Can Clark Kent become Superman at Bethpage?

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M. James Ward examines the new USA Ryder Cup captain and what lies ahead for Keegan Bradley.
Posted on
July 10, 2024
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

New York, NY. In a word – wow!

For months the leadership brass for the PGA of America wooed Tiger Woods to be the next USA Ryder Cup captain, however, the 15-time major winner turned down the position citing time pressures with other ongoing commitments.

That result meant a furious scramble in finding a person who could "check all the boxes" as stated by PGA of America President John Lindert.

Keegan Bradley's selection for next year's matches at Bethpage State Park's Black Course marks a clear departure from recent selections for the position. The most recent Captains have either served as vice-captains or had extensive experience in playing in the bi-annual matches.

His reaction in being selected was akin to winning the lottery.

“I don't think I'll ever be more surprised of anything in my entire life,” said Bradley. “I had no idea. It took a while for it to sink in.”

Julius Mason, PGA of America President John Lindert and the 2025 Team USA Ryder Cup captain, Keegan Bradley during the 2025 Ryder Cup Captain’s Announcement
Julius Mason, PGA of America President John Lindert and the 2025 Team USA Ryder Cup captain, Keegan Bradley during the 2025 Ryder Cup Captain’s Announcement (Jennifer Pottheiser/PGA of America)

There were no formal interviews for the position and Keegan was notified by the PGA of America's CEO Seth Waugh by phone following this year's Travelers event.

Bradley has played in just two Ryder Cup matches (2012 and 2014) and a Presidents Cup. At 38, he is the youngest since 1963 when Arnold Palmer at age 34 served in the dual role as playing Captain for Team USA.

Bradley is a past PGA Championship winner (2011) and has won six times on the PGA Tour – including two wins in 2023. His golf pedigree is bolstered by his father Mark, a long-time member of the PGA of America who remains active as a teacher. In addition, Keegan's aunt is World Golf Hall-of-Famer Pat Bradley.

Keegan also attended and played for St. John's University - the Queens-based private school in New York City. This intersection also gave him countless rounds at the famed Black Course at Bethpage.

With the matches slated for September of 2025 the PGA of America needed to move this decision quickly. Most importantly, securing a candidate that has credibility with his fellow colleagues on the PGA Tour.

Interestingly, Bradley was on the bubble for selection to the 2022 USA team that competed in Rome. USA skipper Zach Johnson opted not to pick him even though he finished 11th in the points standing. Now it will be Keegan having to make a number of phone calls to those who come close but ultimately are not selected for the USA squad.

The Tuesday naming of Bradley at the Nasdaq building in Manhattan was reported by certain publications prior to the actual announcement and for that reason the PGA of America opted to confirm the account prior to the public press conference.

Lindert stated the naming of Bradley was a "slam dunk" for all the intersection the Vermont-native has in golf and centered through his New York connection.

When Bethpage was chosen by the PGA of America in 2013 the overwhelming favorites for the Captain's position centered on either Woods or Phil Mickelson. Many believed the two stars would Captain no less than two teams each in the years ahead.

However, when Mickelson opted to join LIV in 2022 his involvement ceased given the requirement that members of the PGA Tour are honorary members of the PGA of America. Mickelson opted to sever his connection to the Tour and that specific action left him outside of the selection process.

When Mickelson's door closed – another opened for Tiger Woods in the lead role. Woods was pursued aggressively by the leaders of the PGA of America but the 15-time major winner hesitated in locking himself down to previous commitments in serving on the PGA Tour's advisory board.

At the press conference Tuesday, a statement from Woods was read aloud.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The choices for the PGA of America then fell back to familiar names that had been Captains or Vice Captains in either Ryder or Presidents Cup matches respectively. They included Davis Love III, Steve Stricker, Fred Couples and Stewart Cink.

After the USA squad lost to Europe in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland a new strategy was put into place by the PGA of America. Much of that dovetailed with the successful model used by Europe in developing a network of involvements that would provide continuity in how teams and the related Captaincies would be developed. The outcome of that effort has been a mixed bag of results - winning on home soil while still waiting for a first win on Euro soil since 1993.

The Europeans captured the 2022 event in Rome easily and have won 5 of the last 7 matches and 8 of the last 11. The USA has won the last two times the matches were played on native soil at Hazeltine and Whistling Straits.

Bradley will face intense scrutiny given his lack of experience – both as a player in the event and from not having served previously in a leadership role. During the announcement the 31st USA Captain mentioned he will likely bring into the midst a number of new players as Vice Captains to add their voices in how the USA squad functions.

The turning of the page from the past into a new future seems in motion now.

The pressure will once again be on the USA squad to return the Ryder Cup to American soil. Bradley's overall record as a tour player is good but hardly exceptional. In 44 majors played he has only four top ten finishes. His PGA Championship win at Atlanta Athletic Club was his first appearance in a major and he joined Francis Ouimet (1913 U.S. Open) and Ben Curtis (2003 Open) as the only players to have won a major on their first attempt.

Julius Mason, PGA of America President John Lindert and the 2025 Team USA Ryder Cup captain, Keegan Bradley during the 2025 Ryder Cup Captain’s Announcement
Julius Mason, PGA of America President John Lindert and the 2025 Team USA Ryder Cup captain, Keegan Bradley during the 2025 Ryder Cup Captain’s Announcement (Jennifer Pottheiser/PGA of America)

His genuine passion for the Ryder Cup is noteworthy but emotion from the Captain can be a double-edged sword when dealing with twelve individuals who have varied temperaments and, at times, quirky personalities.

There is also the condensed time frame for Bradley to navigate. The matches take place in just fourteen months and the myriad of details to sort out will test his time management skills and the way he is able to avoid the assortment of land mines that have blown up past ill-conceived losing USA Captaincies such as Hal Sutton, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman and Tom Watson in 2014.

Given the matches will be at Bethpage the surge of interest will be especially high and the crowds emotionally charged in doing their utmost to give the USA team an added boost.

Bradley has never been on a winning USA Ryder Cup team. His legacy in golf will now be defined by what takes place September 26-28 in 2025.

Is Keegan a Clark Kent who now morphs into Superman?

There's no turning back now.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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