If ‘Captain America’ becomes the first player from the United States to win the Race to Dubai, will it shush his fiercest critics? Yes, sir. well, sort of.
By Kent Gray
It’s far too easy to relitigate the litany of incendiary moments that mark the extraordinary life and times of Patrick Nathaniel Reed.
On the cusp of securing a place in history as the first American to become European No.1, it is perhaps even unfair to propagate his status as the modern-day anti-hero of world golf. Yet to paper over the controversies would serve no justice to the story of one of the most intriguing and complicated characters in the game. It would also ignore some fairly damning evidence.
It started in college where Reed was famously booted off the team at the University of Georgia in 2009. Chalk up his arrest for underage drinking and possession of a fake ID while at Georgia to a youthful mistake righted by 60 hours of community service. But the allegations of inaccurate scorecard accountancy, golf’s most heinous crime, that have dogged the now 30-year-old since his brief stint at Georgia have been tougher to shake.
At his next school, Augusta State University, most of the roster reportedly tolerated him as a necessary evil in helping deliver the school consecutive NCAA championships in 2010 and 2011. He was even thumbed for stealing from team-mates.
“Those on the professional circuit who were college teammates with Reed at Georgia and Augusta State have nothing to do with him,” Kevin Kisner told Golf Digest in late 2018. “They all hate him.”
Reed has continued to strenuously deny all and every charge but his historical defence was considerably weakened at last year’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. Penalised for improving his lie in a waste area while leading Tiger’s end of season hit and giggle, Reed continues to argue that the angle of the camera shots that caught him painted an unfair TV picture.
Reed was inevitably and ruthlessly heckled at the Presidents Cup the following week. Some in the gallery carried plastic shovels and one American-accented fan even joked out loud, “Patrick, are you really going to make your caddie carry 14 clubs and a shovel?”
‘Captain America’ kept his cool at Royal Melbourne until the second day when a fan yelled out “miss it” just as he was about to pull the trigger on an important six-footer. Reed reset and duly sank the putt before twice making exaggerated shovelling gestures with his putter. Some saluted it as a quick riposte, others saw as a callous omission of guilt. Such is the tightrope Reed walks.
Off the course, Reed’s feud with his parents Bill and Jeannette, an awkward silent treatment that extends to his younger sister Hannah, has also served to deepen the intrigue.
It has played out since Reed, just 22 at the time, married Justine Karain in late 2012 after they’d met at Augusta State. Reports that Justine ordered security to escort Reed’s estranged folks out of the 2014 U.S. Open have subsequently been corrected by a USGA official who confirmed the pair had been removed on the “observation of local law enforcement, who reported Bill Reed had made what they described as an intimidating movements towards Justine Reed.
“Patrick and Justine Reed had nothing to do with Bill & Jeannette Reed’s removal from the course, their badges being confiscated, or any request for them not to return to the event that week.”
You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends, right? Reed may be thought so until the 2018 Ryder Cup when, slighted by the breaking up of his previously successful partnership with Jordan Spieth, he called out both Spieth and U.S. captain Jim Furyk following a 17½-10½ thrashing at the hands of Europe at Le Golf National.
Critics point to that New York Times exposé as all you need to know about Reed’s self-centred character and insist the aforementioned (alleged) indiscretions are just the tip of the iceberg. They may have a point. Since his Masters win in 2018, Reed has also been involved in a verbal dust-up with a TV crew and a bizarre social-media incident with the PGA Tour involving baseball tickets.
Whisked together, it muddies one of the most impressive records of the modern era; a Masters green jacket, Ryder Cup cult-hero status (until Paris at least) and eight PGA Tour titles including a World Golf Championship and FedEx Cup playoff wins.
Reed’s triumph at the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship had the potential to transform his public perception. And yet his great play to pip Bubba Watson and Jamie Donaldson at Trump National Doral in Miami, allowing him to become the youngest winner of a WGC title, was lost in a typically honest interview afterwards.
“I have three wins on the PGA Tour. I truly believe that I am a top-five player in the world,” said Reed, unwittingly repositioning himself in the public crosshairs.
It was a bold claim from the then world No.44, especially as he hadn’t yet teed it up in a major. But Reed doubled down after also becoming just the fifth pro to capture three or more PGA Tour titles before his 24th birthday, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy.
“I don’t see a lot of guys that have done that besides Tiger Woods and the legends of the game. I believe in myself, especially with how hard I’ve worked. I’m one of the top-five players in the world. I feel like I’ve proven myself.”
Others can and have gotten away with such brazenness (Brooks Koepka, anyone?). But golf is a game that generally likes its champions humble and if nothing else, squeaky-clean on the course. Reed, a man who continues to speak and stand by his own truth, insists he is no cheat but many won’t afford him any more mulligans.
Others, like recent European Tour winner Robert MacIntyre, reckon Reed’s strong self-belief might simply be misunderstood.
“I have played him a fair few times now, and I think he is an absolute gem of a guy,” the Scottish lefty, who was paired with Reed for the opening 36 holes of the PGA Championship, told the UK’s National Club Golfer magazine.
“I have actually spoken about it with [my caddie] Gregg and other players, because the two of us get on. There are obviously some things that have happened, but as a person he is top drawer.”
Not long before Justine gave birth to the couple’s first child in May 2014, her bother Kessler Karain took over caddie duties from his sister. But the greater weight has continued to be shouldered by Reed ever since he anointed himself a “top-five” player.
History records that he’s yet to reach that lofty plateau although Reed has gone agonisingly close, ascending to 6th spot in the OWGR following the Charles Schwab Challenge in June, the PGA Tour’s first event post COVID.
It’s easy to dredge up past incidents and pin perceived cockiness on Reed but in his defence, there are also ample examples of good deeds and an appreciation of his place in the bigger scheme of golfing things.
Reed is scheduled to return to the Saudi International for the third successive year in February and has already been teed up to reunite with the young students at The World Academy in King Abdullah Economic City. Critics might argue that a tidy appearance fee makes any after hours appearance thinly veined PR fluff. But Reed seems earnestly engaged.
“I enjoy meeting new fans and travelling to different parts of the world to help grow the game of golf, and I truly enjoy the different cultures and countries that we visit,” he said. “To be able to play at some of the best courses around the world is such a gift and something that I am truly grateful to be able to do.”
Indeed, join the queue to say what you will about the current world No.11. But criticism of his support of the European Tour since 2015 cannot be levelled.
His commitment was rewarded in January 2019 when Reed joined Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson as the only Americans to be awarded Honorary Life Membership to the European Tour.
It has also been underlined this year when, after missing the cut in Saudi, he ignored the risks of trans-Atlantic travel and the restrictions of bio-secure bubbles to finish T-3 at the tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship in October, regaining in the process the Race to Dubai lead he first established in February after winning the WGC-Mexico.
Reed has always voiced his desire to be seen as a world player. The trick now is to record his first win outside North America with that trademark, cut-off iron (and sometimes driver) swing and silky short-game of his.
“It would be an honour to become the first American to win the Race to Dubai and I’m really looking forward to the challenge of competing at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai,” said Reed who finished T-2 to Danny Willett in the 2018 DPWTC and second overall in the Race to Dubai that same year.
“Being a worldwide player is certainly at the forefront of my mind as a professional. Experiencing new cultures and playing in different conditions ultimately helps me become a more well-rounded golfer and person.”
Which begs the question: surely Reed is aware of his negative public reputation? Is it not important to you to be popular, Patrick?
“You know, that’s one great thing about the sport we play is you know, whether it’s here, whether it’s anywhere else we play around the world. A lot of the fans, they respect great golf and they want to see great golf,” said Reed on the eve of his Masters title defence in 2019.
“It all depends on how you handle yourself, and the more interactive you are with the fans, the more they are going to respect you. Because at the end of the day, the more the fans and the people get to know you, the more they realise that you’re just a normal guy out there playing golf and you’re just doing your profession.”
Reed perhaps hasn’t handled himself the way others would have hoped for since those comments at Augusta National 20 months ago. But the desire to play great golf worldwide remains.
“He relishes the chance to be seen as a global player and to experience new cultures, so it has been great to see him embrace the opportunities the European Tour can offer in that respect as golf’s global Tour,” said European Tour CEO Keith Pelley.
“He came over to Wentworth again in October for the BMW PGA Championship and finished tied third, then he also played well in the [top-10 at the Nov 2020] Masters to extend his lead at the top of the Race to Dubai, so he now has a good chance to realise that ambition at the DP World Tour Championship.”
There’s the thing. Unabashed ambition. Come at Patrick Reed all you want but the only critic he listens to is himself. And in Reed’s mind at least, the best way to answer the only critic that truly matters is to win.
Queue another four-day circumnavigation of Earth. “Winning the Race to Dubai and the European Tours’ Order of Merit has always been a goal of mine. I came close in 2018 and you can bet I will do my best to earn the No.1 spot [this year].”