JERSEY CITY, N.J. — "USA! USA!" chants rained down Patrick Reed as he made his way up the 18th fairway on Saturday at Liberty National Golf Club. Captain America offered nothing but a thumbs up, acknowledging the rowdy, probably-not-sober bros but not exactly egging them on. Had this been a team event and Reed was donning the red, white and blue, he might have put his hand to his ear, signaling to them to turn up the volume.
Reed opts for a more businesslike approach in non-team events, his eyes always staring at what's directly ahead. Not even an awful "Spongebob Squarepants" reference from another lubed-up spectator just off the 15th green could grab Reed's attention. Reed kept it moving, just as he's done all week, shooting rounds of 66, 66 and a third-round 67 to grab the solo 54-hole lead at 14-under 199. He's made only one bogey, and, more important, he's capitalized on his opportunities.
"I feel like I've been doing that a lot the past month, month and a half," said Reed, who has finished among the top 12 three times in his last five starts. "Just haven't quite made some putts, or hit one shot here or there that's derailed the round. It's close, and it feels good. Feels like this has been coming for some time, and now it's just go out and stick to the game plan tomorrow and hopefully Sunday we have a chance to win the golf tournament."
Reed has not won since the 2018 Masters, which he followed with a pair of top 10s, then a solo fourth in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. But he began to struggle after that week, and those struggles bled over into the 2018-'19 season. From October to June, Reed had one top 10, and it came in his first event of the season. A missed cut at the PGA Championship, where Reed shot rounds of 74 and 72, caused him to hit the pause button.
"Mentally and physically, I was out of it. I was kind of drained," he said. "Once I got to Bethpage and finished, I was going to play the following couple weeks and decided to shut it off. Actually shut down the game for 10 days and got my body and my mind right. Just got back up 100 percent ready to go, and at that point I was able to sit down clearly think and talk through my team what we're doing, what's good, what's not, what we need to fix. From that point, we had a very clear picture and path to move on to.
"Any time you can ease your mind and you have clear focus, you're able to go out there and execute and play better golf."
A younger version of Patrick Reed might scoff at the thought of a "reset." His fiery nature wouldn't allow it. "No way," said Reed when asked if he would ever consider time off a few years ago.
It ended up being just what he needed, and when Reed returned he immediately saw a difference, claiming he was hitting the ball 10 to 15 yards farther. His first competitive event after Bethpage Black was the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He finished T-32, nothing special, but it was the beginning of a trend that's seen him go T-30, T-5, T-23, 10th, T-12 and T-22. It still wasn't quite all there, so Reed made a major equipment change last Sunday at the Wyndham Championship that could end up paying off in a big way.
"I changed golf balls to a new golf ball that's a little softer [Reed switched to a 17 Pro V]. I was hitting so many three-quarter shots, that's normally my go-to, and I'm watching 9-irons release 30 feet. I'm like, 'Well, that's not good.' That being said, I went to a little softer, a little higher-launching golf ball on Sunday last week, and next thing you know, I shoot seven-under there and come here, -5, -5, -4. It's going the right direction. I feel like I'm doing a lot of things well. I just need to go out and give myself opportunities."
Reed would also be lying if he said being back at Liberty National, site of the 2017 Presidents Cup, where he went 3-1-1 in an American romp, wasn't a big factor this week. As of now, he's 17th in the Presidents Cup standings. If the team were picked today, Reed would need a captain's pick from Tiger Woods to get a spot on the roster. Reed has played in every team event beginning with the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
"Probably more in the back of my mind here because it was here in 2017 and seeing the Statue of Liberty, hearing the 'USA' chants. Definitely in the back of my mind, but the biggest thing is to go out and may solid golf and continue playing well, because the end of the day, the way you make it on the team is by playing good golf."