WGC-Mexico ChampionshipFebruary 22, 2020

Patrick Reed absorbs the criticism, goes about his business and is one off the lead

Patrick Reed
Stan BadzPatrick Reed plays a bunker shot on the 18th hole during the third round of the 2020 WGC-Mexico Championship.

MEXICO CITY — The origins of Patrick Reed’s Captain America nickname aren’t entirely clear but there’s no mistaking why he was dubbed with the moniker — his love of country and success in Ryder Cups. A more appropriate superhero comparison, though, would be Wolverine.

A fierce and brawny (OK, one out of two ain’t bad) mutant comic book figure, Wolverine’s healing factor is what allowed him to receive a skeleton made of adamantium, a fictional metal alloy with its defining quality being that of near indestructibility. Which is another way to say that for all the things Reed has been called in recent months, resilient should be near the top of the list, too.

In the wake of Reed’s latest controversy — Bunkergate in the Bahamas, for which he has been roundly criticized by everyone from peers to pundits in a controversy that seemingly just won’t go away — the 29-year-old has managed to block out considerable noise and play very good golf.

Exhibits A, B and C, to use some legal vernacular:

—The day after Reed was penalized two strokes for sweeping sand from behind his ball in a waste bunker at the Hero World Challenge, he shot 66 and eventually went on to finish third.

—A month later during a playoff in Maui when a fan yelled, “Cheater!” after Reed stroked an 8-foot birdie putt that missed he said he never heard the shout.

—Last month at Torrey Pines, Reed was occasionally greeted with jeers during the third round and another “cheater” taunt came after a bogey on the 17th, but he still managed a T-6 that week.

In the weeks since, the noise has only continued, with the latest biting comments coming from Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis earlier this week. No matter, through three rounds of the WGC-Mexico Championship, Reed is a stroke off the lead of Justin Thomas after a sloppy but still respectable four-under 67.

“The biggest thing for me is any time I go to the golf course, I pop in my headphones, get to work, and just really get in tune with every golf shot I hit,” Reed said when asked how he has been able to block out being put on blast. “Because at the end of the day you can't listen to what other people are saying.”

Surrounding himself with a small but fiercely loyal inner circle helps. So does remarkable talent. But that’s not to say Reed hasn’t heard the critics — quite the opposite, actually — or that it hasn’t affected him.

Asked earlier in the week if he heard what Koepka and Kostis had said, Reed confirmed that he had. Asked for a response, he didn’t have much of one, saying, “I said what I have to say about what happened in the Bahamas. At the end of the day, all I'm trying to do is go out and play good golf and trying to win a golf championship.”

When a follow-up was asked, the interview was ended by an official. But on Friday, Reed conceded after his round that at times this year the condemnation has become something of a distraction.

“I think the biggest thing for me is I just work so hard at [ignoring] it,” Reed said. “My team and I work really hard, and I'm not going to lie, just the whole thing on the outside distracts us from our ultimate goal, and that's to go out and play great golf and continue to try to improve every day on and off the golf course.”

He’s certainly had enough practice dealing with it, dating to his earliest days on tour.

On the final day of this same tournament (then the WGC-Cadillac Championship) in 2014, Reed, then just 23 years old and having not even played in a major yet, raised eyebrows with a braggadocio declaration during a pre-recorded interview with NBC in which he dubbed himself a top 5 player in the world. He was presumed everything from delusional to arrogant but went on to win the tournament, cracking the top 20 with the victory and within two years the top 10.

But later that year, Reed uttered a homophobic slur after missing a putt in the opening round of the HSBC Champions and was rightfully roasted for it. He apologized, and in his next start the following month at the Hero World Challenge tied for third.

Two years later, the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Reed wasn’t entangled in any controversy but did find himself locked in a high-profile and electric singles match against Rory McIlory, the highlight and turning point coming when McIlroy holed a 50-footer on the eighth hole (and yelled to the crowd that he couldn’t hear them) only to watch Reed answer by jarring a 25-footer of his own (and wag his finger at McIlroy) to send the partisan crowd into a tizzy. Reed went on to win 1-up to set the tone for a rare U.S. victory.

Then there was 2018.

Among the noise that year: Many patrons at Augusta National openly rooting against Reed in a final-round pairing with McIlroy (in which Reed again came out the victor); a crack during the Arnold Palmer Invitational while seeking relief in which he said, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth,” when he wasn’t granted his wish; telling a camera crew at the Porsche European Open their “privileges had been revoked” after Reed claimed one of the operators had jingled coins in his pocket; whining about free Red Sox tickets on the eve of the Dell Technologies Championship being in the “line drive section” of Fenway; and last but certainly not least his highly controversial comments following the Americans’ Ryder Cup loss in Paris.

Then, in 2019, the week after Reed’s Bunkergate followed him to the Presidents Cup in Australia, his caddie Kessler Karain got into an altercation with a fan that resulted in Karain being banned from the bag for Sunday’s singles. Reed’s response? A key 4 and 2 thumping of C.T. Pan.

Reed hasn't just steadied himself through it, he's reveled in it. Thankfully, this week has been void of controversy, though there’s still one more round to go.

No matter, Reed, who grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, will likely show up Sunday in a red shirt, black pants and with headphones planted firmly in ears.

“It always gets you excited anytime you're in a final group playing with anybody,” he said. “At the end of the day, I put myself in position that I needed to going into [Sunday] to try to win a golf tournament.”