Keegan Bradley’s stunning Ryder Cup captaincy? Here’s who engineered it

Keegan Bradley of the United States walks on the third hole during the first round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands

Keegan Bradley at the Travelers Championship last month.

getty images

NEW YORK — In recent weeks, as it became increasingly more apparent that Tiger Woods had already or was about to decline a longstanding offer to captain the 2025 U.S. Ryder Cup team, whispers of other potential candidates grew louder. Depending upon where you procured your golf news (or gossip), Stewart Cink, 51, a five-time Ryder Cupper and vice-captain at last year’s matches in Rome seemed to be the frontrunner. But there also were murmurs of possible repeat performances from Steve Stricker, 57, who helmed the U.S. squad to a convincing victory at Whistling Straits in 2021, or Davis Love III, 60, who is deep in the PGA of America’s circle of trust as a former PGA Championship winner, six-time Ryder Cup player, two-time Ryder Cup captain and one-time vice-captain alongside Stricker in 2023.

As for Keegan Bradley, who hasn’t played on a Ryder Cup team in a decade? No one — and we mean no one — saw Bradley coming.

And yet there he was just moments before noon on Tuesday on the second floor of a shiny Times Square office building, readying to be ushered in as the American skipper who will lead a team of 12 players against their European counterparts at rowdy Bethpage Black in just over 14 months. Surrounded by robotic cameras and seated beneath an armada of hot white lights in the techy Nasdaq headquarters, Bradley looked the part in his white USA cap, matching shirt and black-and-red Air Jordan high-tops. To his right was PGA of America president John Lindert and between them was the handsome gold showpiece that Bradley and his squad will be desperately trying to wrest back from Europe.

Filling out the 100 or so other seats in the studio were a mix of PGA officials, media, Bradley’s parents and five members and the coach of Bradley’s former golf team at St. John’s University in Queens. Call it a home crowd, though nothing like the crush of beer-fueled support Bradley will enjoy on New York State’s most fabled municipal course, the same track where Bradley and his college pals would while away winter afternoons when their other go-to practice spots were closed for the season.

As the crowd waited for the press conference to begin, a familiar and fitting tune filled the air: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” With time to kill and no one seemingly knowing what to say or do, someone in the front row cracked a joke loudly enough for Bradley to hear.

“Keegs, last chance right now.”

As in, last chance to reconsider the heavy responsibility he was about to officially accept in front of the golf world.

Not missing a beat, Bradley smiled and said, “It’s too late now.”

BRADLEY IS SURELY RIGHT about that. But how he arrived at this surprising moment is still a story worth examining. Just over 10 months ago, Bradley was an emotional wreck in the wake of news from then-U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson that Bradley’s two wins to that point in 2023 had not been enough to earn him a captain’s pick on Johnson’s team bound for Rome — a drama captured in vivid detail by Netflix’s documentarians. Bradley, then 37, surely was thinking one of his last best chances for Ryder Cup glory had just evaporated. Maybe he could claw his way on to the team in 2025. But captaining that squad? That notion would have been laughable to him.  

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“I don’t think I’ll ever be more surprised of anything in my entire life,” Bradley said Tuesday of his job offer. “I had no idea.”

As recently as month ago, no one had any idea, not just about Bradley’s forthcoming appointment but about any other potential candidates. That’s because Tiger Woods had spent months agonizing over whether he would accept the captaincy. According to a source close to the decision-making process, Woods didn’t make a final decision until after the PGA Championship in May. “It got to a point where he realized that he had too much going on,” the source said. “He was sort of struggling with balancing everything.” Among those duties: his seat on the PGA Tour’s policy board; his investment in the TGL virtual golf league, which is scheduled to launch early next year; and trying to remain sharp and healthy enough to compete every couple of months — all while parenting two teenage children.  

The source said Woods ultimately told then-PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh that passing on the captaincy was likely best not only for Woods but also for the team. Woods and Waugh were “both really stressed about it,” the source said.

With Woods out of the picture, the U.S. Ryder Cup Committee — which consists of Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, plus three PGA of America executives, including Waugh, who stepped down as CEO at the end of last month — had work to do. And quickly. According to the source, the commitee convened and batted around “some obvious choices.” But Waugh, in particular, was resistant to going down a predictable path, given the raison d’etre of the Ryder Cup Task Force, which was formed in 2014 after the U.S. team’s implosion in Scotland, was to think differently about how teams are assembled and managed. Waugh, the source said, felt it was time for “generational kind of change.”

The CEO compiled a list of potential captains that included the likes of former Ryder Cuppers and vice-captains Fred Couples, Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink but also current Tour players like Webb Simpson and Rickie Fowler and even Kevin Kisner, who has never played in a Ryder Cup but would likely be a popular team-room guy. But, according to the source, it was another name on the list that Waugh felt most bullish about and who immediately grabbed the committee’s attention: Bradley’s.  

“Everyone paused for 10 seconds and kind of said, ‘Oh crap, I probably never would have thought of him, but what an amazing choice,’” the source said.

On some levels, Bradley, in fact, makes little sense as a captain. For one, he lacks experience; he has played in only two Ryder Cups and never on a winning side. He also has described himself as a Tour “outsider,” which does not sound like an ideal quality for a leader charged with bringing a team together (see Tom Watson, 2014). But on other levels — which resonated with the committee — Bradley is an optimal candidate. His zeal for the Ryder Cup is well chronicled. (“I just hope, some day, I get to win a Ryder Cup and open that thing and just have a peace-of-mind moment, because I’m thinking about the Ryder Cup every second of every day,” he said on Full Swing.) He attended college in New York City and has played Bethpage Black more times than he can count. He’s also closer in age to his players than any previous captains, which could help him better vibe with them. The committee needed little convincing. “An hour-and-a-half meeting ended in five minutes,” the source said.

Bradley himself, though, did require some encouragement — not because he didn’t want the job but because he didn’t feel worthy of it and, as he said Tuesday, he “wasn’t fully comfortable with some of the people that were passed over.” The committee made its decision on June 18, the Wednesday of Travelers Championship week. On Sunday of that week, Waugh, Johnson and Lindert, the PGA of America president, called Bradley with the offer.  

For a moment or two, Bradley couldn’t speak, so deep was his shock. “I felt funny after the call because I don’t think I reacted in the way that they were expecting me to,” Bradley said. He needed time to mull. Waugh offered counsel on a separate call. (“Your number was called, it’s time for you to step up.”) So, too, did Woods. “Keegan needed time to get his head around the enormity of the decision especially given his natural humility,” the source said. “These conversations were all done in strict secrecy as no one wanted anyone to think Keegan was waffling but only being humble.”

After two or three days of soul-searching, Bradley had come around to the idea: He was in.

WHAT KIND OF CAPTAIN will Bradley be? It’s far too early to know, of course, but he did offer some hints Tuesday. He will lean on analytics; he will not be shy about using captain’s picks on worthy LIV players; he likely will choose younger vice-captains who are still active on Tour; he will welcome as much or as little participation from Tiger Woods as Woods cares to offer; he will seek out wisdom from his elders. Bradley said he already has received text messages of support from former captains Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and Curtis Strange. “I plan to call every U.S. captain and kind of pick their brain on what they thought they did right and what they thought they did wrong, whether they won or lost,” Bradley said.

Above all, though, Bradley is likely to focus on fostering team camaraderie and instilling in his squad the same wild-eyed intensity he brought to the U.S. teams in 2012 and ’14 — a hunger to win that has been in him since his junior-golf days. “He was just so self-driven,” his mother, Kaye, said Tuesday. “People would kind of jokingly accuse us of pushing Keegan. We never did. We just gave him the playing field. He did work at a golf course, but we never had him get another type of job because he wanted to practice. We just said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, you can do that.’ And he did. He just took the bull by the horns.”

That bull has led him to a starring role at St. John’s; six PGA Tour titles, including the 2011 PGA Championship; and a cushy life with his wife Jillian and two young sons in Jupiter Island, Fla., where he’s been known to play money games with Michael Jordan. “Keegan loves to surround himself with sensational people,” Frank Darby, Bradley’s former college coach, said Tuesday. “Jordan’s going to be in his ear. Tom Brady is going to want to probably be in his ear as well. I’m not saying they’re going to be captains, but it’ll be interesting to see who he gets around him. They will be knowledgeable people, and I think they’ll be a big part of what he’s going to try to accomplish here.”

Also in Bradley’s South Florida crew is Luke Donald, whose helming of the victorious European team in Rome last year was so revered that he was asked back for 2025. Was Bradley paying attention to the tactics of his friend and fellow Bear’s Club member? It’s quite possible, Darby said, noting, “I think you’re going to see from Keegan something along the lines of what Luke did at the last Ryder Cup.”

Bradley said he won’t expend a captain’s pick on himself; he’ll only play on the team, he said, if he earns his way there with points. That’s not unthinkable, but at 24th in the rankings he has a long way to go to auto-qualify, and the burden of his captaining duties are unlikely to help his form. Bradley knows it, and he also knows the importance of conveying that reality to his peers.    

“I had this thought in my head that I was going to play in Ryder Cups my whole career,” he said Tuesday. “So my message to the guys is always make sure you treat this like it could be your last one, treat this match, treat this point as if this is your last point, because it’s that important. You never know when your next shot is going to be to be in this room. Try to win this trophy.”

For their country, for themselves and, yes, for their captain.

Alan Bastable Editor

As’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

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