IRVING, Texas — Standing on the 16th tee and tied for the lead Sunday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Keegan Bradley heard the swell of the gallery and realized the cheers were for him.
"I felt like Phil," he said.
Playing in pairings with Phil Mickelson, Bradley often wondered what it would be like to hear the fans behind you, adoring, urging. He's heard worse. Fans and sportswriters over the last six months have occasionally called him a "cheater" for using a belly-putter, a legal piece of equipment for 30 years that has suddenly become the hottest and most divisive topic in golf, shoving Bradley to the forefront of the controversy in the process.
Today, he'll find out if his detractors are right.
The U.S. Golf Association will announce a ruling on whether it will ban "anchor" putting, the practice of anchoring belly putters against the body. The USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club have already gone on record supporting a ban. The European Tour and LPGA, too. Even Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer are on board.
Who's not: The PGA of America and the PGA Tour, at least not until Tuesday.
After the USGA and R&A made their feelings known last winter, Tim Finchem, Tour commissioner, consulted the Player Advisory Council. He subsequently came to the conclusion that a ban wasn't "in the best interest of the Tour."
Finchem hasn't said what he'll do if the USGA rules against the practice. But, really, what can he do? Ignore his sport's highest powers? It'd be like your parish thumbing its nose at the Vatican.
If you haven't been following this controversy, and you rightly wonder, if belly putters have been legal for 30 years and no one's made a significant argument, why the fuss now?
Here's why: Four of the last six majors have been won by players anchoring putters.
Any time a trend develops that seems to favor one group over another, it makes everyone in power suspicious.
Belly putters were once the province of players who had lost their nerves. They were usually seniors or those close enough to consider it, thus considered minor threats on the Tour. Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples are typical examples.
But now there are more younger players switching over. Some have never used any other style. Guan Tianlang does it, and he's 14.
Bradley made anchor-putting a front-burner issue when he became the first to do it and win a major, the 2011 PGA Championship. Over the next couple of years, as media and even some players became openly critical, fans responded in kind.
In February, after Bradley spoke publicly about being heckled as a "cheater" at a tournament, the USGA felt compelled to issue a statement in his defense. The statement called the incident "deplorable" and reminded everyone that anchor putting is entirely within the rules, and will remain so until further notice.
"There should not be a shred of criticism of such players or any qualifications or doubt about their achievements," the statement continued, "and we think that it is inappropriate even to suggest anything to the controversy."
Of course, the USGA isn't policing galleries or pressrooms. Players and writers and fans will say or type or scream what they please.
Meanwhile, players like Bradley have been caught in the middle. He hasn't decided what he'll do if the USGA comes out against it. If the Tour falls in line, the ruling wouldn't go into effect until 2016. But if you think heckling was a problem before the USGA made its stance official, think of the colorful comments afterward.
The anchor putters will surely lose this fight, and there's nothing wrong with that. The USGA has acted honorably, if slowly, on the issue. The players, including Adam Scott and Webb Simpson, will simply have to adjust. Ernie Els, who won the British Open using the style, retired his belly putter after the Masters in anticipation of the ruling. The rest should follow suit.
But until the time comes, best for everyone to lighten up a little. Golf is hard enough when you're hearing the voices in your own head, much less the chatter from outside.
As for Bradley, he said the noise has actually died down the last couple of months, the last week in particular. Standing on the 16th Sunday, he never felt so loved.
As it turned out, it wasn't enough. He would miss a 4-foot putt for birdie, probably costing him the tournament. Anchor putting didn't seem to help him then. Guess it made someone feel better.