Why Keegan Bradley’s U.S. Ryder Cup snub hurts more than the others

Keegan Bradley at the 2012 Ryder Cup.

Keegan Bradley is on the outside looking in at this year's Ryder Cup team.

Getty Images

In the moments after Keegan Bradley won the 2022 Zozo Championship, he wept.

“I really put a lot of work in this offseason,” he said in his post-round interview. “You know, this is what I want to do. I want to win tournaments. I want to play in Ryder Cups. I want to be in the conversation — and this is a good start.”

In the moments after Keegan Bradley won the 2023 Travelers Championship, his mind went to the same spot. The win was incredible. What it meant for his Ryder Cup chances was even better.

“I mean, it’s the first thing I said to my wife walking up to sign my card: This is a pretty big step towards doing that,” he said. “I’m 37 years old… I’ve still got a lot to show the captain. I would love to go to Rome and be a part of that team.”

Ahead of the BMW Championship, the second-to-last event before the U.S. team would be finalized, Bradley admitted he couldn’t get his mind off what was to come.

“I think about the Ryder Cup every second I’m awake, basically,” he said. “My biggest thing right now is trying not to think about it while I’m playing because it’s that important to me.”

Every professional athlete is chasing something. Rivals. Trophies. Records. All-star teams. It’s tough to think of many chasing a specific goal with more ferocity than Bradley’s quest to return to the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

But then came Monday.

BRADLEY KNEW the moment he picked up that he wasn’t fielding the call he’d so desperately wanted. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson was making the rounds; first he was calling the golfers who hadn’t been selected and later he’d get to the guys who had. Bradley’s call came too early to be good news.

“I could tell by the response from Zach when I answered the phone that I wasn’t on the team,” he told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis on Tuesday. “I’m super bummed out.”

The U.S. team is comprised of 12 players. The top six qualify automatically. The next six are chosen by the captain at his discretion. For that latter group of six the points list is non-binding; Johnson could choose whichever golfers he saw fit.

Bradley finished the season at No. 11 in those standings. He wasn’t chosen for the team. Instead he was passed over for three players ahead of him on the list (No. 7 Brooks Koepka, No. 8 Jordan Spieth and No. 10 Collin Morikawa) plus three players behind him (No. 12 Sam Burns, No. 13 Rickie Fowler and No. 15 Justin Thomas).

There’s more context here, of course. Bradley’s candidacy was significantly bolstered by his victories; outside of those his resume was somewhat short on recent top 10s and top 20s. He missed cuts at the two most recent majors. The four tournaments following that Travelers win lacked a statement finish. Perhaps a late push at the Tour Championship would have been enough, but he faded on the weekend from third place to T9. Fowler had put together a more consistent summer, and Burns and Thomas were among the players the golf world expected would make the team. You can make a very strong case for both of them. And Bradley was hardly the perfect candidate.

But I doubt that helps the hurt.

Bradley’s snub hurts because he’s been on the outside before. In 2011, as a PGA Tour rookie with a bright future, he won the PGA Championship in August and was considered the frontrunner for the final spot on Fred Couples’ Presidents Cup team but was ultimately passed over for Bill Haas. “It’s the harshest thing you can do to a guy,” Couples said on SiriusXM Tuesday, remembering that moment.

It hurts because Bradley has had a taste of being on the inside, too. In 2012 he was named to his first Ryder Cup squad and was a central figure in the U.S. team’s devastating loss at Medinah. The experience changed him; he’d never felt such highs nor lows in golf. In 2013 he played on a winning Presidents Cup team at Muirfield Village and in 2014 he was part of another losing effort in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. Across those three competitions he went 6-5-1 and served as a fiery centerpiece of the U.S. teams. He’s been trying to get back ever since.

Keegan Bradley was an electric member of the 2012 and 2014 Ryder Cup teams. Getty Images

It hurts because Bradley played so well this season. He won twice, including that three-stroke triumph over a stacked Travelers field. He finished runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open. He finished the regular season eighth in the FedEx Cup and wound up ninth after East Lake. He’d turned his putting — his Achilles heel for so long — into a strength, No. 21 on Tour. “I thought I put together a really good year with two wins including in Hartford over an elite field,” he told Lewis. “I’m proud of what I’ve done.” He and Cameron Young (No. 9 on the list) were, in some order, almost certainly No. 13 and No. 14 on a 12-man team.

It hurts because Bradley already felt like an outsider before this latest slight. When I spoke to him earlier this year he admitted he’d been fueled by his omission from last season’s 23-player “Delaware Meeting.” When a group of the Tour’s biggest stars got together to help shape its future, he hadn’t been invited. That reinforced the feeling he’d had since a junior golfer, as a native Vermonter whose childhood homes included a trailer park, that he didn’t quite belong among the in-crowd he saw around him. Bradley hasn’t, to my knowledge, uttered a bad word about anyone involved — at the time he gushed about Rory McIlroy being a terrific leader of good guys and great players — but in the offseason he doubled down on his workout routine and his determination. He shed pounds and then he shed strokes, too. If he wasn’t going to be hand-picked to join that group, he’d do his damnedest to play his way in.

That’s another reason it hurts: because Bradley doesn’t feel like his Ryder Cup candidacy earned the same consideration as those pros selected over him. If he’d flip-flopped resumes with Justin Thomas or Sam Burns, it’s likely they’d still have made it over him, Thomas thanks to top team play in recent years and Burns thanks to his potential and both of them because they have existing partnerships with guys on the team. The Ryder Cup is an earned honor but it’s not given to the most deserving players the way an All-NBA team would be. It’s a meritocracy up to a point, but then there are considerations for potential partnerships, plus something slightly more vague that Johnson called “camaraderie.” Whatever the euphemism, it wasn’t good news for Bradley. Couples, serving as assistant captain, admitted as much on SiriusXM.

“Now you’re picking guys that may not have the record of Keegan but they pair up perfectly,” he said. “[Keegan]’s an older guy and he’s not in tight with them — did that have 20 percent to do with it? I won’t argue that.”

Bradley’s conclusion was more heart-wrenching.

“I think [Justin Thomas] is a generational talent,” he told Lewis. “I’ve always been an outsider in the sport but I have tried to get closer to the guys I thought would be on the team… I feel like moving forward I’m going to have to automatically qualify for the Ryder Cup.”

Of all the hurt from this process, that might hurt the worst: the realization that the team he wants so desperately may not want him back.

ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, two days after the phone call and one day after the announcement, Bradley took to social media to post a picture of a black suitcase with a Ryder Cup logo.

It was embroidered KB.

“This is my suitcase from 2012 Ryder cup that I haven’t opened since that Sunday. I promised myself I wouldn’t open it till I won a Ryder cup,” he wrote. The week had changed his perspective on golf, he added. ⁣He still craves a return to the highs and lows of that week.

It’s easy to turn the suitcase into some sort of punch line. I get that; it’s arguably the funniest thing about Bradley. Who doesn’t unpack a suitcase?! And when he eventually does, what will he find — a bottle of prosecco and a whole bunch of moldy socks? The Ryder Cup is an exhibition. It’s possible nobody has ever taken it quite this seriously. It’s possible nobody was ever meant to.

But the suitcase tells you everything you need to know about Bradley. He’s fiercely loyal to the point of devastation upon letting down his teammates. He thrives with a chip on his shoulder, even if the chip is a suitcase and his shoulder is the floor of his garage. And he’s so unabashedly earnest that he’s willing to tell us about it because to him, trying hard and caring harder are nothing to be ashamed of.

To his credit, the suitcase post wasn’t Bradley declaring war on the U.S. Ryder Cup system. He wasn’t seeking vengeance nor declaring his allegiance to Team Europe. Instead he was calling for peace. And for support.

“I’m proud of the effort I put in to make this amazing team over a decade later,” he added. “But it wasn’t meant to be. All of the support has been amazing, but it’s time now to get behind this US team. I’m gonna be watching and pulling as hard as I can for them! GO USA”

Bradley has been clear about his goals. He’s been clear about his dreams. That means everyone knows just how much this hurts.

And just how much harder he’ll try to make the next one.

Dylan welcomes your messages at dylan_dethier@golf.com.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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