Bradley ‘surprised’ by call to captain Ryder team

Golf

The first time anyone from the PGA of America talked to Keegan Bradley about being the next U.S. Ryder Cup team captain was the night he was told he’d been selected to lead the team at Bethpage Black in New York in September 2025.

During a news conference Tuesday, Bradley said he had just driven home with his family from the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut, on June 23 when Zach Johnson, the previous Ryder Cup captain, and PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh called to tell him the news.

Bradley, who has never been a Ryder Cup vice captain, was as surprised as anyone.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be more surprised of anything in my entire life,” Bradley said. “I had no idea. It took a while for it to sink in. I wasn’t fully comfortable with some of the people that were passed over. I have a lot of respect for the people that came before me and people that deserve to be in this position, so that was a heavy thought and moment.”

Bradley is widely considered an outside-the-box choice for an American team that was reeling after an ugly 16½-11½ loss to the European team at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome last year.

At 38, Bradley will be the youngest U.S. captain since Arnold Palmer was a 34-year-old playing captain at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in 1963.

Bradley, a six-time PGA Tour winner, believes he’s still in the prime of his career and hopes to make the U.S. team on points. He said he wouldn’t use a captain’s choice to pick himself.

When Johnson and Waugh called Bradley, Waugh told him: “You know, your number was called, it’s time for you to step up.”

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

Coincidentally, it was Johnson who had to break the news to Bradley that he’d been left off the 2023 Ryder Cup team. Bradley had been a two-time winner on the PGA Tour last season and finished 11th in the Ryder Cup points standings.

Johnson didn’t use one of his captain’s picks on Bradley and chose Rickie Fowler and struggling Justin Thomas, who finished below Bradley in points. At the time, Bradley said he had always felt like an outsider in the sport and had tried to get closer to the golfers who would probably make the team.

Golf fans saw Bradley’s disappointment when Netflix’s “Full Swing” captured the moment when Johnson called to deliver the bad news. Then the golf reality show captured Bradley and his family cheering for the U.S. team about two months later.

“So, that moment was real,” Bradley said. “I was crushed. It took us a while to get over that — our whole family. We were devastated. But I’m American, I root for the Americans to win the Ryder Cup. I watch, whether I’m playing or whether I’m not. … I know what a tough decision Zach had. Picking the guys that he picked were great choices. I would have done the same.”

Bradley was chosen by the U.S. Ryder Cup committee only after 15-time major champion Tiger Woods declined to take on the role because of his busy schedule as a board member of the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Enterprises, which is continuing to negotiate a potential deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Bradley said he has spoken to Woods several times over the past two weeks.

“We, as players, we all look up to Tiger, and his opinion means a lot to us,” Bradley said. “Being in team rooms with Tiger, the public doesn’t realize how important this is to him. It’s everything. He lives and breathes this event. I think it shows you how much he cares by turning this position down, because he didn’t feel like he could put in what he needed to do with all of his responsibilities with what’s going on with the tour.”

In a statement released by the PGA of America on Tuesday, Woods said: “With my new responsibilities to the tour and time commitments involved, I felt I would not be able to commit the time to Team USA and the players required as a captain. That does not mean I wouldn’t want to captain a team in the future. If/when I feel it is the right time, I will put my hat in the ring for this committee to decide.”

Other potential candidates for the captain’s role included Stewart Cink, Webb Simpson, Fred Couples and Davis Love III. Phil Mickelson would have seemed like a natural choice until he helped recruit players to the rival LIV Golf League and was suspended by the PGA Tour.

Bradley and Mickelson were past partners in the Ryder Cup — they were 3-0 in Bradley’s first Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club in 2012. But Bradley doesn’t envision the six-time major champion being one of his vice captains.

“I still have a great relationship with Phil,” Bradley said. “I don’t think he’s interested in being a vice captain, to be honest with you. He’s a captain someday, I think. But I haven’t spoken to Phil. I don’t want to speak for him at all, but I think he’s pretty busy with what he’s doing. I have nothing but great things to say about Phil and our memories together, and what we did at the Ryder Cup is really my fondest memories in the game.”

Bradley said he wouldn’t hesitate to use a captain’s pick on a player from the LIV Golf League. Brooks Koepka was the only one from the rival circuit who competed for the U.S. in Rome.

“I’m going to have the 12 best players on the team,” Bradley said. “I don’t care where they play. We have a mission to win this tournament. I’m not worried about the LIV stuff. I want the best players on the team. By the time we get to Bethpage in 2025, we have no clue how the layout of the golf world’s going to be.”

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