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Patrick Reed finally seems happy in the LIV Golf bubble

July 29, 2022
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Patrick Reed reacts on the 10th hole during the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational at Bedminster.

Jared C. Tilton/LIV

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Patrick Reed had just carved his approach at the par-3 fourth, and though the ball disappeared into Friday's overcast skies, you could tell by the sound and by his pose it was the shot he wanted to hit, confirmed seconds later when it came down 10 feet from the hole. Even for a player of his stature, it was a good strike, one of those shots that underlines the expanse between the pros and the rest of us schmucks.

The momentary awe was broken, however, when two men in their mid-20s began to shout before the ball came to rest. “Oh man, oh man Patty, that’s good! How good is that? Can you see where that’s going? Look at how good it is!” It was innocuous, albeit somewhat obnoxious, given the volume and that there were less than eight people around the box. They were yells you would hear at any golf event and yells usually ignored. Only Reed turned around, just feet between himself and the fans, and grinned. “Don’t worry, I knew where it was going," he remarked. Whether it was his response or merely the fact they had been acknowledged, the two men were besides themselves and let Reed know they were pulling for him as Reed headed towards the green.

Now, when it comes to Reed and fan interactions, those who follow the sport understand this is not how it usually goes. Of course, this is a league that has promised disruption, and one of its vessels of chaos is delivering a product disparate from the norm. On that front, give LIV Golf this: It has sights not usually seen at other tournaments. While there was plenty of sensory overload Friday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, one of the strangest sights was that of Reed—golf’s lone wolf—seemingly, finally, being a part of a pack.

“To be out here and have the support that we have out here, not just with the players but the whole staff and the courses we go to, the spectators we have and just being a part of something new and being a part of something that I feel like is refreshing," Reed said after authoring a seven-under 64 to grab a share of the Round 1 lead.

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Patrick Reed reacts after hitting his tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational—Bedminster.

Charles Laberge/LIV Golf

Before going too far down this road, it’s worth noting there’s a lot of—how do we put this?—orchestration this week. Part of that comes with the presence of a former president of the United States, Donald Trump, who on Friday afternoon walked onto the 16th tee box mid-competition to watch players do their best not to embarrass themselves in front of him and the crowd that follows his every move. But it's also the fact that there is no shortage of controversy about this league: who’s a part of it, who’s behind it and what all of this is trying to achieve. So the parties involved are doing their best to keep that controversy at bay. That includes LIV bringing in pseudo-comedians to cut the tension at press conferences; when a tough question is asked by the media, there is a silly follow-up question to provide levity for the players. We say that to say this: Every player seems to be on his best behavior—with fans, with staff, with each other, and this sentiment was best illustrated on the range Friday morning.

Professional golf is a fraternal bunch, but other tournaments’ practice facilities do not feature as many bro-hugs and fist-pumps, howls and friendly discussions as were on display at Trump Bedminster. Maybe it is the feeling that comes with guaranteed paydays and signing bonuses, or the foxhole mentality of those who have been suspended by their respective former tours. A cynic could cite it as an example that this league leans towards exhibition; a proponent could say the players are really into the team dynamic. It depends on the viewer’s prism, and it's something that won’t be proven for some time.

Except Reed … well, “fraternal” has never been his jam. He likes to keep things inward, famously eschewing the company of others when at a tournament. Reed takes pride in being unruffled by his environment, beholden to an inner charge only known to him. It can be intimidating. It can be serious and can emit an unwelcoming vibe. He is not there to talk but to work, to compete. If you’ve ever seen him on the range, the ear buds are always in, doing their best to keep the noise out. Frankly, throughout Reed’s career, there’s been a hell of a lot of noise.

Yet there Reed was Friday, looking like the Mayor of Bedminster. Watching him walk the range line—trading barbs, exchanging high-fives, every remark generating a hearty laugh—one would have a hard time explaining this is one of the more divisive figures in the sport. Yes, he was there to work, and whereas other players seemed to be hitting balls for the sake of getting warm, Reed went back and forth from the congested hitting bays to a more spacious part of the range with coach Kevin Kirk to fix his driver mechanics. But Reed also seemed to be (gasp) having fun.

There’s certainly the case that if anyone was truly passionate about the team component of LIV Golf, it is Reed, whose reputation (at least the good part) was fueled by early career success at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. “Let's be honest, to me team golf is always amazing, always fun,” Reed said. “To be a part of a team that we have four Americans [Reed, Dustin Johnson, Pat Perez, Talor Gooch] on our team, it's one of those things that it's kind of like one of those mini-team events. I can go out there and play for something other than just myself; I'm playing for my teammates. I love being able to look up at that leaderboard and not just see my name, but also look for my guys, seeing, all right, what do we need to do to try to stay atop that leaderboard. It just gives you a little bit more edge and a little bit more fire to go out there and play.”

And Reed, like a number of players, also seems revitalized by the shortened schedule. He mentioned at his introductory press conference that in spite of the ramifications of joining he felt like LIV returned a quality of life that he couldn’t find on tour. He asserted that being on the road and away from his kids, the possibility that he wasn’t being a good dad, was beginning to affect his play.

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Patrick Reed talks with former President Donald Trump on the 16th tee during the first round.

Charles Laberge/LIV Golf

“It wears on you. It wears on you as an athlete, wears on you as a person, as a father, and this is for me, I feel like this is the best decision ever,” Reed said when joining LIV. “... Now I can compete at the highest level, but also prepare and get ready for every single event and be able to be home, and even though I'll be grinding at home getting ready, I'll be able to spend time with the kids."

In that same breath, while this league has been a golden parachute for injury-prone players, rank-and-file names and those stuck in the purgatory that is golf in your 40s, Reed, at 31, is the rare LIV member who is young, in his prime, unburdened by injury or off-the-course questions. But Reed is also, whether he would admit to it or not, in desperate need of a fresh start. He hasn’t been the same player since the incident at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open regarding relief from a plugged ball in the rough, one that while following the Rules of Golf, broke an unwritten rule to many, with fellow players and the CBS Sports broadcast taking the tournament's eventual champion to task. Coupled with past allegations, along with the curious activity of a Twitter account believed to be tied to his family and rumored issues with his perceived treatment from the PGA Tour, the noise—even for Reed—was getting pretty loud.

So it’s no surprise that Reed—who had just one top-10 finish in his last 16 tour starts—finished T-3 in his LIV debut in Portland and has a share of the lead in Bedminster.

“At the end of the day, you keep on adding the strength of fields and the caliber of players we have, it doesn't matter what we're doing,” Reed said. “You have to grind, you have to focus, you have to be 110 percent in in order to have a chance to win golf tournaments. I probably can speak for all of us up here; there's nothing like going out and having a chance late Sunday to win a golf tournament and try to earn a trophy.”

But it should be noted that the fun, friendly guy on the range was that same guy on the course. His guard, always up, was down. “I think the fans enjoy it,” Reed said of the experience. “They get a little more relaxed, kind of get more pumped up, especially if you're playing well.”

On the first hole, when a fan hollered how far Reed had with his second shot—a shot Reed put to within seven feet—Reed turned to his right, stared, smiled and signaled with his fingers 2-1-4. “Flushed a 7-iron,” added Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law, Kessler Karain, forcing Reed to nod and smile again. He was talkative with playing mates Paul Casey and Abraham Ancer, he chatted with volunteers, he cracked wise with Trump. If he wasn’t enjoying himself, well, it was one heck of a performance.

This is not to excuse or overlook the clouds that have followed Reed to this point. It is not to force a redemption arc. It is not to cast judgment or approval, nor change the minds of those who think they know who he is. It is merely to say it doesn’t seem to matter, not here at least.

Here, at LIV Golf, Reed’s past is just that, and it's overshadowed by the myriad concerns about the league and its novelty. Here, Patrick Reed can just golf. No wonder the man seems happy.