Rory McIlroy says Keegan Bradley's Ryder Cup captaincy 'a surprise for everyone'

NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — While this week’s surprise announcement of Keegan Bradley as the United States Ryder Cup captain caught everyone off guard, Rory McIlroy and the European Team had a wee bit of a heads up, but was nevertheless just as shocked as everyone else.

“Disbelief,” McIlroy said Thursday afternoon at Renaissance Club, following a first-round 5-under 65 at the Scottish Open.

McIlroy said he and some other members of the Euro team dined with captain Luke Donald on Sunday night. Donald, it turns out, delivered a preview of the news set to drop the following day. McIlroy said Donald told those in attendance that he was alerted that the American captain at Bethpage would not, in fact, be Tiger Woods, as all expected. Instead, the Americans were pegging a 38-year-old who hasn’t appeared on a Ryder Cup team in a decade.

“Definitely I think a surprise for everyone,” McIlroy said.

Bradley’s selection shocked the system not only because of his limited Ryder Cup experience but also because he’s still a competitive presence on the PGA Tour. He won in 2022 (Zozo Championship) and 2023 (Travelers Championship) and very nearly made the 2023 U.S. team in Rome.

As it stands, Bradley is ranked 24th among players in the Ryder Cup point standings. He’s well outside the qualifying picture right now, but swathes of time and opportunity remain for him to climb. Bradley finished in the top 35 of all three majors this season and has another chance at the Open Championship next week.

“I think Keegan was probably in disbelief, at some point, too,” McIlroy said Thursday, surrounded by a pack of reporters following his first competitive round since his U.S. Open heartbreak at Pinehurst. “Certainly it’s an interesting pick.”

The move to appoint Bradley as the captain comes after years of the U.S. adhering to a defined system — vice captains typically rising through ranks, gaining experience at both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup before ascending to captain.

“It’s certainly a departure from what the U.S. have done over the last few years,” McIlroy said, “and, you know, time will tell if that’s a good thing or not.”

The stunning move, McIlroy added, “seems quite reactionary to what happened in Rome.”

That would be last September, when a heavily favored U.S. team was dismantled in opening matches on Friday morning and afternoon and ultimately routed, 16.5-11.5. Everything from Zach Johnson’s captain selections to individual playing performances was open to interpretation and attack by week’s end.

McIlroy, the modern anchor of the European Team, has appeared in eight Ryder Cups and is by far the biggest star on the team. At 35, he’s also the group’s elder statesman following departures of mainstays like Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood to LIV.

McIlroy said he’s previously considered what it might require for him to serve the Euro Team as a playing captain. He ultimately decided, though, that juggling the demands of the job and concurrently playing in the event would be “impossible.”

Asked if there was any chance Bradley could manage to juggle both responsibilities, should he qualify for the team, McIlroy nearly cut off the question: “No.”

In such a scenario, McIlroy said he would expect Bradley to hand down the captaincy to one his vice captains.

While the United States is only now getting its leadership roles settled, the European side has long been set. It was announced in November that Donald would return as Euro captain following his job leading the team in Rome.

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(Photo: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

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