Keegan Bradley, the 2025 U.S. Ryder Cup team and the start of something new

NEW YORK — The Google Meet call lasted an hour and a half but was decidedly wrapped within five minutes.

Now that Tiger Woods was officially bowing out — after months, if not years, of being the frontrunner — who would captain the 2025 U.S. Ryder Cup team at Bethpage Black?

A five-point loss at Marco Simone in Rome stained the U.S. team’s memory. European team captain Luke Donald had been reappointed in his role only eight weeks after the stomping. Suddenly, with Woods finally deciding that the captaincy was too much to handle on top of the PGA Tour-PIF negotiations, the Americans were tasked with ideating a backup plan. The clock ticked. Thirteen months remain until the 45th Ryder Cup.

Outgoing PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, PGA of America president John Lindert, vice president Don Rea and U.S. team manager John Wood sat down for a video call during the Travelers Championship last month to decide on the next U.S. captain.

The leftover candidates all stemmed from the Ryder Cup “task force” pipeline — a system the U.S. team implemented in 2014 that shuffles PGA Tour players through assistant captain roles en route to the captaincy. The list, which included Ryder Cup stalwarts like Fred Couples, Stewart Cink and two-time captain Davis Love III, boasted unmatched experience in the biennial event. But none struck a chord in the way the Americans needed. After a crushing loss in Rome, the U.S. team had to think outside the box. Zach Johnson, who has been critiqued extensively for his poor leadership at Marco Simone, was not a candidate.

Woods’ decision to decline the 2025 captaincy opened the door for a “generational change,” according to a source directly involved in the decision, who was granted anonymity in order to speak freely. It was time for the Americans to “rip the Band-Aid off” and take a risk.

Waugh — days away from announcing he would be stepping down from his PGA role — was the first to raise Keegan Bradley’s name during the Ryder Cup Committee call, per the source. Based on a list of names compiled by Waugh, the group sifted through possibilities. Some were expected, others seemingly came out of left field. A name was floated who had never played in a Ryder Cup.

But only one individual prompted a 10-second pause from all six people in the meeting: Bradley.

“When we landed on Keegan, everyone’s ears perked up and we were like, yeah, this is the guy,” said Wood, who has caddied in six Ryder Cups. “It was a pretty expansive list. We didn’t want to leave anyone out, certainly. When we got to Keegan, it was a unanimous, quick decision.”

Bradley had immense passion for the Ryder Cup, won a PGA Championship, played college golf at St. John’s University, and once practiced weekly at Bethpage Black with his teammates. Spieth quickly voiced his excitement. “There are some choices that don’t sound like a lot of fun,” the three-time major champion said, according to the same source. “Playing for Keegan sounds like fun.” Minutes later, the committee reached their final decision.

Bradley — a 38-year-old who was snubbed from the 2023 team and hasn’t played in the event since 2014 — was going to be the next Ryder Cup captain.

He had no idea he was even in the running.

The U.S. Ryder Cup organization needed to change.

Initially, the Ryder Cup “task force” was created to facilitate a transformation in the U.S. structure, which had long-appointed captains based on career accomplishments. It built out a plan to introduce familiar faces to the U.S. team room and create continuity from event to event, including at the Presidents Cup. But each time a captain leaned on those who had been in the big chair before him instead of new voices as vice-captains, it created the same problem Woods and Phil Mickelson had been against a decade ago — leaders that were more familiar with the Champions Tour than the modern-day PGA Tour.

As Waugh told the group, according to the source, the task force “was done to change and now it’s become an agent of non-change.”

Johnson’s leadership during the 2023 Ryder Cup represented the problem to its core. He chose Love, Couples, Cink, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker as his vice-captains, creating a significant generational gap between players (average age of 30.33) and leadership (55.6). Then Johnson used his captain’s picks to select Spieth, Thomas and Rickie Fowler, players he was known to hang out with on the PGA Tour. Thomas had the worst season of his career and Spieth’s wife birthed their second child two weeks prior. Johnson still leaned on familiar pairings (like Thomas and Spieth), going against certain team members’ wishes but listening to others. The plan backfired, and Johnson was accused of favoritism and perpetuating a “boys club.” At least one former U.S. Ryder Cup team member said that he hopes that Bradley can provide a reset.

GettyImages 1701273712 scaled

A disastrous loss in Rome stained Zach Johnson’s reputation and created a conversation about change within the U.S. team. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

There wasn’t a crisis meeting after the team’s crushing loss in Rome, but there was a concerted effort to escape an “echo chamber of sameness.” The view from the Ryder Cup Committee was that the U.S. team needed to modernize, and Bradley’s captaincy would be the first big step in the right direction.

Woods’ decision to remove himself from the running made the move possible. Since turning down the opportunity to captain the 2023 squad in Rome, Woods has been slated to lead the U.S. squad at Bethpage Black. For months Woods communicated with the PGA of America, pushing back the deadline for his decision while he contemplated whether taking on the role was possible. When Woods takes on a task, he is known to give it 100 percent of his dedication. While serving as a player director on the PGA Tour Policy Board, helping to reunite the currently divided pro game, he couldn’t make that commitment to the Ryder Cup. Shortly after the U.S. Open, Woods officially turned down the captaincy.

“That does not mean I wouldn’t want to captain a team in the future. If and when I feel it is the right time, I will put my hat in the ring for this committee to decide,” Woods said in a statement.

There were signs of change before the 15-time major champion’s decision.

A brand new role, the U.S. team “manager,” was created and filled by Wood, the caddie-turned-NBC Sports analyst. Task force members were excluded from the conversations around the plan-B captain list. “I’m officially out of the loop now,” Love III said prior to Bradley’s official announcement. “I haven’t heard anything from anybody, not even Zach.” Phil Mickelson removed himself from the Ryder Cup picture when he took on a ring-leader role in the rise of LIV Golf.

There were a variety of factors that led the group to Bradley. But Woods stepping away allowed for something dramatic.

As a Golf Channel broadcast countdown commenced, Bradley sat next to the PGA of America president and the glistening Ryder Cup trophy at the Nasdaq building in Times Square. Eyes wide, he collected himself before answering questions about a job opportunity that he never interviewed for.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be more surprised by anything in my entire life,” Bradley said on Tuesday. “I had no idea. It took a while for it to sink in. I wasn’t fully comfortable with some of the people who were passed over. So that was a heavy thought and moment.”

Bradley was first alerted of the Ryder Cup Committee’s decision during a phone call on June 23, the Sunday evening after the final round of the Travelers Championship in Hartford, Conn. Waugh, Johnson and Lindert contacted the Vermont native and delivered the news.

Days prior, the group had mentioned Bradley in the conversation for Ryder Cup captain for the very first time. They waited until the tournament was complete to reveal their decision.

A year ago, Bradley was left off the U.S. Ryder Cup team. In a year, he’ll lead it and will be the youngest since Arnold Palmer in 1963. Several days went by before Bradley could officially accept the position. At first, he didn’t think he was deserving — and he still can’t quite explain why he was chosen.

“I don’t know, I’m still figuring that out,” Bradley said. “But I know that I can do this job.”

GettyImages 153028480 scaled

The U.S. Ryder Cup team will depend on Bradley’s enthusiasm for the event as part of his leadership strategy. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

Before signing off, Bradley spoke to Woods extensively about the responsibilities — he even called up the 82-time tour winner the morning of his press conference. He had frequent conversations with Waugh over three days. Bradley didn’t waver in his acceptance of the captaincy, but he needed some additional support. He reminded himself that he wasn’t just selected by board members in suits. He was picked by two of his peers: Thomas and Spieth.

“As a player myself, the opinions of the players are the most important,” Bradley said. “That’s what meant the most to me.”

Bradley’s close alignment with his team members will mark a refresh in U.S. Ryder Cup leadership strategy. On Tuesday, the six-time PGA Tour winner expressed his desire to appoint younger vice-captains. He was honest in saying that he’ll still work to qualify for the team via the Ryder Cup points list (the top six players in the standings make the team currently, though as captain he indicated he may want to add more automatic qualifiers). He denounced any biases against LIV players in his future selections.

“I’m going to have the 12 best players on the team,” Bradley said. “I don’t care where they play… I’m not worried about the LIV stuff.”

Youth. Analytics. A personal connection to Bethpage Black. Bradley might have been a shocking choice for the Ryder Cup captaincy, but he wasn’t a nonsensical one.

He has become the latest avatar for change, and the U.S. team is staking its reputation — and its pursuit of the Ryder Cup trophy — on his success.

(Top photo: Seth Wenig / AP)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top