One of the most fascinating elements of golf is the way that its highest highs and its lowest lows are almost always on full display. Players don't wear helmets or uniforms, they don't have teammates beside them, they don't have dugouts or locker rooms to escape into during the game. It's only the player, the camera, and a whole lot of open green space.
Credit Keegan Bradley, then, for opening his heart and his home for a golf story that very well could have remained behind the scenes: the devastation of narrowly missing out on a Ryder Cup slot. Bradley was very much in the mix for the 12th and final slot on the American Ryder Cup team, playing his way all the way into the season-ending Tour Championship. But when the captain's picks came down, Bradley was on the outside, and Justin Thomas — who hadn't even made the 70-man playoffs — was on the team.
In the hours afterward, Bradley expressed frustration that his on-course play hadn't been enough, and that he felt like an "outsider" in golf's insular world. For a guy who, as he put it, was thinking about the Ryder Cup "every second I’m awake, basically,” it was a brutal comedown.
But it turns out the behind-the-scenes story is even worse for Bradley.
In an in-depth interview on the Fore Play Pod, Bradley notes how he's veering through the stages of grief, from sadness to anger to acceptance. "If I was the captain," he conceded, "I would have picked Justin as well."
Where you really start to feel bad for Bradley, though, is in the story of how he got the call. American captain Zach Johnson texted the candidates on Sunday night to let them know he'd be calling Monday morning. And that morning is where the real heartbreak began.
"I wake up, I’m very tired, and I get a call from Netflix and they say, ‘Keegan, we got a camera crew five minutes from your house,’ " Bradley said. "Why would they be sending a camera crew if I’m not going to get picked?”
Netflix is in the process of filming the second season of Full Swing, its golf documentary series. That was enough to let Bradley's mind wander.
“For the first time of this whole process, I let my brain think I did it," he said. "For whatever reason, I thought the camera crew was there to witness the celebration."
The phone rang, Bradley picked it up, and knew instantly from the tone of Johnson's voice what the verdict was. And the cameras were running the entire time.
“This is real life. No one's ever seen this call before," Bradley said. "It was devastating.” He stressed that he wasn't upset with Netflix in any way, but after the call, he hustled the cameras out the door.
On the plus side, Bradley noted that the outpouring of support that he received from social media was unprecedented and uniformly positive. Bradley posted a thoughtful thread on his hopes and his heartbreak:
This is my suitcase from 2012 Ryder Cup that I haven’t opened since that Sunday. I promised myself I wouldn’t open it till I won a Ryder Cup.
That week changed my prospective on golf forever. The Ryder Cup suddenly became very important to me. pic.twitter.com/RFN6mqeiWH
— Keegan Bradley (@Keegan_Bradley) August 30, 2023
If anything, the rejection has inspired a new wave of fandom for Bradley; almost everyone can sympathize with being an outsider. And he's even becoming a bit of a meme:
Haha this made me smile. Thanks boys! https://t.co/2BPXQbEdGQ
— Keegan Bradley (@Keegan_Bradley) September 16, 2023
Oh, and in one final twist of the knife, Bradley noted that he plays at the Grove, Michael Jordan's elite private club ... which just happens to be where the entire American team is practicing. "I'm reminded every single effing day of it," he said, not unkindly. "I'm so sick in the head that I'm a little bit thankful for this, I need this to piss me off and keep me going."
The Ryder Cup is scheduled to begin next Friday at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome, with the American team seeking to win on foreign soil for the first time in 30 years.