Patrick Reed against the world
One of the ironies of 2018 is that Captain America could have used a good shushing. For all of the deeds Patrick Reed accomplished this year, it’s his words that linger. Too bad, considering there is no shortage of deeds to define Reed’s season.
There were the five birdies in the first seven holes Sunday at Shinnecock Hills that vaulted him into the thick of a U.S. Open shootout. There was his back-nine charge at the DP World Tour Championship to secure runner-up in the Race to Dubai, the highest finish by an American in the European Tour’s season-long points competition. And, of course, there was the 25-foot birdie putt he buried on the 12th hole at Augusta National that triggered his winning the green jacket.
Yet for all his success on the course, including that career-altering Masters victory in his collegiate hometown, the image that stands out is Reed leaning forward after the Ryder Cup and flashing a wicked smile across the dais when a question was offered in the post-match press conference regarding why he and Jordan Spieth hadn’t been paired that week. It was a look that said “Should I light this room on fire?”
Spieth elected to answer, as if to dowse any sparks, and U.S. captain Jim Furyk hijacked the query before it could get back across to Reed. But that didn’t stop Reed from burning things down anyway in a phone interview later that night with The New York Times in which he threw Furyk, Spieth and the rest of his teammates back under the bus that had already crushed them all in a humiliating 17½-10½ loss to the Europeans in France.
Reed said he was “blindsided” by the “buddy system” pairings that sent him out twice with Tiger Woods for losses and benched him in both foursomes sessions. He continued with a myriad of provocative rants:
• “The issue’s obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me.”
• “For somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice.”
• “Every day, I saw ‘Leave your egos at the door.’ They [the Europeans] do that better than us.”
Considering Reed’s signature move was putting a finger to his lips at Gleneagles in 2014 to shush the European crowds, he should listen to himself.
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An anonymous U.S. player told the New York Post that Reed “is so full of s—t,” and added “he has no clue how to play team golf. I saw firsthand how bad of a team player he was. Eleven players understood the concept of team golf and only one didn’t. Unfortunately, that one proved to be too costly for the team to overcome.”
So now what? In what should have been a triumphant season in the continued development of one of America’s top young talents, Patrick Reed instead faces a different reality. What kind of environment has he created for himself moving forward, not just with fans trying to figure him out but also with his peers?
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Reed’s tarnished relationship with his Ryder Cup teammates follows the same pattern as his collegiate experience. He was persona non grata when he was kicked off the team at Georgia in 2009 after one season, and most on the Augusta State roster tolerated him as a necessary evil in helping deliver the school consecutive NCAA championships in 2010 and 2011.
“They all hate him—any guys that were on the team with him [at Georgia] hate him and that’s the same way at Augusta,” said Kevin Kisner, a Georgia alum who predated Reed’s arrival in Athens and lives 20 minutes from Augusta in Aiken, S.C. “I don’t know that they’d piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth.”
Getting Reed’s collegiate teammates to confirm that animosity on the record is fruitless. Professional tour peers who shared rosters with him like Harris English, Russell Henley, Brian Harman or Henrik Norlander will give you the same glare and no comment whenever the subject of Reed comes up. None of them see any value in saying something to sabotage Reed’s reputation when they have full confidence that he’ll inevitably say enough to sabotage himself.
That’s certainly proven the case. Reed first caught everybody’s attention when he became the youngest winner of a World Golf Championship event at Doral in 2014 and promptly declared himself a “top-five player” in the world. Even before the Ryder Cup fallout, he made headlines this year whining about various sleights. He complained that he needed to be named Spieth in order to get a favorable ruling at Bay Hill. He publicly griped about the quality of his free tickets to a Red Sox game in September. He revoked a camera crew’s “privileges” and refused to hit his shot until they moved across the fairway at the European Open.
‘They all hate him—any guys that were on the team with him [at Georgia] hate him and that’s the same way at Augusta. I don’t know that they’d piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth.’ —Kevin Kisner
When the subject of Reed’s estrangement with his parents and sister—who live only a few miles from Augusta National—came up in his post-Masters press conference, Reed continued his dismissive campaign regarding the matter.
“I mean, I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments,” he said with a cold glare at the questioner.
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Reed, who almost exclusively plays practice rounds alone, doesn’t cultivate many friends to vouch for him. His inner circle is comprised mainly of his wife, Justine, and her family, including her brother Kessler Karain as his caddie. Both Justine and her mother waged social-media wars in defense of his Ryder Cup performance. He’s created his own in-house management, Team Reed Enterprises, which seems to embrace his villainous reputation with an ominous red-and-black eagle logo.
“You never get anything from him, so it’s hard to learn anything from him,” Kisner said. “He’s always got his headphones in.”
Bubba Watson, who offered Reed some friendly advice after he blurted out a homophobic epithet four years ago in China, stuck around to congratulate Reed after his victory in Augusta. Before they went 0-2 as partners at Le Golf National, Reed developed a kinship with Woods when the latter served as vice captain at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Rory McIlroy, who faded in the final pairing with Reed at Augusta and had a memorable Ryder Cup singles duel with him at Hazeltine, says he enjoys their relationship.
“I respect him. I have a deep respect for his game, his mental toughness, his drive. I’ve spent enough time around Patrick to know he’s a really good guy and sometimes misunderstood,” McIlroy said recently. “I genuinely like him.”
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Josh Gregory—Reed’s college coach at Augusta State and occasional swing advisor—agrees with the “misunderstood” label.
“He’s said things maybe he wishes he didn’t say, but for the most part he’s very misunderstood,” Gregory said. “He’s a lot more well-liked than people think. He keeps mainly to himself and cares about his family and cares about his golf, and that’s mainly just it. He doesn’t have a lot of other interests. There could be a documentary on how hard this young man works. Yes, he’s very talented, but there’s no secret to why he’s been so successful. That’s his work ethic. Nobody will outwork him or out-prepare him. Of course, he’s very brash and cocky inwardly, but that’s not really who he is on the outside. At times it may come across as that when he says ‘I’m one of the top-five players in the world,’ but that’s what he genuinely believes.”
Davis Love III, who has been Reed’s captain or vice captain on three consecutive international teams, thinks there’s some merit in that concept. He likens the way Reed’s competitiveness comes across sometimes to Tom Watson, whose bluntness could be off-putting.
“I think Patrick is so competitive, like Tom, that sometimes he goes overboard, the wrong direction,” Love said. “But harnessing that is a great thing. You’ve seen it with the top players, there’s something wired a little differently to make them that good. To make them that cocky and competitive when it counts to win the Masters you have to have something different inside you to do that.
“Sometimes competitive guys just can’t handle losing. You have to learn how to be friends with everybody on our team and everybody get along and harness that competitiveness.”
Of all the people in Reed’s current life, Gregory has been endeavoring to harness that the longest—even longer than Reed’s wife. Gregory first met Reed when they were both competing in the 2009 Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples, Fla., where a 18-year-old Reed tied for fifth just a stroke ahead of his soon-to-be college coach.
“That’s right when he was leaving Georgia and trying to decide where he was going to go to school,” Gregory said.
After his brief, tumultuous tenure at Georgia, Reed settled at Augusta State where he became the essential ingredient to turn an already talented roster into back-to-back NCAA champions. While Reed’s personality didn’t mix well with another collection of teammates, Gregory became a fervent ally that has endured.
“There’s always a place for me on his team because I get him and understand him and understand how he’s wired,” Gregory said. “He’s extremely hard on himself and the most self-motivated person I’ve ever seen. I know when he lashes out and when to take it and when to kick him in the butt and when to pat him on the back. So I think it’s important he trusts me … and I’ve been there for him regardless of good times and bad times or people taking shots at him or when he’s made some mistakes I think he wishes he could take back.”
There’s only so much anyone can do. Reed said “I don’t ever regret anything I really say.” He seems disinterested in making friends with peers or being beloved by fans.
“Honestly, I don’t really care what people say on Twitter or what they say if they are cheering for me or not cheering for me,” he said at the Masters. “I’m out here to do my job, and that’s to play golf. I feel like if I’m doing it the right way, then that's all that really matters.”
‘There could be a documentary on how hard this young man works. Yes, he’s very talented, but there’s no secret to why he’s been so successful. That’s his work ethic. Nobody will outwork him or out-prepare him.’ —Josh Gregory
That singular focus has carried him as high as No. 7 in the world (Reed is currently 15th), but it’s not much for developing chemistry in the team room.
“It’s an individual sport. You do what you do to take care of yourself,” Kisner said. “I don’t think he made himself any more popular to get a captain’s pick on a team if he ever needed one. It is what it is. He’s a helluva player, and he’s gonna make a lot of teams, and he’s gonna win golf tournaments.”
Reed addressed his immediate post-Ryder Cup comments after he jumped out to a first-round lead in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last month. While not shying away from his point that there was a lack of communication and “something needed to be changed,” he tried to move forward.
“It’s been a long time, a long time ago,” he said regarding the Ryder Cup. “All of us on our side have moved past that. You know, basically when the tournament was over, all of us moved past it, and we’re just kind of getting ready for hopefully two years.”
Woods, who will captain the 2019 U.S. Presidents Cup team, said at the Hero that he had a long conversation with Reed after the Ryder Cup, but Woods declined to offer specifics. “We talked amongst us, and that will stay between us,” he noted.
Reed and Furyk haven’t spoken since Paris, and the issues weren’t addressed in a brief text exchange after the matches. Furyk, in speaking with Golf Digest, wishes for any lessons to come from the experience to be constructive.
“It’s not that I want the page to turn; I want ’18 to be a learning experience for all 12 of the players and all six of us as captains,” Furyk said. “But I also want us to progress. So for me to rehash, it’s not a positive. Pretty soon we’re going to name our next captain, and I’m going to help that person and say here’s where I could have improved and here’s what we could have done better and here’s the things I think really worked. I drew a lot of positives from what Davis did. He made my job less difficult as a captain, and I want to do that for the next. So for me to be anything but positive from the experience doesn’t do us any good as a team.”
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Could Reed’s personality become a liability to himself and to future U.S. international teams?
“I hope not,” Furyk said. “Whether it’s the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup … I want those teams to be successful. He’s going to be part of that recipe, an ingredient, and I hope that’s not the case. The interesting thing about the timing is we’re all together for the buildup and once the Ryder Cup ends we kind of go our separate ways. Eventually we’ll all be back together, and I hope there isn’t [a problem]. I hope that chemistry is there. It’s somewhat up to Patrick as well. How he views those future teams. I know how much he loves playing them and what the Ryder Cup and playing for his country means to him. He talks about it a lot.”
Reed doesn’t believe his Captain America brand is diminished by the kerfuffle. “I’m still 3-0 in singles,” he told the New York Post.
Whatever trouble Reed’s personality might get himself into, his golf usually gets him out of it. “Anytime something negative has come up about him, whatever it may be, is usually when something follows that is really good,” Gregory said. “It’s because he just goes and digs it out of the dirt. It will just motivate him even more. The kid wants it so bad, and he’ll just add that to his shoulders and find a way to play even better.”
Like him or not, Reed isn’t going anywhere. He’s 28, and his golf only seems to be getting better. You’d probably take the over if the number of majors Reed were to win in his career was set at 1.5. A little team-room drama isn’t going to derail a man who staved off popular challengers like McIlroy, Spieth and Rickie Fowler to hang a green jacket in his closet. Reed is at his best when he lets his clubs do the talking.
“I promise you it’s not going to affect him and not going to weigh on him,” Gregory said. “In his mind it’s over and he wants to move on and earn his place as one of the best players in the world, be on more Ryder Cups in years to come and win more majors.”