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11D AGO

Behind the phone call that changed it all for Keegan Bradley

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His appointment as Ryder Cup captain was a surprise even to the man himself



    Written by Michael LoRé

    Keegan Bradley finally had a chance to relax. Three consecutive weeks on the road had culminated with a three-hour drive home with his two kids, ages 3 and 6.

    Bradley promptly plopped into his chair when he arrived home from the Travelers Championship. It was Sunday evening. The kids were asleep and Bradley was looking forward to a three-week break from the rigors of the PGA TOUR. Then his phone rang.

    On the other end of the line was outgoing PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, PGA of America president John Lindert and 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson, Bradley’s friend and idol.

    It was Johnson who had to inform Bradley last year that he had been left off the 12-man U.S. Ryder Cup Team despite ranking 11th in points. The scene was one of the most heartwrenching moments in the second season of the Netflix docuseries “Full Swing.”

    This time, though, Johnson had different news to share: Bradley had been named the captain of the 2025 U.S. Ryder Cup team. It was a surprise even to Bradley, who hadn’t talked to anyone about the role before receiving that call.

    “I didn’t have one conversation with anybody about this until I was told I was the captain,” Bradley said Tuesday from NASDAQ headquarters, where he was publicly introduced as the next captain. He said he was “in complete shock” during the call, that he was a bit uncomfortable accepting the role ahead of older players who seemed more deserving.

    “I don’t think I’ll ever have a bigger surprise in my life,” he said.

    To assuage Bradley’s concerns, Waugh delivered a direct response that made a once difficult decision easier to make.

    “Your number was called,” Waugh said, according to Bradley. “It’s time for you to step up.”

    Bradley was needed. He was the man for the job. After a dispiriting loss last year in Rome, where a dominant European team halted any momentum the U.S. may have been carrying over from its record-setting victory at Whistling Straits in 2021, the PGA needed to take a chance on an unexpected candidate.

    “When he told me that, it sort of hit me that it’s a heavy job and this is a group of people who trusted me,” Bradley said, “so it’s time to step up to the plate and be the captain of this team.”

    Bradley’s appointment as 2025 U.S. Ryder Cup captain has raised as many questions as his omission from the 2023 team, if not more. Bradley, who will be 39 next year at Bethpage Black, will be the youngest Ryder Cup captain since 34-year-old Arnold Palmer was a playing captain in 1963.

    His European counterpart will be Luke Donald, who will be captaining his team for a second consecutive Cup after leading it to victory in Rome. Donald is just eight years older than Bradley.

    A six-time PGA TOUR winner, Bradley has played in two Ryder Cups (2012, 2014) and one Presidents Cup (2013). His status as a past winner of the PGA Championship definitely helped his candidacy, as did his outspoken passion for the Ryder Cup. But he had never served as a vice captain in either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. The task force that was formed after the United States’ 2014 loss in Scotland emphasized continuity in the coaching ranks, but Bradley breaks that precedent.

    Bradley also has local ties to next year’s Ryder Cup venue as an alumnus of nearby St. John’s University. He played Bethpage Black in college, sneaking onto the course with his teammates when it was closed on Mondays (with the permission of superintendent Craig Currier).

    “We had a couple of phone calls and talked about a variety of different attributes we wanted in our next captain,” Lindert said. “As you start to check off the boxes, you have a PGA champion, somebody who went to school here (St. John’s University), is familiar with the New York fan base, is very familiar with Bethpage Black, is the son of a PGA member — there were a lot of boxes Keegan checked off.

    “His enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup stood out above anything else. We just felt like that was the aha moment. When Keegan’s name was mentioned, all hands went up and we were 100% behind it.”

    Tiger Woods, who won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, was long anticipated to lead the U.S. Team next year. He had been in discussions with the PGA of America about the position, but ultimately determined he wouldn’t be able to give the role his full attention due to his increased responsibilities as a member of the PGA TOUR Policy Board and PGA TOUR Enterprises Board of Directors, among other factors.

    With Woods out of consideration, the PGA of America moved swiftly through other potential candidates. The organization wanted to name a captain prior to the event’s one-year mark in late September. Less than three weeks ago, the decision was made to select Bradley. He received the phone call days later.

    While it’s still too early to solidify his team, that doesn’t mean Bradley isn’t doing his homework. He received more than 300 text messages after the news of his appointment broke Monday. Several past Ryder Cup captains were among the senders, offering support to the newest member of their fraternity. He is purposely waiting to respond appropriately to each and plans to seek advice from as many former captains as he can.

    The PGA of America broke its mold by picking Bradley, sending the message that it wanted a disruptor to fill the role. Bradley will gladly play that role, taking a look at vice captains and the selection process. On Tuesday, he expressed a preference for younger vice captains and more automatic qualifying spots for the team. Bradley is still a world-class player – he’s ranked 19th in the world and coming off a two-win season – and that will allow him to forge a closer bond to his team.

    “I’m going to be out there with the guys,” he said. “I’m going to be playing in the same tournaments they’re going to be playing in. I'm going to be playing in majors with them. Week to week I'll be alongside these guys in the locker room, practice rounds and dinners as opposed to in the past with the Ryder Cup, they have to fly in and schedule all of these things. I’m going to have a year of being with the guys as a peer.”

    Bradley has previously stated he thinks about the Ryder Cup “every second of every day.” Now his participation next year is guaranteed (Bradley also said he would also play in the event if he qualified on points). He won’t have to endure the same heartbreak he experienced in 2023, but he’ll also be responsible for so much more than getting the ball in the hole.

    “I was crushed. It took us a while to get over that,” Bradley said. “Now sitting here as the captain, I kind of have a different perspective of what (Zach Johnson) was going through. I’ve only been captain for two weeks and I already find myself staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. thinking about every single situation.”

    Bradley’s road to the 2025 Ryder Cup begins now.

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