- U.S. golfer Keegan Bradley attracts criticism for spitting on the golf course
- The 2011 PGA Championship winner apologizes and says he will try to change his ways
- His sponsors Cleveland Golf leap to his defense, saying they will stand by him
- Tiger Woods was fined by the European Tour last year for spitting
"It's a long-time habit I've got to try to conquer," admits rising star Keegan Bradley, as he confesses to breaking one of golf's biggest taboos.
He's not talking about overcoming a problem with drugs, gambling or alcohol, nor is the American going through a personal or professional crisis.
No, the 25-year-old, who won his first major title in 2011, has a big issue building up in the back of his throat.
"I'd like to apologize for my spitting," the PGA Championship winner wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter. "It's like a reflex; I don't even know I'm doing it."
In some cultures, expectoration is not uncommon. But on the golf course, it's a massive no-no and such behavior often sparks outrage.
Tiger Woods was fined for a similar transgression in a European Tour event in 2011, and golf coach and broadcaster Denis Pugh took exception to Bradley's repeated hocking during last weekend's Northern Trust Open.
The tension seemed to get to the 25-year-old, who spat repeatedly during his pre-shot routine while engaged in a three-man playoff eventually won by Bill Haas.
"Perhaps it's a cultural thing, OK to spit in USA? If so how did you let that happen America?" Pugh wrote on Twitter.
"In USA where&when is spitting not appropriate?Church? Dinner table? Ladies present? Full view of hd tv camera? There must be a time not 2do?"
Pugh orchestrated a campaign directed at one of Bradley's sponsors, equipment maker Cleveland Golf, who at first defended their player.
"We support Keegan whether he spits or not!" the company countered, before explaining that the player chews sunflower seeds "and they have to go somewhere." Then they got light-hearted about it: "We don't have the licensing agreement for his saliva!"
However, the public pressure told as Cleveland subsequently issued a statement on Facebook admitting that maybe Bradley had some improvements to make.
"We proudly stand by Keegan, as we have since he was on the Hooters Tour," the world No. 19's sponsor said.
"We know that he has a few quirks during his pre-shot routine, just like a lot of us, and he's working very hard to overcome the spitting. We look forward to seeing Keegan in a Cleveland visor for many years to come."
Pugh, who once coached former European No. 1 Colin Montgomerie, accepted the apologies and called Bradley "classy" for admitting his behavior was wrong.
"He's actually a good man, his coach & I are good pals," wrote Pugh, who now works with European Ryder Cup players Edoardo and Francesco Molinari of Italy.
After watching the conclusion to Sunday's tournament, Pugh tweeted: "Pro golf has some serious issues at moment and PGA Tour is turning a blind eye."
"(PGA Tour commissioner) Tim Fincham must do something about slow play and spitting."
But his was not a view shared by all golf lovers. Cleveland's Facebook post also attracted a host of comments supporting Bradley, with one saying: "Spitting is not a big deal. His pre-shot routine is quite quirky, but it works for him. He's won on Tour and will continue to win for quite some time."
Other users agreed. "Don't fix what's not broken, it works," read one comment, while another said, "He's a heck of a young player and conducts himself with grace."
Woods, arguably still golf's biggest star despite his fall from grace in the past two years, fell foul of the sport's disfavor for phlegm in February 2011 during a frustrating final day at the Dubai Desert Classic.
The 14-time major champion was fined for a breach of conduct after being spotted spitting on the 12th green.
"The Euro Tour is right," said Woods, who also used Twitter to express his regret 12 months ago. "It was inconsiderate to spit like that and I know better. Just wasn't thinking and want to say I'm sorry."