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From snubbed to skipper, cast-out to captain, misfit to main man, Keegan Bradley’s Ryder Cup redemption is an arc that even the most creative storyteller couldn’t have seen coming.

It’s a little over 11 months since he received a phone call from Zach Johnson to tell him he wasn’t one of his predecessor’s six picks for last year match in Rome, and only four since those scenes were broadcast to a rubbernecking world on Netflix docuseries Full Swing.

In the dust-settling, Bradley was left to lament that being an “outsider” had likely cost him a place on the team, a not-so-subtle nod to the presence of an American clique comprised of the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler to name but three.

Certainly, the fact that Johnson shared a house with those three players during The Open last year, weeks before picking them, did little to douse suspicions of bias in the camp.

Now, though, Bradley finds himself as “inside” as it is possible to be following his shock appointment as captain for next year’s match at Bethpage.

That he was not the first choice for the gig is no secret. It’s well established that Tiger Woods was the PGA of America’s preferred candidate. After it was reported yesterday that the 15-time major champion had turned down the role, it was widely assumed that one of three players would step in: Stewart Cink, Davis Love III or Fred Couples.

Then Sports Illustrated reported that Bradley had been offered the gig and eyes widened.

At first blush, and for a number of reasons, it looks like a strange appointment.

At 39 years of age by the time the match comes around, he’ll be the youngest US captain since Arnold Palmer, who was 34 when he was a playing captain at Atlanta Athletic Club. The obvious difference, if it’s not too disrespectful to say, is that Arnold Palmer is Arnold Palmer and Keegan Bradley is Keegan Bradley.

At 19th on the world rankings, and 11th amongst his fellow countrymen, Bradley would surely also be a contender to make the team next year rather than lead it. He could feasibly be a playing-captain but the US hasn’t had one of those in the Ryder Cup in more than 60 years. Is Bradley really the guy to break that cycle?

He has also played in only two Ryder Cups. In the European era – so, since 1979 – only Dave Marr in 1981 had less experience before slipping on the armband. Unlike Bradley, though, his experience was a positive one, winning in 1965 at Royal Birkdale. Bradley was on the losing side in 2012 and again in 2014. He’s the first captain in living memory to go into the match with no prior knowledge of what it’s like to win.

Perhaps most noteworthy of all is the number of proven, capable alternatives to Woods who’ve been overlooked in favour of Bradley. Love has captained twice before, winning in 2016. Steve Stricker led the side to a historic win the last time the match was played on American soil. There are safer pairs of hands.

No doubt, Keegan Bradley’s appointment is an uncharacteristic risk on the part of the PGA of America.

It might also be a masterstroke.

The United States stands accused of caring less about the Ryder Cup than Europe. Whether true or not, you can make a compelling case for it. There’s only one group of players whining about not getting paid to take part or refusing to wear caps apparently in protest at not receiving a slice of the contest’s huge commercial pie. Just last month, Wyndham Clark declared that Olympic golf is “probably even bigger than” the Ryder Cup. They just don’t get it.

But Bradley does.

His reaction to not making the team last year is something we’re not used to seeing from an American golfer. He wasn’t just disappointed. He was devastated.

Back in 2020, when we were all staying in to save lives and clapping for carers, I spent an hour or so on the phone with Bradley and we spoke at length about the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. He winced at the mention of it, revealing that “hardly a day goes past” when he doesn’t think about that defeat. He described it as brutal, adding that a re-run of the match had come on TV only days earlier and he’d quickly changed the channel because it was too hard to watch.

Eight years later, that loss still gnawed away at him. Do you think Phil Mickelson was giving it that much thought? Or Tiger Woods? Or Zach Johnson? Or Matt Kuchar? Or Jim Furyk?

Bradley’s passion for the contest – first evident as he fist-pumped his way around Medinah, and more recently as he was comforted by his wife after not making last year’s team – makes him the closest thing to a European that the Americans have. And maybe that’s exactly what they need.

It helps that he has strong ties to the north-east of the United States where the 2025 match will take place, and will therefore be easy for an already partisan crowd to get behind. “One of our own” and all that.

One suspects he will also be better at separating sentiment from the hard decisions that come with being captain, particularly as it relates to his picks. Whereas Zach Johnson stood accused of favouritism and ultimately fell hard on that sword, it’s difficult to imagine Bradley making the same mistakes. If bruising a few egos and souring friendships is the cost of reclaiming the cup, so be it.

What happens in the coming weeks and months promises to be fascinating. Who will he choose as his vice-captains, for example? The predictable cabal of “old heads” or picks from the same part of left field that he was plucked from?

How many picks will he give himself? To what extent will he embrace LIV and its US contingent? How will he rally his troops squarely behind him? How will he imbue Ryder-skeptics like Patrick Cantlay with some of his zest and verve for the match?

Long before we get to Bethpage, those are the key battlegrounds where Bradley needs to prevail. There can be no margin for error. None.

His appointment is undoubtedly bold. Whether it’s the stroke of genius the PGA of America thinks it is, only time will tell.

Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’

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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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