[PHOTO: Harry How]

Keegan Bradley had just returned home from the Travelers Championship on June 23 when his phone rang, and he was surprised to hear PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh on the other end. He was even more surprised when Zach Johnson got on the line, along with PGA president Jonn Lindert, and left Bradley stupefied by giving him the news that he was selected by the Ryder Cup committee to be the captain of the US team next year at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be more surprised of anything in my entire life,” Bradley, 38, said overnight (Australian time) when he was formally introduced as the 31st man to be the captain of the US team. “I had no idea. It took a while for it to sink in.”

5 lingering question about Keegan Bradley, Tiger Woods and the U.S. Ryder Cup captain selection

The six-time PGA Tour winner and two-time Ryder Cup player was surprised because he had never spoken with anyone at the PGA of America or the six-man Ryder Cup committee about the possibility. Tiger Woods was the long-time frontrunner for the job, and alternate candidates of prominence included Fred Couples, two-time captain Davis Love III and Stewart Cink, who served as a vice-captain under Johnson last year during the American loss in Rome.

“I didn’t have one conversation with anybody about this until I was told I was the captain,” said the 2011 PGA champion. “I got a call from Seth and John and Zach, and I had trouble talking. When they called me, I felt funny after the call because I don’t think I reacted in the way that they were expecting me to. I was in complete shock. It was heavy.

“I was a little bit uncomfortable with some of the guys, you know, my idols, that were looked over for this position, and I needed a second to figure that out. Again, I don’t think I’ll ever have a bigger surprise in my life, but something Seth said to me was, ‘You know, your number was called, it’s time for you to step up.’ When he told me that… it sort of hit me that this is a heavy job and this is a group of people that trusted me in this and it’s time to step up to the plate and be the captain of this team.”

Keegan Bradley is an ingenious pick for US Ryder Cup captain, or a rash act of desperation. We debate

That’s not the only remarkable aspect of Bradley’s selection to lead the US team, which is coming off a decisive five-point loss to Europe last year at Marco Simone under the leadership of Johnson.

Lindert said that only a few days elapsed between the time Bradley’s name was put forth and when he got the call. “We didn’t sit on it very long,” he said. “We had a list, and we were kind of bouncing through the list and we were all looking through the list and Keegan’s name kind of jumped out, and as soon as it was mentioned Keegan Bradley, it was, Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent.”

Perhaps just as surprising was that Johnson was the man first delivering the good word. Johnson was a member of the Ryder Cup committee with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Waugh, Lindert and PGA vice-president Don Rea. Late last year, Bradley was on the receiving end of a heartbreaking call from Johnson, who informed him that he was the odd man out for a wild-card pick for the 2023 team. The awkward and emotionally poignant moment was captured by Netflix in the second season of its “Full Swing” series.

Bradley appreciated the gesture. “I think it just speaks to what kind of man and person Zach Johnson is,” he said. “I have just such respect for him. He was one of my idols that I looked up to when I first came out on the tour, and I feel terrible for what he’s had to go through, and I’m so honoured that he was the one who called me.”

Here are three other intriguing topics covered at the press conference.

Will Bradley be a playing captain?

The short answer is yes, if he qualifies on points. He didn’t mince words when he was asked about that possibility. “I want to play on the team. One thing that is important to me is I want to play on the team I feel like I’m still in the prime of my career and can make this team.”

But he averred that he will not use a wild-card pick on himself. “I will either make the team on points – I don’t see myself picking; I’m not going to pick myself,” he said. “The only way that would happen is if the team was insisting on it, but even if they did, I don’t see that happening.”

According to a past captain, there’s a bit of a possibility that the US team will be weakened by Bradley being the captain. At 19th in the world, he is clearly still among the best American players. But now he has taken himself out of consideration unless he plays well enough to earn one of the six automatic berths. “What if he finishes seventh? What happens then? You now have eliminated one of your best players so he can be captain,” the former skipper said. “You have to [cheer] for him to play extremely well or not be close.”

Will Tiger Woods still be involved even though he turned down the captaincy?

Photo: Chris Condon

Bradley said he didn’t outright accept the captaincy until he talked to Woods, who cited his own ongoing role on the PGA Tour Policy Board and the many decisions still to be made in negotiations with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and the potential reintegration of players from the LIV Golf League should a deal finally be reached, as reasons for not being able to captain in New York.

Woods issued a statement that was read aloud at the press conference. “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.”

Bradley clearly indicated that he wants to lean on the 15-time major winner, who has been involved in past Ryder Cups and was the winning player-captain of the 2019 US Presidents Cup team.

“I have told him he can be as involved as he wants to be,” Bradley said. “We haven’t talked about vice-captains; I haven’t talked to vice-captains with really anybody. So we, as players, we all look up to Tiger and his opinion means a lot to us. Being in team rooms with Tiger, the public doesn’t realise how important this is to him. It’s everything. He lives and breathes this event. I think it shows you how much he cares by not, by turning this position down, because he didn’t feel like he could put in what he needed to do with all of his responsibilities with what’s going on with the tour. I certainly need his input.”

How does Bradley’s selection potentially change the future paradigm for the captaincy going forward?

While Bradley said that the US team “doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel”, he made it clear that he is leaning towards a shift to a younger set of vice-captains. In previous years, the two most recent US captains have been retained as vice-captains. That would be Johnson and Steve Stricker if the tradition holds.

But that might not be the case for 2025, though with five or even six assistants being involved, there’s certainly room for their experience. It helps that Bradley harbours no personal resentment towards Johnson.

“I’m going to say I’m going to take a fresh look at vice-captains; they’re going to be a lot younger, closer to playing,” Bradley said. “What’s personally important to me is I would like to have the vice-captains set up the future of the Ryder Cup to captain the USA.”