Keegan Bradley, the 2025 US Ryder Cup team and the start of something new

NEW YORK — The Google Meet call lasted an hour and a half, but was over in five minutes.

Now that Tiger Woods has officially withdrawn — after months, if not years, of being the favorite — who would become the captain of the 2025 U.S. Ryder Cup team in Bethpage Black?

A five-point loss to Marco Simone in Rome tarnished the memory of the American team. European team captain Luke Donald had been reinstated to his role just eight weeks after the defeat. Suddenly, when Woods finally decided that the captaincy was too much to handle, on top of the PGA Tour-PIF negotiations, the Americans were tasked with coming up with a backup plan. The clock was ticking. There were thirteen months 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 were on a video call last month during the Travelers Championship to decide who would be the next U.S. captain.

The remaining candidates all came from the Ryder Cup “task force” pipeline — a system the U.S. team implemented in 2014 that sees PGA Tour players move through assistant captain roles on their way to the captaincy. The list, which included Ryder Cup stalwarts Fred Couples, Stewart Cink and two-time captain Davis Love III, boasted unparalleled experience at the biennial event. But none struck a chord in the way the Americans needed. After a crushing defeat in Rome, the U.S. team had to think outside the box. Zach Johnson, who has been widely criticized for his poor leadership of Marco Simone, was not a candidate.

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

Waugh — just days removed from announcing he would step down as a PGA member — was the first to mention Keegan Bradley’s name during the Ryder Cup Committee’s call, the source said. Working from a list of names Waugh had compiled, the group sifted through possibilities. Some were expected, others came seemingly out of nowhere. One name came up of someone who had never played in a Ryder Cup.

But only one person made all six meeting participants take a 10-second pause: Bradley.

“When we got to Keegan, everyone pricked up their ears and we thought, yeah, this is the guy,” said Wood, who caddied at six Ryder Cups. “It was quite an extensive list. We certainly didn’t want to leave anyone out. When we got to Keegan, it was a unanimous, quick decision.”

Bradley had an 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 was quick to express his enthusiasm. “There are a couple of choices that don’t sound fun,” the three-time major champion said, according to the same source. “Playing for Keegan sounds fun.” Minutes later, the committee made its final decision.

Bradley, a 38-year-old who was cut from the 2023 team and has not played in the event since 2014, was set to become the next Ryder Cup captain.

He had no idea he was even participating.

The American Ryder Cup organization had 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 performance. A plan was put in place to introduce familiar faces into the U.S. team room and create continuity from event to event, including the Presidents Cup. But every time a captain relied on those who had sat in the big chair before him instead of new voices as vice-captains, it created the same problem that Woods and Phil Mickelson faced a decade ago — captains more familiar with the Champions Tour than the modern PGA Tour.

As Waugh told the group, according to the source, the task force “was set up to bring about change and now it has become an agent of non-change.”

Johnson’s leadership at the 2023 Ryder Cup epitomized the problem. He picked Love, Couples, Cink, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker as his vice-captains, creating a significant generation gap between players (average age 30.33) and leadership (55.6). Johnson then used his captain’s picks to select Spieth, Thomas and Rickie Fowler, players he was known to associate with on the PGA Tour. Thomas was coming off the worst season of his career, and Spieth’s wife had given birth to their second child two weeks earlier. Johnson continued to lean on celebrity couples (like Thomas and Spieth), going against the wishes of some team members but listening to others. The plan backfired, and Johnson was accused of favoritism and perpetuating a “boys’ club.” At least one former member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team has said he hopes Bradley can provide a reset.

A disastrous loss in Rome tarnished Zach Johnson’s reputation and sparked talk of change within the U.S. team. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

There was no crisis meeting after the team’s crushing defeat in Rome, but there was a concerted effort to escape an “echo chamber of monotony.” The Ryder Cup Committee felt that the U.S. team needed to modernize, and Bradley’s captaincy would be the first major step in that direction.

Woods’ decision to withdraw from the running made the move possible. Since turning down the chance to captain the 2023 team in Rome, Woods has been scheduled to lead the U.S. team in Bethpage Black. For months, Woods has been in communication with the PGA of America, delaying the deadline for his decision while he weighed whether taking on the role was possible. When Woods does take on a role, he is known for dedicating himself 100 percent. While he served as a player director on the PGA Tour Policy Board, helping to unite the currently divided professional sport, he was unable to make that commitment for the Ryder Cup. Shortly after the U.S. Open, Woods officially turned down the captaincy.

“That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to be a team captain in the future. If and when I think the time is right, I will throw my hat in the ring for this committee to decide,” Woods said in a statement.

There were already signs of change before the 15-time major champion made his decision.

A brand-new role, U.S. team “manager,” was created and filled by Wood, the caddie-turned-NBC Sports analyst. Task force members were shut out of the Plan B captain list discussions. “I’m officially out of the loop now,” Love III said ahead of Bradley’s official announcement. “I haven’t heard from anyone, not even Zach.” Phil Mickelson backed out of the Ryder Cup picture as he took a leadership role in the rise of LIV Golf.

There were several factors that led the group to Bradley. But Woods’s departure made for something dramatic.

As the countdown began on a Golf Channel broadcast, Bradley sat next to the president of the PGA of America and the glittering Ryder Cup trophy in the Nasdaq building in Times Square. Eyes wide, he collected himself before answering questions about a job he had never applied for.

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

Bradley was first informed 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, Connecticut. Waugh, Johnson and Lindert contacted the Vermont native with the news.

Days earlier, the group had first mentioned Bradley in the conversation for Ryder Cup captain. They waited until the tournament was over to announce their decision.

A year ago, Bradley was cut from the U.S. Ryder Cup team. In a year, he will lead the team and be the youngest since Arnold Palmer in 1963. Several days passed before Bradley could officially accept the position. At first, he felt undeserving — and he still can’t fully explain why he was chosen.

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

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

Before closing, Bradley spoke at length with Woods about the responsibilities — even calling the 82-time Tour winner on the morning of his press conference. He had regular conversations with Waugh over the course of three days. Bradley had no doubts about accepting the captaincy, but he needed some extra support. He reminded himself that he hadn’t just been selected by suited-up executives. He had been chosen by two of his colleagues: Thomas and Spieth.

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

Bradley’s close relationship with his teammates will mark a refresh in the U.S. Ryder Cup leadership strategy. On Tuesday, the six-time PGA Tour winner expressed his desire to appoint younger vice-captains. He was candid when he said he would still work to qualify for the team via the Ryder Cup points table (the top six players in the rankings are currently on the team, though as captain he has indicated he may add more automatic qualification). He decried any bias 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 may have been a shocking choice for the Ryder Cup captaincy, but he wasn’t a no-brainer.

He has become the latest avatar of change, with the US team staking its reputation – and its pursuit of the Ryder Cup trophy – on his success.

(Top photo: Seth Wenig/AP)

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