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2025 Ryder Cup: Six reasons why Keegan Bradley is an compelling choice as United States team captain

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2025 Ryder Cup: Six reasons why Keegan Bradley is an compelling choice as United States team captain

In conversations with folks both inside and outside the PGA of America in the months leading up to the decision to select a 2025 Ryder Cup captain for the United States, the consensus believed Tiger Woods was the primary target. Should he turn down the role, those in the know believed the opportunity would fall to somebody chalk-y like Stewart Cink or a former captain like Jim Furyk or Steve Stricker.

The indication that a current player would get the gig — a current player snubbed from last year’s Ryder Cup team, no less — was never even a talking point. The selection of Keegan Bradley, who will be 39 when the Ryder Cup begins, was stunning for so many reasons. Among them: Bradley will be the first player in his 30s to helm the Americans in the last 60 years (Arnold Palmer, age 34, 1963).

Bradley’s captaincy was formally announced Tuesday in New York, and there were some unique revelations — including that he was never informed he was a candidate for the position before basically being assigned it by the PGA of America. The next year and change will be a wild ride for everyone involved, but this experiment can (and probably will) work for the U.S. side as it attempts to defend home turf at the Ryder Cup for the third consecutive tournament.

Caring matters

There are a thousand characteristics that make a great Ryder Cup captain, but among the foremost reasons captains have traditionally been picked — great playing resumes — is absolutely not one of them. We will see whether Bradley is adept at strategy, logistics, handling media obligations and everything else that comes with a captaincy, but what will not be called into question for the entirety of his term is whether he’s all the way in.

“Being on a Ryder Cup team changes your life forever,” Bradley said. “Being in the room with those guys and feeling the extreme pressure of this tournament will change you.”

It echoed something he said when he narrowly missed making the team in Rome last year: “I think about the Ryder Cup every second I’m awake.”

That was clear given the way he took answered questions in great detail Tuesday: Bradley must indeed think about the Ryder Cup constantly because only somebody who does exactly that would have answered questions as he did.

Caring is an underrated trait, and while everyone involved with the Ryder Cup as a player or captain or executive has a ton of pride, I’m not sure any of them truly care to the level Bradley does. And now, he has the opportunity to make every major decision as captain.

Bradley will not ignore vulnerability

Half of a captain’s job is to lead with vulnerability — to galvanize your players during an incredibly emotional week and embrace the varied feelings they experience as a group and individuals. Not all captains are willing to do this. Tom Watson would not. Tiger Woods, had he been selected, would not, either.

“I think the biggest thing is that week all coming together as a team,” Bradley said. “It’s very difficult … us golfers are individuals and we celebrate wins by ourselves, losses by ourselves, and that week is about coming together as a team, doing what’s best for the team.”

There are certain ways to try and make this happen, and Bradley will engage all of the most vulnerable ones.

While this is not a prerequisite for winning, it’s difficult to look at the Europeans’ success — and their willingness to embrace this emotion — and not believe those two are somehow related. Others have done this well (Stricker was great at it), and Bradley appears poised to match them. 

Playing captain?

One risk the PGA took (if you want to call it a risk) is that Bradley could easily be playing well enough in 2025 to either make the team on points or uncontroversially select himself as a captain’s pick. Sure, Woods did this at the Presidents Cup, but the Presidents Cup is not the Ryder Cup, and Keegan Bradley is not Tiger Woods.

I’m dubious that someone (really, anyone) can be prepared enough to take on both a Ryder Cup captain role and a playing one. Bradley famously finished 11th in the last Ryder Cup standings a year ago; he’s currently 18th in the Presidents Cup standings. He certainly could play his way up to, say, 12th or 10th in the Ryder Cup standings next year.

While he stated Tuesday that he will not pick himself, what if he’s won three tournaments in a row to get in the top 12 and is playing the best golf of his life. Then what?

Vice captains will be paramount

Normally, assistant captains are meaningful positions but not those that hold the utmost importance. They are there to encourage different groups of American players and provide feedback to the captain. Bradley appears poised to lean on them more heavily than recent predecessors. So, while the selection of assistant captains is normally a footnote in the two-year Ryder Cup cycle, this time around, it will be far more important as Bradley begins to put his organization together.

“I have John Wood, who is the manager of Team USA, which has never been a position for the U.S. Ryder Cup team,” said Bradley, who also noted he will trend younger with the vice captains. “He’s been in a lot of team rooms; he knows all the guys aren’t already has been an amazing help. I’m going to lean on my vice captains, and also some of the older players that — I think Davis Love and Fred Couples and all these guys that have been in so many team rooms — I hope that they will be willing to help me and I have a lot of people that are around to help me.”

Easy to rally around

One comment stood out from Bradley’s reaction to being left off the Ryder Cup team a year ago: “I love those guys — [Justin Thomas] and Rickie [Fowler] and Jordan [Spieth] — so much. I hate saying a negative word or thinking even a negative thought about them.”

The New York crowds will not have a problem with anyone — they would get behind me as captain — as long as the Europeans are still the target. And Bradley will have them really rocking at Bethpage Black. What’s underrated is that Bradley is the type of leader who players will be able to get behind without a second thought.

Would that have always been the case throughout Bradley’s career? Probably not, but it is certainly true now as he has matured while maintaining his love for the game and desire to be part of team events.

Surely, at some juncture a year ago, the captain’s picks chosen over Bradley felt a level of remorse that they took a spot from someone as passionate about the event Bradley. And their relationships are strong enough that those same guys will be overjoyed to take on the world for him in 2025.

In some odd way, given those relationships, the snub from 2023 may actually works to Bradley’s advantage as captain.

It certainly does not hurt that … they had a hand in picking him.

New era for the PGA

People called for the United States to go in a different direction after last year’s Ryder Cup debacle in Rome; the PGA of America instead stepped into a new universe. There is risk here, but there is also risk with every Ryder Cup captain.

The specific risk is that the formula in home matches was working. The U.S. didn’t need to skip a generation and go straight to Bradley. They could have played it safe and chosen Stewart Cink, and the Americans likely would won Bethpage handily and then moved onto Ireland in 2027.

Instead, the PGA flipped the script and changed the way a lot of people are going to think about the Ryder Cup, its captains and how building a team should be handled in the future. That’s a positive, and this decision has an opportunity to pay off not just next year in New York but reverberate a long time afterward.

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