole, Bradley replied: “No. You know, that’s unfortunate. It’s very disrespectful.
“But it’s fine with me. I’ve got to try to look at it as motivation to help me try to win this tournament.”
Bradley became the first player to win a major using a belly putter with his play-off victory over compatriot Jason Dufner at last year’s PGA Championship.
The heckling was slammed by the United States Golf Association (USGA) as an “unfounded criticism from an obviously uneducated spectator”.
In a statement issued before the final round in California, the USGA said: “This is a deplorable incident, and there is no place in our game for this kind of behaviour.
“As we noted when announcing proposed Rule 14-1b, it has been and remains entirely within the rules of golf for players to anchor the club while making a stroke.
“There should not be a shred of criticism of such players or any qualification or doubt about their achievements, and we think that it is inappropriate even to suggest anything to the contrary.
“We are sorry that Keegan had to experience this unfounded criticism from an obviously uneducated spectator.
“Instead, Keegan and other PGA Tour professionals should be commended for their maturity and grace in managing through a proposed change to the rules of golf.”
McDowell, who, despite several close calls, has endured a barren title run worldwide since his play-off win in the World Challenge in 2010, fired a flawless four-under-par 68 to post a 13-under total of 203.B