How Keegan Bradley Can Become a Dominant Player in 2013

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

How Keegan Bradley Can Become a Dominant Player in 2013

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    A profoundly unimpressive performance at the Farmers Insurance Open last week notwithstanding (70-77, to miss the cut), Keegan Bradley can become a dominant player in 2013 and capitalize on the promise he has displayed so far in his career.

    Bradley, presently ranked 13th in the Official World Golf Rankings, was a dynamic element of the United States’ Ryder Cup team at Medinah last year. He followed an impressive 3-1-0 record at the event with four top 10s in the Silly Season, err, end of season events.

    Bradley, of course, achieved his breakout win at the 2011 PGA Championship, toppling a sputtering Jason Dufner in a playoff. Awarded Rookie of the Year accolades, it seemed he would build on the successes of his inaugural PGA Tour campaign.

    2012, for the St. John’s alumnus, was a solid year, but not a quantum leap forward.

    He made the cut in all four majors, played well in the Ryder Cup and made 21 of 25 cuts on the PGA Tour. Although he didn’t win a second major, he did win in gritty and determined fashion at the WCG-Bridgestone Invitational.

    Perhaps more importantly, he made the aforementioned 21 of 25 cuts, an improvement over the 18 of 28 mark in that same category in 2011. This suggests more consistent play, which is critical to the development of a young golfer.

    Assuming Bradley will continue to improve, here are some things the Vermont native can do to become a force on the PGA Tour in 2013.

Play with Ryder Cup Passion

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    Bradley’s play in his Ryder Cup debut was spectacular.

    Posting a 3-1-0 mark, the golfer was particularly dynamic when paired with Phil Mickelson, a nine-time veteran of the event and seasoned anchor to the younger man’s jumpy exuberance.

    His crazy-eyed look of determination was one of the enduring images from the U.S.’ humiliating defeat. Bradley's celebrations, not so much excessive in their nature, but in their frequency, were memorable as well.

    Certainly, Bradley has displayed passion, intensity and a will to win weekly on the PGA Tour. He seized the opportunity at the WGC-Bridgestone as Jim Furyk faltered and poured in a 15-footer with determination and an exclamatory first pump.

    However, he is just as likely to look lost and fidgety on the course—the wild-eyed look turning to darting glances.

    In order to become a dominant player, Bradley must play with the confidence, conviction and intensity that he showed during the Ryder Cup—albeit without looking for a high-five after every shot.  

Keep Talking to Dr. Bob

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    It is unlikely that Keegan Bradley is as nervous as he often appears to be.

    However, he has worked with Dr. Bob Rotella in the past to manage his mental approach to the game.

    His ability to bounce back from a disastrous 15th hole with consecutive birdies at the Atlanta Athletic Club en route to his PGA Championship victory is believed by some to be evidence of the sports psychologist's present-centric, target-focused, positive philosophy taking root in the young golfer.

    Going forward, it will be important for Bradley to internalize Rotella’s message further and maintain a detached focus on the shot at hand if he is to play a more emotional and intense game.

    The apparent paradox highlights the difficulty of the enterprise, as well as why Rotella has worked with over 100 Tour golfers and why it would be wise for the former PGA Champion to continue working with the resident guru of the mental game.

Improve on Shorter Approach Shots

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    From select distances, Bradley’s numbers tell a dismal story.

    With his approaches from between 50 and 125 yards, Bradley is atrocious. He must improve on his performance from these distances.

    Additionally, from 125-150 yards, the Woodstock, Vermont native is only hitting the green 69.88% of the time (118th on tour). 

    Further evidence, below:

    Approaches from 50-75 yards 17' 1'' 129th
    Approaches from 75-100 yards 17' 8'' 104th
    Approaches from 100-125 yards 20' 10'' 130th


    From these distances, an elite player is expected to hit it close and have a good look at birdie, not take his two putts and head to the next hole.

    If Bradley is going to become a dominant force on tour, he needs to improve with his higher-numbered irons and wedges.

Improve Key Putting Statistics

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    Bradley made 61 three-putts in 90 rounds last year. If you’re following along at home, that is not very good.

    In fact, Bradley placed 169th out of 190 in three-putt avoidance last year.

    The players ahead of him in the Official World Golf Ranking three-putt at a significantly lower rate. For example: Steve Stricker (18th in the category ), Brandt Snedeker (24th) and Bubba Watson (50th).

    Additionally, he could stand to improve his putting from 15-25 feet. Bradley only holed about 15% of his putts from that distance last year, placing him in the bottom half of players on tour.

    Certainly, this would go a long way in improving his aforementioned less-than-stellar performance on par-fours, which average around 450 yards.

    Bradley averages about 300 yards off the tee. Given that he is hitting his irons to between 15 and 20 feet from the hole on the average par-four, holing a higher percentage of his putts (leaders in the category make upwards of 20%) would significantly improve his scores in general and par-four performance in particular.

    *All stats from PGATour.com and the PGA Tour Media Guide