PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — At this year’s Players Championship, reminders of LIV are everywhere. There are reminders by addition, like the extra $5 million in the tournament purse. There are reminders by subtraction, like defending champion (and banished LIV defector) Cameron Smith, who spent Thursday playing a short public course exactly 1.1 miles from TPC Sawgrass. As for the competitors? They each feel the change in their own way.
Keegan Bradley notices every single day. On a sweltering afternoon ahead of this week’s tournament I sat down with my fellow New Englander for a Drop Zone podcast interview. Well into our conversation I asked how his social life on Tour has changed as the years go by — and if it’s any more solitary. He laughed.
“Well, it is because a bunch of my friends have gone to LIV recently,” he said. “Brendan Steele is one of my closest friends in the entire world. He was in my wedding, we play every Tuesday together, every dinner on the road, our families are friends — and then overnight he’s gone.”
Steele was part of the latest batch of LIV signees and was announced in the immediate run-up to the upstart league’s season debut at Mayakoba. He plays on Phil Mickelson’s HyFlyers. And he — like the rest of his LIV peers — is indefinitely suspended from PGA Tour play. Given he’s ranked No. 120 in the world, it’s unlikely Steele will qualify for upcoming majors, too. Bradley’s circle has grown smaller. For Bradley, the LIV effect is pretty simple: He misses his friends.
“The other guy that I used to play golf with and hang with is Cameron Tringale, and he’s gone,” Bradley said. “They’re on the same team! So it’s certainly been strange in that aspect. Because all of a sudden, overnight, I look around and I’m one of the older guys out here. And the younger guys have their own crew and what they do — it’s been strange, especially with Steeley gone. Like, really been strange this last month or so.”
I was curious if Bradley had seriously considered joining them. He would have been a prize for LIV recruiters, after all, with a major championship and multiple U.S. team appearances under his belt. Had he been tempted by the possibility of teaming up with Mickelson again? He paused.
“I have a much different view than a lot of guys,” he said. “I don’t have any hard feelings to the guys that went [to LIV]. I’m happy for the guys that went and got a ton of money — I mean, that’s what we’re doing out here. For me, like, I want to win the Players. I want to win Bay Hill, Memorial.”
LIV events still don’t earn world ranking points, which means its players have seen their standings plummet since being suspended from the PGA Tour. Bradley is currently 20th in the world and easily qualified for all four, but he knows how quickly that could change. “The thought of not being in those tournaments is brutal,” he said.
As for LIV’s format? Consider Bradley intrigued.
“To be honest with you, I think the setup of how they do it, with the teams and the way they’re all playing, I think it’s brilliant,” he said. “I loved the concept, I thought it was smart. But ultimately, playing in the U.S. Open at Brookline really, like, I can’t miss this. This is too big, this is too important to me.”
One thing that’s clear: Bradley doesn’t lack for passion. It’s hard to overstate just how eager he is to earn a spot on this year’s Ryder Cup team — he thinks about it “every second,” he said — and he’s looked for extra motivation everywhere he can. One perceived slight? He wasn’t invited to the exclusive Delaware players meeting, nor any subsequent get-togethers as the top pros have shaped the Tour’s future.
He’s leaned into those perceived slights, he said with another laugh. Bradley plays well with a chip on his shoulder.
“I mean, us growing up in New England, I always feel like I’m getting overlooked,” he said. “I’m sure I worked that up in my head a little bit, but it really helped me, honestly. I’d hear, he was in that meeting? And it really motivated me in the offseason to really work hard. I lost a ton of weight, I changed my diet, and I wanted to come out and be one of the best players in the world.”
So far, so good: Bradley won the Zozo Championship, his first win since 2018. He finished runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s third in the FedEx Cup and has improved from No. 47 in the world (that week in Delaware) to No. 20.
That brought Bradley full circle: back to his love for the PGA Tour. He said he feels “grateful” to have the fate of the Tour in the hands of Rory McIlroy and other leading voices. He called them smart — good guys, great players. They’ve earned his trust. But Bradley likes the meritocracy best of all.
“If you play well, you’re gonna get rewarded,” he said. “It’s not like if you’re on a team and your coach doesn’t play you. Your destiny is in your own hands. Everybody’s going to have a chance this week that’s in the field — you have four days to win a tournament. If you play better than the other person, you’re going to win. It’s all in my hands. And I love that about the Tour.”
You can listen to the rest of the interview below:
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