1 ominous truth about Keegan Bradley as Ryder Cup captain

Keegan Bradley

Keegan Bradley is the new American Ryder Cup captain, but one aspect of the job will be particularly tricky for him.

Getty Images

If we are to take people at their word — yes, a somewhat foolish approach these days — then we are to believe that Tiger Woods strongly considered taking the job of American Ryder Cup captain. We are also to believe that Stewart Cink was ready for the gig, too, hoping to be chosen as recently as Monday afternoon. We are to believe that there was plenty of internal discussion for the PGA of America (and its recently departed CEO Seth Waugh) about the commitments and the demands laid upon next year’s American leader. 

Perhaps that is why we’re all stunned by the selection of 38-year-old Keegan Bradley. We never really considered a captain so…young. And so busy. 

There’s no way around the shock of it. Bradley called it the most surprising call he’ll ever receive, two Sundays ago on his way home from the Travelers Championship. But he knows exactly what you know — that he merits an opportunity at some point, given his career achievements and passion for the event, but that right now it’s a curious one. Namely because he has zero experience as a vice captain, often a prerequisite for learning the role. Players are conditioned for decades to compete exclusively as individuals — but are suddenly asked to lead, taught how pairing decisions get made, dive into the intricacies of course setup, asked to manage itineraries and minor controversies (and also how to deliver peanut putter sandwiches to hungry players). The last time Bradley posed for Ryder Cup team photos, his hair was fuller, darker and longer. It was 10 years ago. But that might be exactly the point behind his appointment. He’s the freshest of faces for a team that might need it. 

The American Ryder Cup Committee has laid out the expectations that every captain fills the role of vice captain at the following Cup. So Bradley’s involvement isn’t finished with Bethpage. He’ll be assisting the squad at Adare Manor in three years, too. In other words, there’s your playing career and then there’s your captaining career. They’re different and they overlap, but only in the most ceremonial way. But Bradley’s playing career doesn’t seem close to finished.

His last few seasons have seen some of the best golf of his life. So good that Bradley won in late 2022 and then again in the summer of ’23. Good enough for two second-place finishes here in ’24. All of it so good that he nearly qualified for Team USA nine months ago, and merits consideration for the Presidents Cup a few months from now. The man always starts his playing calendar in Hawaii, then most of the West Coast swing, three events in Florida and rarely puts the clubs away for more than a week. Add it all up and he’s likely to spend 25 of his next 60 weeks competing for himself. He sees that as an asset for team-building. A more pessimistic view would call it distracting.

The ominous truth hanging over Bradley’s next 15 months is simple: time. He was introduced Tuesday and is making an initial site-visit to Bethpage Wednesday. Just in time to fly across the Atlantic for next week’s Open Championship. Were the demands of a captain any less, Tiger Woods would have comfortably accepted the job months ago. But Woods has a lot going on, between being a father and trying to be a competitive golfer and also leading the PGA Tour membership as the head of its various policy boards. Woods waffled on the captaincy and all it requires — the Bethpage visits, the meetings with PGA of America brass, the prep for public speaking engagements, the endless questions from the media, the photos in Ralph Lauren gear, etc. Next week, when Woods is asked why he declined, he won’t share a specific detail that took him out of the running. Likely because it’s the whole lot. 

This week at the Scottish Open, Ryder Cup Europe is already hosting a team gathering, a reminder that the captaincy is a two-year ordeal (and that Team USA is already about five months behind). A long list of potential teammates will be invited to the soirée, a reminder of just how many difficult phone calls captains eventually have to make, letting their peers down. Europe has the Hero Cup in January, too, where all those potential teammates are invited to compete against and alongside each other, hoping to prove their mettle in team golf. The Americans — 12 Americans, that is — have the Presidents Cup, but will Bradley be involved there?

That would be the next step, surely — Bradley earning one of the final two vice captain roles on Jim Furyk’s coaching staff. It would be another major commitment he wasn’t planning on one month ago, when he picked up the phone. Which brings us to a scenario where Bradley would have even less time in a captain-like role: what if he qualifies as a player?

The author welcomes your comments, concerns, ideas and any other notes at sean.zak@golf.com.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

Watch, play, win. Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games.

Watch, play, win

Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games. Featuring simple to play. easy to learn, and fun games. Chirp Golf has something for every golf fan.

Scan to Download:

Google Play Apple Store