WILL WE EVER KNOW THE REAL PATRICK REED?
The two faces of our new Masters champion, and the case of golf’s most complicated star.
The new Masters champion has become the poster boy for American Ryder Cup jingoism. So how come nobody cheered for him at Augusta? John Huggan searches for the answer to one of golf’s great enigmas.
As ever, there was a lot going on as the first major of 2018 reached a typically exciting climax on the 18th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club. As a group of green-jacketed, blueblooded and grey-haired gentleman gathered behind the two-tiered putting surface, someone was winning the Masters and everyone else was losing another chance at golfing immortality. That same someone was hugging his caddie while the other guy indulged in a rueful handshake with the best friend carrying his bag. And a few talking heads in television booths dotted around the premises were clamouring to come up with the sort of Churchillian pay-off line that would resonate forever with viewers around the globe. In other words, all the usual stuff. This year was a little bit different, though. The winner’s walk up the final fairway, for example. Yes, there was cheering and hand-clapping. But not since 1999 and the shamefully near-silent reception afforded Jose Maria Olazabal – who had just had the unpopular audacity to defeat crowd-favourite Greg Norman down the stretch – had there been such an undercurrent of antipathy towards the golfer who would soon don the game’s most iconic article of clothing.
Patrick Reed is that man, of course. The 27-year old Texasborn sometime Augusta resident carries with him something of a reputation. And not in a good way. “Cheat,” “thief” and “liar” are just three of the less-attractive labels attached to the former University of Georgia (UofG) and Augusta State college golfer. Then there are the well-publicised – yet unspecified – familial disputes that have isolated Reed from both his parents and his sister. This long-established separation was given fresh oxygen during the Masters through a (completely one-sided) piece that ran on the American website, golf.com. Despite living only a few miles from the well-guarded gate to Augusta Nation at the end of Magnolia Drive, Bill and Jeannette Reed were forced to watch on television as their only son won his first major title. As has become the norm, they were simply not welcome, a fact that was made publicly clear when Reed’s wife Justine reportedly had her in-laws removed from the course during the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst.
In the absence of any comment from the man himself (see sidebar) on any or all of the above, Reed’s image has long been less than healthy. Even as his Ryder Cup heroics wearing red, white and blue have seen him hailed as “Captain America,” Reed has never enjoyed anything like the almost universal affection afforded to his contemporaries and compatriots Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. As a consequence, the new Masters champion remains something of a mysterious figure, albeit his relative anonymity is largely self-inflicted.
None of the accusations made against Reed make for pretty reading. And, damningly, the noise level emanating from the rattling skeletons in his closet is somewhat convincing, especially without his version of the tawdry tales. For reasons best known to himself, nothing contradictory has ever really been heard from the accused other than long-ago blanket denials.
In his one-year at UofG – where he played on a roster containing three future PGA Tour players in Russell Henley, Harris English and Hudson Stafford – Reed was accused of cheating during a team qualifying event. Two arrests for intoxication followed, when Reed was first found drunk on campus at 2.30am, then again after a Georgia football game. There was also the relatively minor matter of a fake ID, something of a right of passage for virtually every American college kid faced with a legal drinking age of 21.
According to the Athens-Clarke County Superior Court case docket, Reed pleaded guilty to that second misdemeanor and was put on probation, fined and sentenced to 60 hours of community service before he was discharged as a first offender. In the wake of those and other incidents, Reed’s relationship with the other members of the golf team and their coach, Chris Haack, went rapidly downhill. “My goal is to get my players to think they are twice as good as they really are,” Haack said. “Patrick already thought he was twice as good as he really was.”
So it was no surprise that he transferred elsewhere. What was surprising was Reed’s choice. Although his parents lived in the city that hosts the Masters, Augusta State was hardly where one would expect a player of Reed’s talents to end up. Still, Reed’s new coach, Josh Gregory, knew what he was doing.
“All I asked him to do was keep his mouth shut and play golf and let his golf clubs do the talking for him,” Gregory told ESPN’s Ian O’Connor. “It was the only way for him to earn the respect of his teammates. Patrick was on his final strike, and he knew that. If he didn’t shape up, he couldn’t go anywhere else. Even if he made the tour at that point, maturity-wise he would’ve gotten eaten up. I told him he was never going to make it if he didn’t get things under control.”
That stern warning came after Reed’s arrogance and boorish
behaviour had alienated him from his new teammates.
“He shot his mouth off early on when he shouldn’t have,” says Henrik Norlander, one of Reed’s teammate at Augusta State.
Sadly, that antipathy escalated into accusations of cheating that led to Reed being suspended from team competition. According to other members of the Augusta State side, Reed returned falsified scores in two consecutive qualifying rounds. This led to a mass confrontation in a meeting attended by the whole team. Despite his denials, a decision was taken to kick Reed off the team – a “sentence” later reduced to a two-tournament suspension by Gregory.
Perhaps significantly too, Reed was reported to have had tense telephone conversations with his father around that time. Displeased when his son did not play as well as he was expected to, Reed senior was said to be “accusatory and angry” before the calls ended abruptly. In Shane Ryan’s book, Slaying the Tiger, the author states: “The exact nature of the relationship wasn’t well known, but the sense among the team was that Bill was unreasonably tough on his son.”
All of which was the rather unsavoury background to Reed compiling a stellar record in college golf. In head-to-head play he was all but unbeatable, a precursor to the Ryder Cup titan he had already become before winning the Masters. Following on from his victory in the 2006 Junior British Open at Heswall, an unbeaten Reed led Augusta State to two consecutive national championships in 2010 and 2011.
In the first final against Oklahoma State, Reed defeated Peter Uihlein 4&2. One year later in the semi-final Reed beat him again – this time by 8&7, having birdied six of the first 11 holes. It was a remarkable performance but one that was to get even better – at least from Reed’s point of view.
Up against his former “mates” from UofG, Reed was drawn to play Harris English. According to Ryan’s book, Reed’s teammates even went so far as to deliver a pre-match message of support to English. All to no avail. The result was, according to one wry observer, “the death of karma.”
“If you were to go back in history and ask Harris if there’s one match he wanted to win, that was the match,” said Haack, who
‘REED’S PARENTS WERE FORCED TO WATCH AT HOME ON TELEVISION AS THEIR ONLY SON WON HIS FIRST MAJOR TITLE.’
was clearly struggling to find the right words. “Not only did it mean winning the national championship, which was ultimately what we all wanted, but just a lot of the… oh, gosh, I don’t know, the way things always transpired with Patrick… it just wasn’t a very… I want to take the high road here.”
In those two NCAA championships, Reed established a 6-0 record in matchplay that made him perhaps the most feared player in college golf. Not that such a reputation made him any friends within the teams he played for, or with the amateur game’s establishment. Despite proving himself at the highest level – and making the semi-final of the 2009 US Amateur – he never represented the United States in either the Palmer Cup or the Walker Cup. Clearly, his reputation preceded him.
But enough of the history lesson. Through all of his trials and troubles, one thing has always been all but unanimous: Patrick Reed was and is a gifted golfer, one likely to make it all the way to the top of the game. He certainly was in no doubt from an early age, displaying, shall we say, an uncommon level of confidence in his own ability. “If you ever challenged Patrick at something, he answered it every single time,”says Darren Bahnsen, a teammate of Reed’s at the University Lab High School in Baton Rouge Louisiana. “In one practice round I hit a drive down the middle, about 275 yards, and felt good about it. Patrick said, ‘Man, that’s a good drive,’ and then he got down on two knees and hit his ball 10 yards past me. From his knees.”
Nothing much changed over the years. In 2014, after winning the World Golf Championship event at Doral, Reed (in)famously pronounced himself a “top-five” player when he quite clearly was not. It was roundly derided at the time, but, as they say, no one is laughing now. And the news isn’t all bad. Not everyone is prepared to write off Reed as a result of what are now distant memories. Duncan Weir, executive director of golf development at the R&A, recalls driving the teenage Reed to Hoylake so that the teenager could watch the opening day of the Open Championship. One day earlier, Reed had won the Junior British Open at Heswall. According to Weir, the young American could not have been more polite and pleasant to spend time with.
Others defend the up-to-date version of Reed, even if he is never going to be one of the more popular members of the PGA Tour family. Certainly, some of his peers were less than impressed by some of the publicity that immediately followed Reed’s victory at Augusta. The feeling was that more should have been made of the new champion’s fine play and less of his complicated relationship with his family.
Indeed, there are players who liken Reed – one of the hardest workers on tour – to former Open champion David Duval. En route to becoming World No.1, Duval did not spend much time hanging out or chewing the fat with his fellow competitors. Reed, who typically plays practice rounds alone, is the same. Just as Duval did, he focuses on his golf and does his own thing with the close-knit group he refers to as “Team Reed.”
“My wife Justine is and has been my biggest support system on and off the course,” he says. “My mother-in-law is irreplaceable in our lives and she is so supportive. My sister-in-law, Kris, is my A-Team. My caddie (and brother-in-law), Kessler, I can always depend on.”
On the range, Reed is similarly remote. More often than not, he wears headphones as he works on the distinctive swing coach Kevin Kirk has helped him hone. He is not there to socialise.
“Going forward, I hope that the media gets past Patrick’s past,” says 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. “He could probably help that by talking about it all, at least a little, from his perspective. We don’t need to know any of the gruesome details. But it would be nice to know more about Patrick Reed. He just needs to give us all something else to talk about. If he doesn’t, the same old stuff is going to keep coming up. Unfortunately, that is the modern way of things. Judgement rather than observation dominates certain areas of the press.”
To that end, Reed has opened up a little since his Masters success. Sort of. In an interview approved by one of his sponsors, Reed provided some insight into his epic match with Rory McIlroy at the last Ryder Cup. The result, as we all know, was typical Reed, a one-hole victory. But the goodnatured interaction between the two protagonists more than hinted at the sportsmanship Reed secretes beneath his boisterous exterior.
“I wanted to play their best guy,” he said. “And that week he was playing best and I wanted to go up against him. When it came out that I was to play Rory, I was just so jacked and excited
‘REED NEEDS TO GIVE US ALL SOMETHING ELSE TO TALK ABOUT, OTHERWISE THE SAME OLD STUFF WILL COME UP.’
and ready to go. But the one thing that you don’t see in golf anymore because it’s such an individual sport is the camaraderie and just the friendly banter back and forth from players. You get it in basketball, you get it in every other sport you play because you’re interacting a lot with the guys. In golf you don’t really have that. It’s just you and your caddie.
“Playing with Rory, I’ll never forget when he made his birdie on number three to go one up in the match. He just gave it just a nonchalant little hand wag, that’s about it, and didn’t show really any emotion. So, as we were walking to the fourth tee, I said, ‘I just want to let you know, when I win my first hole, you’re going to know about it.’ And he just starts laughing. Then we tie four, go to five, I hit a great tee shot at the driveable par four. I hit it up there to eight feet for eagle and make the putt and then I let him have it. I go nuts and he just starts laughing again.”
Two years before, of course, Reed had performed with similar gusto in a more hostile environment at Gleneagles. As the US side was capitulating, he was one of the few shining lights in skipper Tom Watson’s team, defeating Henrik Stenson one-up in singles. No matter the negative energy that surrounds him, Reed has always found a way to win. Given his stubborn and single-minded history, don’t expect anything to change any time soon.
Reed is congratulated by defending champion Sergio Garcia.
Reed’s impressive victory at the Masters was greeted with subdued applause from the gallery at Augusta National.