Patrick Reed, the leader at the halfway point of the 2018 Masters, is the most controversial man in golf. He’s been disliked from the moment he announced his presence nearly five years ago and hasn’t done much to change opinions since then.
He’s brash and alienating. He can be a troll. He’s the kind of guy who begins sentences with “I’m from Texas.” Britain’s Telegraph named him the most hated player in golf. A 2015 ESPN players poll named him the second most-disliked man on tour (behind Bubba Watson) and that was before many of his shenanigans. He often plays practice rounds by himself and has been known to curse on TV and snap at fans. The fact that wore red on Sundays annoyed fans, either because they thought it was cocky (it was) or derivative (that was the point).
How did it get this way? Why do people hate Patrick Reed?
The “top five” comment
Reed won his first tournament just days after his 23rd birthday and, seven months later, had three titles to his name. That got him reflecting on his standing in the golf world.
“I have three wins on the PGA Tour,” he said in 2014 after winning a WGC event. “I truly believe that I am a top-five player in the world.”
He continued. “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.”
Brash, yes. Overstated? Almost certainly. Reed was 23 and, yes, he was only one of three players to win three events in that time span. But at the time he made the infamous boast, Reed had never played in a major. This was the equivalent of an NBA rookie declaring before the playoffs that he was on the same level as LeBron, KD and Steph Curry. It was the kind of quote that followed him everywhere and was thrown back in his face after every missed cut or weekend blow-up.
There were plenty of those. He missed the cut in five of his next eight tournaments, including at the Masters and British Open, went T35 and T58 at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, respectively, and placed inside the top 10 just two more times that season. Reed put the target on his back and the rest of the golf world was all too happy to take shots.
Since then he’s had up-and-down performances, winning two events, sticking around the top 25 of the rankings and playing on two Ryder Cups teams (more on that later) and a President’s Cup team. But he’s missed five cuts at his 16 majors and, up until his tie for second place at last year’s PGA Championship, had never been inside the top 10.
This is Reed’s first time leading a major and, no doubt, there are people hoping he falls flat on his face.
Arrests, cheating, theft, dismissals and teammate hatred
It’s safe to say most reactions to Patrick Reed inside the golf world are colored by the stories and allegations of his college troubles, which have been reported at length by writers Shane Ryan, Stephanie Wei and Ian O’Connor. They either paint Reed as a true golfing villain, a loner prodigy or an insecure kid who never grew comfortable in his own skin.
Reed, heavily recruited out of his hometown of Augusta, played one year at SEC power Georgia but was dismissed from the team for reasons still unknown. In his book about the PGA Tour, Shane Ryan said there was a code of silence regarding Reed’s time at UGA, describing it as a type of “golf omerta.” Ryan brought up whispers that Reed had cheated on the course during a qualifying round (trying to hit a better-positioned ball that wasn’t his), reported better scores than he’d actually shot and may have stolen from teammates ($400 and a Scotty Cameron putter, Ryan’s source said). Reed denied these claims and said he was ousted for multiple alcohol arrests. According to reports, those incidents were nothing more than the usual college-kid stupidity.
But a Georgia assistant coach released a statement saying that Ryan’s report was accurate and that UGA chose not to associate with “Patrick as a person.”
Reed then transferred to his hometown Augusta State, where his problems continued, but not enough to keep the small team from stunning the golf world to win two national championships. He didn’t socialize with his teammates and was so disliked that, allegedly, before Augusta State faced off in match play against Georgia with the NCAA championship on the line, Reed’s teammates told star Georgia player Harris English that while they wanted to win the title, they hoped he’d beat Reed. The title came down to that match and Reed won, 2 and 1.
Wei also reported that ASU teammates twice suspected Reed of declaring lower scores than he’d shot and that the team had a meeting about whether to keep him on the team. Meanwhile, Reed went 6-0 in match play en route to those two NCAA championships.
Reed is one of those players (like Tiger Woods) who make you wonder why television networks run live audio feeds during shots. On Friday, in the second round of the Masters, he dropped a typical f-bomb after a bad shot. Whatever. If you don’t want to hear it, don’t put a mic on him.
In the past, Reed’s said worse, not just throwing in a bad word but a full sentence using the same word four times in different ways – noun, exclamation, adjective, adverb. Less forgivable was when he angrily used a gay slur to describe himself, something for which he issued a legitimate apology without any of the usual parsing.
He’s called fans obnoxious. (It was at Bethpage in New York. He was probably right.) He complains that he’d get more respect from rules officials if he had a better reputation. (When he was denied a free drop at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, Reed complained that he was getting shoddy treatment. “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” he said, half-serious.)
Some of these comments can be taken out of context if you don’t know where they come from. Before he played Spieth at the Match Play championships, Reed was asked about his opponent’s strengths in the format. “I don’t know, my back still hurts from the Ryder Cup,” Reed said, fully joking. It was a great line, but because Reed and Spieth aren’t friends, it was misconstrued by some outlets.
The Ryder Cup
After the “top five” comment, Reed was mostly quiet on and off the course. Then came the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland. Reed was one of Team USA’s only bright spots in the five-point loss, going 2-0-1 in the team matches and then defeating Henrik Stenson 1 up in the most competitive singles match. After matching Stenson’s birdie on the 7th hole, Reed turned to the European crowd and put his finger to his lips, shushing the cheers as he stomped off the green in celebration. It was great theater in a contentious competition but only furthered the stereotypes about Reed.
At the next Ryder Cup two years later, Reed had a classic duel with Rory McIlroy. They went hole-for-hole and celebration-for-celebration, with each trying to one-up each other throughout the round. McIlroy mocked the Gleneagles shushing, the two traded shouts after making big putts and there was even some Dikembe-like finger-wagging. It was never contentious (at one point that bumped fists while walking to the next hole) and should have been something that endeared Reed to an international audience. If Rory could play along, why couldn’t everybody else? But again, the joy of it all was lost because of Reed’s reputation.
Reed won the match, scoring 3.5 points again and is 6-1-2 in his Ryder Cup career. That’s one of the best winning percentages ever for a player with multiple appearances. It’s enough to earn him the nickname “Captain America,” ironic for the least-loved U.S. star in golf.
Hate him all you want; I’m all in on Patrick Reed.
He represented the U.S. in the Olympics. While Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth (and a number of top European players) stayed away and lamely blamed their absence on the threat of the Zika virus, Reed was there talking about how great he felt representing Team USA.
His aforementioned Ryder Cup heroics should make him a beloved character. It’s a perfect tale; a rough-around-the-edges bad boy who bleeds red, white and blue? Who wouldn’t appreciate that story, especially when it comes with the added redemption arc?
No one’s ready for it yet. If you want to dislike Reed, go ahead. He sure won’t mind. But please don’t judge a grown man for being an idiot in college. Don’t read too much into him being a loner. Don’t hold one burst of truly foul language against him.
Golf needs a heel – not just somebody to root against but someone who leans into it. To get a golfer with bravado is a rarity. It’s about time Butler Cabin saw some swagger.
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