Keegan Bradley started working with a sports psychologist the week before the PGA Championship, put an old putter back in his golf bag ahead of last week’s Memorial and decided at the last minute to play this week’s RBC Canadian Open.
Wise choices, it seems.
Bradley missed just one green and two fairways in regulation en route to a bogey-free, 7-under-par 63 Thursday to grab the lead at Hamilton Golf & Country Club in Hamilton, Ontario.
“Today was one of the best of the year, if not the best,” said Bradley, who decided to shake things up to try and turn his year around. He has just one top-10 finish in 14 starts this season and missed the cut last week in the Memorial.
“I knew if I could just put myself in the fairway, which I did today, I was having short irons in,” Bradley said. “I’m pretty dialed in right now, so I was able to really get the ball close and then hole those putts. It’s just fun. A lot more fun doing that.”
In a group at 64 were Shane Lowry, Sungjae Im, Erik van Rooyen, Nick Taylor and Roberto Castro. At 65 were Scott Brown, Sebastian Munoz, Matt Kuchar, Danny Lee, Jimmy Walker, Russell Henley, Graeme McDowell and Adam Hadwin. Taylor and Hadwin are in position to become the first Canadian to win the national championship in 65 years.
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“There might have been a little bit more nerves,” Hadwin said. “I didn’t sleep as well as I may have liked to last night. Just kind of thinking things about the week, picturing walking up 18 with a lead on Sunday.
“Maybe a little too early to think about that, but it happened. But off to a good start. Been playing really good golf. Just a matter of staying patient and keep hitting greens and make a few putts.”
Defending champion Dustin Johnson made six bogeys and had to rally for a 71. Brooks Koepka, playing for the first time since winning the PGA Championship — his fourth major in eight starts — shot even-par 70.
Bradley was even-par through his first six holes before his putter started cooperating and he birdied five consecutive holes. The 2011 PGA champion went back to his red Odyssey Double Wide Armlock putter last week — the one he used to win the 2018 BMW Championship, his first victory in six years.
“All those pars could have been birdies, too,” Bradley said of his first six holes. “I was hitting a lot of good shots and had a couple brutal lip-outs. I kept telling my caddie that I needed to stick with it and not try to force the putts in, and sure enough, they all started falling.
“With me it’s all about the putter. When that thing gets going I can do stuff like I did today.”
He didn’t much enjoy his stay in Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial, where he missed the cut by three. But after consulting with his team, which now includes sports psychologist Mo Pickens, who also works with Zach Johnson, Bradley headed north of the border.
“I added it because I’m looking to maybe get a little something going,” Bradley said. “I’m thankful that I did, but I want to keep going. Hasn’t been quite the year I wanted, but that can change real quick.”