By Christopher Powers
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Much like a superhero, Patrick Reed has a knack for showing up at the right time. Perhaps his duties as Captain America are not limited to just team events.
Reed, winless in his last 35 PGA Tour starts and no lock to make this year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team, rolled into Liberty National and saved his season, shooting rounds of 66, 66, 67 and Sunday’s two-under 69 to earn the seventh career PGA Tour victory.
Three years ago, in this same tournament (then known as the Barclays at Bethpage Black), Reed entered the week having not won in 48 events and was similarly no sure thing to make the 2016 Ryder Cup team (despite his performance in the previous Ryder Cup at Gleneagles). With the pressure on, Reed won, also securing a spot at Hazeltine National and snapping a lengthy winless streak.
The longest victory drought of Reed’s career then came after that win in 2016 at Bethpage, when he went nearly two full years without a victory. When he finally got it, it happened to come in the 2018 Masters. His last three wins are a pair of playoff events and a major championship, each one coming at a time when he badly needed it. It’s almost like this back-against-the-wall mentality suits him, as much as he wishes it didn’t.
“Yeah, I don’t like long gaps [between wins],” said Reed following his one-shot victory over Abraham Ancer on Sunday. “It’s not fun, you know what I mean. I’ve always played golf to win golf tournaments. I’ve always wanted to compete to win. I’m not really satisfied with a second, third, fourth, 10th place finish. I’ve always played events to win golf tournaments and any time I tee it up, trying to win.”
That must have made his latest dry spell particularly difficult, as it came after the biggest win of his life and one that was supposed to be followed by still more. But like many first-time major winners find out, getting the next win can be just as much of a challenge.
“I feel like the longer that time period is in between wins, it just makes it tougher. You know, when I had that kind of long, drawn-out like kind of drought of not winning a golf tournament, I was pushing too hard and was trying harder to win and all of a sudden it was going the wrong direction. That’s what my team was smart enough to tell me to back off, shut it down and reset and get clear, because we can finish the year right.”
The self-imposed shutdown Reed speaks of came after the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, one of his three missed cuts on the 2018-’19 season. Reed took the family to the Hamptons, where he did not allow himself to touch a club for 10 days. The last time he went that long without golf? There was no last time.
“Nineteen-ninety when I was born,” Reed said. “Honestly, I mean, I can’t remember last time I took seven days off, like not touching a golf club. It was hard. Those 10 days were hard.”
Reed wasn’t foolish enough to not take advantage of where he was, opting to use the final four days of his two-week vacation to play Friar’s Head, Shinnecock and National. It was re-invigorating, to say the least.
“All of a sudden, just playing with the kids, hanging out with my wife, next thing you know, after those 10 days, I come back and I’m hitting the ball farther,” Reed said. “I have a clear picture on what I’m trying to do. I come out and I start hitting the ball where it’s supposed to go. I’m starting to think clearly while I’m out there and numbers are starting to produce and the game starts turning around.”
He returned to competition at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open, finishing in a tie for 32nd. Then he began the closing stretch of his season that’s included five top-25s, a pair of top-10s and now a trophy, one he had been promising to bring home to his daughter Windsor-Wells for quite some time.
“I keep on telling her, don’t worry, dad is going to bring home a trophy,” Reed said. “I’ve let her down now for what, 14, 15 months. Finally, dad gets to bring home a trophy for the little one.”
In addition to making his daughter happy, Reed also locked up a spot in the Tour Championship, which was hardly a given when he began the Playoffs at 50th in the FedEx Cup standings. The win now puts him at No. 2 behind only Brooks Koepka, whose quiet week in New Jersey has allowed Reed to pull within striking distance of the top spot.
The Presidents Cup team, however, is a different story. The win helps, but it only jumped Reed from 17th to 12th in the standings. The top eight get on the team automatically, while the next four will be selected by Tiger Woods as captain’s picks. As fate would have it, Reed actually bumped Tiger from 12th to 13th in the standings.
“You know, it was definitely on my mind a little more than other weeks because of where we are,” Reed said of his Presidents Cup candidacy. “At Liberty National where we won in 2017, and you know, having the dinner with Tiger and the guys earlier this week, and seeing the Statue of Liberty on every hole, and then having the fans yell ‘Captain America’ and ‘USA’ all week, it definitely was on my mind.”
Reed has two more events to try to climb into the top eight, though he may not need to prove anything else to earn a pick. His success in team events is well noted, and he’s close with Tiger, though he doesn’t plan on giving the 15-time major champion any subtle hints.
“The only thing Tiger and I have ever really talked about, we talk a lot about our kids. We really don’t talk much about golf. You know, I feel like our friendship is beyond golf.
“Just kind of one of those things that of course here recently we’ve talked a little more about the Presidents Cup, and it’s the same thing. It’s the same thing he always said, ‘Good golf takes care of itself.’ Go out and play well. Go out and play golf like you know how to play. The way you make it to East Lake and the way you have a chance to win FedEx Cup and make it on the team is by playing good golf, winning golf tournaments and giving yourself chances on Sundays. I think that was the biggest thing coming in for me was don’t worry about Presidents Cup, don’t worry about FedEx Cup, don’t worry about this week; go play good golf and give yourself a chance to win a golf tournament. If you have a chance to win go, ahead and take it.”
Mission accomplished for Captain America.