Saturday, July 13, 2024

In picking Keegan Bradley, U.S. Ryder Cup team chooses passion over politics

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If the criticism of American Ryder Cuppers has been that they don’t care enough, then why not go out and get a leader who cares an awful lot?

That’s exactly what the PGA of America did in selecting Keegan Bradley as its next U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

Bradley, 38, isn’t some Ryder Cup hero. He’s played two Cups, both losses, and none since 2014. Sure, he went 3-1 at Medinah in 2012, but recent years have seen Bradley regarded more as the ultimate Ryder Cup snub than competitor.

Yet, with Tiger Woods apparently rejecting his captaincy offer and on the heels of boys’ club treasurer Zach Johnson’s flop in Rome, the PGA opted to pick against the grain and go with the wildcard Bradley, who, despite being a relative outsider in U.S. team circles, loves this event so much – perhaps too much – that he’s promised not to unpack his suitcase from Medinah until “I won a Ryder Cup.”

Arguably the most impactful scene from this latest season of Netflix’s “Full Swing” was a dejected Bradley, slumped and sitting on the arm of his couch, having just received the call from Johnson informing him that he wasn’t a captain’s pick. Bradley was gutted, saying later of that moment, “It was devastating.”

Bradley certainly wasn’t expecting this call, but one can imagine his reaction this time as the PGA finally chose passion over politics.

On the surface, New England’s native son – and a diehard Boston sports fan – might be a strange fit on Long Island, where Bethpage Black will host the biennial matches for the first time. But Bradley played collegiately at St. John’s in Queens (the school’s motto? Turn passion into purpose), and New Yorkers, known as a fervent bunch, will surely appreciate what Bradley brings to the team room: spirit, fire – and quite possibly a few points should he be a playing captain (Bradley is currently 24th in points).

The PGA, in announcing Bradley as its man, cited Bradley’s “unwavering passion.”

This is not to say the American players don’t already have that. But it’s an easy narrative to root when those zealous Europeans get up early. Add in a pro-European crowd and a few extra distractions – Patrick Cantlay’s hat; Wyndham Clark’s taken-out-of-context quotes; Stefan Schauffele, longtime listener, first-time caller – and Marco Simone was a PR disaster for the U.S., which saw most if not all its momentum sapped from Whistling Straits.

The pressure entering another home game will be immense – and the PGA knew that it needed to get this right.

Woods was the obvious slam-dunk pick, but he reportedly said no thanks. Johnson running it back was not an option. Stewart Cink, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar were names thrown out there, though all safe plays as junior members of the boys’ club.

Here are some answers to questions you might have about the Ryder Cup and Keegan Bradley.

Bradley is the surprise, potentially so-crazy-it’s-genius nod, and he will leave little room for speculation that the Americans – Scottie Scheffler and whoever the other 11 guys are – are not totally motivated to defend home turf and avoid the first home Ryder Cup defeat since that wild day at Medinah.

From what we know about him, Bradley isn’t one for politics, either. As Fred Couples said last year, “He’s an older guy, and he’s not in tight with them.” But he’s also not Tom Watson. Bradley’s icons are Michael Jordan and Bill Belichick, both no-nonsense, ruthless competitors. There will be little credence given to lobbying should Bradley need to make the final ruling on picks and pairings; he’s been on the other side so many times that he’s not going to put up with much drama. Plus, don’t rule out the power of the guy who took something personally (see: MJ).

Bradley isn’t going to Bethpage for a participation ribbon. Heck, he’d probably consider trading his Wanamaker Trophy for a Ryder Cup, if that opportunity presented itself; that’s how badly Bradley wants to win.

And more importantly, everyone knows that.

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