JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Until winning the PGA Championship, the coolest thing in golf that happened to Keegan Bradley during his amazing rookie season was getting a phone call from Fred Couples in May after he won his first PGA Tour event.
But if he doesn’t get another phone call from Couples next month, that would be just cold.
Bradley’s second win of the year moved him up to No. 18 in the Presidents Cup standings, giving him three more tournaments - all of them with $8 million purses - to try to move into the top 10 and become the first tour rookie to qualify for a U.S. team. If not, Couples makes two captain’s picks on Sept. 26.
Except the way Couples is talking, he only has one pick. The other already is set aside for Tiger Woods.
“He doesn’t have to prove a lot to any captain, I don’t think,” Couples said at the Memorial, when Woods was in the middle of his three-month break from golf to heal injuries in his left leg.
Even when Woods returned to competition two weeks ago at Firestone, Couples again suggested that Woods only had to indicate his desire to play for him to be added to the Presidents Cup team.
“As far as I’m concerned, if he is not in the top 10 … he will be on our team, no doubt,” Couples told The Golf Channel.
That would mean Couples is willing to spend a captain’s pick on a guy who has played two full tournaments since the Masters, breaking par only once in eight rounds.
It means he will pick a player who might have competed only once in about three months before the Presidents Cup. Woods is under contract to play in the Australian Open in Sydney on Nov. 10-13, which is one week before the matches at Royal Melbourne.
And it will mean taking a guy who not only hasn’t won in 21 months, but who has finished within three shots of the lead in just one of his last 19 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour.
This wasn’t a problem last year for Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin. When it was time to make his four selections, Woods had shown signs of turning his game around with consecutive finishes in the top 15 against two of the strongest PGA Tour fields of the year. Plus, there were no other Americans who had distinguished themselves as logical picks.
This year is different.
Among those outside the top 10 in the standings going into the final month of qualifying are Rickie Fowler, who won his last four holes to keep alive U.S. hopes in the Ryder Cup last year, and Gary Woodland, a winner this year and an intimidating player in match play with his length.
And then there’s Bradley.
It is not unprecedented for a player to win a major and get left off a Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team in the same year. Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel won the last two majors of 2003, and Jack Nicklaus didn’t pick either one.
Then again, that was their only win of the year.
Bradley previously won at the Byron Nelson Championship in May after a sudden-death playoff, and if that wasn’t enough to show his resolve, the PGA Championship should have answered any remaining questions.
He is plenty long off the tee, saving his best drive for the 16th hole when he was coming off a triple bogey and needed a birdie to turn around his fortunes. His belly putter, although maybe not aesthetically pleasing, works for him, especially the way he holed so many important putts.
Does Couples really have any other choice but to take Bradley?
The standings are based on PGA Tour earnings dating to the 2009 Barclays, with double the money for the current year. Woods, who earned 53 percent of his points in the four FedEx Cup playoff events at the end of 2009, is No. 28 and likely to fall even farther down the list. The lowest-ranked American ever chosen was Paul Azinger, who was No. 24 in 2000.
Bradley’s stunning turnaround Sunday at Atlanta Athletic Club - three birdies over his last six holes to go from a five-shot deficit with three holes left to a playoff victory in the final major of the year - illustrate just how much golf has changed.
For one thing, American golf is either very deep or very mediocre, which could mean the same thing.
The Americans had gone six majors without winning, its longest drought since the Masters began in 1934. And it was ended by a 25-year-old rookie who was No. 108 in the world and playing in his first major.
Anyone see that coming?
No one has taken over as a dominant force in golf since Woods ran into trouble, first with his health, then with his personal life.
Three of the top four players in the world ranking have not won a major.
Bradley was the seventh straight first-time major champion, the longest streak in the modern configuration of majors that date to 1934. He was the 13th winner in the last 13 majors, the longest stretch without a repeat major winner since it went 15 in a row in the mid-1990s.
This is what golf looks like without Woods.
It won’t look any different just by putting him on the Presidents Cup team.