By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- Spitting in sports has been around as long as chewing tobacco, pressure situations, big money and nervous individuals.
But rarely in golf has a player run more quickly afoul of the etiquette police than did Keegan Bradley last weekend in Los Angeles.
Playing in the marquee pairing at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, the promising second-year pro was nervously unleashing a steady stream of spittle and taking several awkward moments to hit shots as he eventually lost in a three-man playoff with Phil Mickelson and winner Bill Haas.
In contention down the stretch, the network cameras focused several times on Bradley's face with tight shots as he reeled off a string of fidgety, rapid-fire spit. This being his 14th month on the PGA Tour, his mind was otherwise occupied with trying to beat seasoned pros like Lefty and Haas.
Almost immediately, his Twitter account went into overload as fans, and even a network broadcaster from the U.K., took him to task for both his unattractive spitting and dawdling, slow play.
"I am kind of glad I don’t have this week off, because Twitter can be brutal," he said Tuesday.
After watching the final-round replay on Sunday night, the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year issued an apology and reiterated Tuesday that the spitting was an unwitting habit he picked up at some point in recent months. He received his trophy for the top-rookie honors Tuesday at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where both his spitting and lengthy pre-shot routine were questioned, just like they were by viewers who sent him some pointed social-media missives.
"I got pounded pretty good," said Bradley, 25. "But that's how Twitter works."
The treatment seems a bit harsh, really. Bradley, already ranked 19th in the world, has played in exactly one major championship and is just getting his feet wet on the big tour. But at this level, he understands that he's expected to set an example.
Or, if he didn't know before, he knows it now.
"I feel bad," he said. "It's something I am going to work on and I ask everybody to kind of bear with me as I go through with this, because it's something I have done without even knowing it."
While he was reeling off the lung cheese in fast succession, the rapidity of his shots was another matter entirely. He was less apologetic about the pace-of-play issue, which seemed to rankle at least as many viewers. Down the stretch at Riviera, he repeatedly stepped toward the ball, then backed off shots, a move similar to that of J.B. Holmes, a notorious tour slowpoke when under the gun.
"It's about visualization, my way of staying not stagnant," Bradley said. "It is a little different. I will take a look at that again. But it's something that I've been doing and it's been working.
"Coming down the stretch, it does come up a little bit. But it doesn’t seem to affect my ability, which is the most important."
Since the start of his rookie season in 2011, which includes wins at Byron Nelson and PGA Championship, Bradley said he has never been put on the clock for slow play.
"I am very much into not hitting it until -- if I'm walking in and I have a bad thought, I'll come back out. I see a lot of players hit shots when they’re thinking, 'don’t hit this in the water, or, 'don't hook this over there.'
"I'm not going to go until I'm ready, until I know I'm going to hit a good shot."
The Great Expectorations blowback has, at least temporarily, obscured the Great Expectations of Bradley's short tenure on tour. He's already shot the low 72-hole score three times and has fast developed a hunger for the spotlight.
Unlike many who blink, the klieg lights didn't bother him at all. Playing alongside Mickelson at the storied 18th at Riviera, one of the great finishing holes in the sport, was something he described as "surreal."
In fact, it's exactly the unquantifiable "something" that separates prime-time players from their average Joe counterparts. Bradley can't wait to get back under competitive duress, which could very well happen this week.
You know how to tell that this kid is different? Most guys could not have mustered an ounce of spittle in that situation, much less a steady stream.
"To be part of history and to be in a Sunday [duel] with Phil or Tiger and hang in there is somethng I have always wondered if I could do," he said. "And I did it, which makes me feel very good."