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Keegan Bradley’s Ryder Cup surprise could mean a bigger picture

US captain Zach Johnson and vice-captain Stewart Cink at the 2023 Ryder Cup.

getty photos

Captain selection is always a hot topic at the Ryder Cups. In the prequel to the 2025 show, however, most of the drama so far revolves around it the captain choose – as in, who will lead the US team in Bethpage Black, a decision historically announced in February of the year before the game, but the ’25 event was not broadcast until two days ago.

As you may know by now, Keegan Bradley got the nod, but only because Tiger Woods, who was offered the position last year, declined. Woods took months to determine whether he had the time and energy to fully commit to the project. He had a hard time saying no but it was even harder to say yes; in late May he finally came to peace with the fact that he didn’t have – to pardon the corporate-speak – bandwidth to take over.

For PGA of America decision makers, it was a time of chaos, like when you’re settling on plans for your powder room reno only to learn that the builder has discontinued your tile selection. Captains – and this is true on the European side, too – don’t grow on trees; they are eliminated. Often, they will learn the ropes serving as vice-captain in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, or, in the case of the Presidents Cup, as captain directly. Just as academic success requires reps, thinking is gone, and so, it feels like a captain.

Assuming the US Ryder Cup Committee sticks to that strategy, the 2025 American captain would likely come from the group of vice-captains who served under Zach Johnson in Rome last year. Those assistants, in the order Johnson chose, were Steve Stricker, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples and Stewart Cink. Furyk, the captain who lost in 2018, would never get another shot, so that left four possible options: Stricker, who was beaten among his players to captain his side to victory at Whistling Straits in 2021; Love, who is also famous in the club room but has had two chances at the top (lost in 2012 and won in ’16); The couple, who by his own admission seem destined to always be bridesmaids and never brides. (“Would I like to be Ryder Cup captain? Yes,” he said in 2021, “but that’s probably not going to happen”); and Cink, who has played in five Ryder Cups and has been agonizing over having the US Ryder Cup Committee call his number.

Will Bethpage 2025 – which seemed years ripe for Phil Mickelson’s captaincy before appearing to join Tiger’s team – unexpectedly become Cink’s fault? In recent weeks, as Tiger’s decision came into focus, Cink’s stock began to rise. The scope of the buzz around Cink has grown so much that in a press conference after the first round of the Senior PGA Championship in late May, Cink was asked about the possibility of becoming the captain of New York.

“Of course I would be eager to do that, but this is very new to me, because my name was not in the conversation for a long time, and all of a sudden it is in the conversation,” said Cink. “I don’t know why, but I get asked a lot of questions about it. If one of the captains ever falls for me, I will be over the moon. To be able to do that would be like a dream.”

Cink was also asked about being picked up by the PGA of America and former Ryder Cup captain Stricker. Understanding each other? Maybe, maybe not. “We talked a little bit about the Ryder Cup and the President Cup,” Cink said. “We have little in common. We’re both involved in things at the moment, so it’s good. I’m not sure what Steve’s plans are. He won’t tell me well. He doesn’t tell anyone what he’s going to do.”

Keegan Bradley of the United States tees off on the third hole in the first round of the Traveler Championship at TPC River Highlands.

Keegan Bradley’s incredible Ryder Cup captaincy? Here’s who developed it


Alan Bastable

It turns out that Cink was on PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh’s short list. According to a source close to the decision-making process, Waugh presented those recommendations to members of the Ryder Cup Committee — a group that includes PGA brass as well as Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas — at a June 18 meeting. But little time was spent discussing the list, which the source said, it also includes couples, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Kisner, among others. When Waugh brought up Bradley’s name, there was immediate and unanimous agreement that Bradley was the most logical choice. “His passion for the Ryder Cup stood out above everything else, and we feel that was an ah-ha moment,” PGA of America president John Lindert said at a press conference Tuesday in New York. “When Keegan’s name was mentioned, hands went up and we were behind it 100 percent.”

When asked about Bradley’s surprise selection at the Scottish Open earlier this week, Cink admitted he was “disappointed” but also thinks Bradley is “going to do a really good job.” I know he wants the team to win and his roots are there in New England, he will be a good captain.”

Cink added: “The fact that Keegan has never been a helper of anything else, played in other clubs and played good golf and won a PGA Championship – those numbers, a lot. Small ones, for sure. Perhaps being close in age to the players who will be on the team can have an impact. Maybe they want to change some things.”

Cink’s tea leaf reading seems obvious. According to a source close to the selection of the players, Spieth said at the meeting on June 18 that “there are choices that don’t sound like fun. Playing for Keegan feels great.” At that meeting there was also talk about the need to “modernize golf” and the evolution of how the selection committee thinks about selecting captains and putting teams together. “We were in this echo chamber of sameness,” said the source. “The Band-Aid had to come off.”

Beneath that bandage was a captain no one saw coming: a player still in his prime who will be just 39 at next year’s games, making him the youngest Ryder Cup captain in more than 60 years. (Arnold Palmer was 34 when he served as playing captain in 1963.) Bradley did not mince words when asked about his potential assistants but indicated that he would turn to younger players still active on the Tour. “I think that would be very helpful,” he said.

Does this mean the ship has sailed for captain hopefuls like Cink, Couples and Kuchar? Check back in 14 months. The answer to that question will surely be found in whether Bradley and his team leave Bethpage soaked in champagne.

Alan Bastable Editor

As editor-in-chief of, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and heavily trafficked news and services outlets. He wears many hats – planning, writing, imagining, developing, dreaming up one day he breaks 80 – and feels privileged to work with an insanely smart and hard-working team of writers, editors and producers. Before taking over, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

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