Patrick Reed’s never been short of confidence and now America’s latest Major champion must show there’s more to come, writes GARY LEMKE.
Reed already finds himself at golf’s crossroads. As the newest winner of The Masters, recent history suggests he will either go straight through to become one of the giants of the game or, as many have discovered, this is as good as it gets.
When you run your finger down the list of Masters champions in the 21st century, you quickly see that the minority of them have gone on to become serial Major champions. The others squeeze out another one down the line, while the remainder never quite recapture the moment of that final Sunday at Augusta.
Tiger Woods won The Masters for a second time in 2001 and he went on to scoop another eight Majors. For him, winning at Augusta was just an extension of what he did best – win almost at will. Phil Mickelson won the 2004 Masters and went on to win another four Majors. For him, The Masters made him believe that if he was good enough to wear the Green Jacket, he was good enough to sip from the Claret Jug, while he also finished second at the US Open four times subsequently and won The PGA Championship.
Then there is Jordan Spieth, who won in 2015 when he was 22. He’s only 24 now but has three Majors next to his name and the general impression is that he’s going to be one of those players who will be in contention, and right near the top of the World Ranking, for years to come.
In the second category we find 2000 winner Vijay Singh, who used that Masters as a springboard to claim another two Majors in his career. Bubba Watson won in 2012 and again in 2014. Angel Cabrera, the 2009 winner, is a two-time Major champion. Zach Johnson won at Augusta
in 2007 and eight years later triumphed at The Open.
And then we get to those golfers who won The Masters, but whose careers never quite kicked on as one might have expected from someone who had just secured one of the most prized titles in sport.
The 2003 winner, Mike Weir, stopped there, but finished in the top 10 at Majors just three times afterwards. South Africa’s 2008 champion Trevor Immelman’s career and world ranking went into freefall. His countryman Charl Schwartzel scythed through the field to win in 2011 and has had three top-10 Major finishes since. Adam Scott won in 2013 and has had one Major top 10 subsequently. Danny Willett (2016) and Sergio Garcia (2017) were long outsiders when they won at Augusta for their maiden Major and haven’t featured at a Major since; in defending the Green Jacket Garcia failed to make the cut for the weekend.
So, we come to the 2018 champion. Patrick Reed.
Will he go on to become a serial Major winner, like Woods, Mickelson and Spieth? Will he eke out another one or two Majors, like Watson, Cabrera and Johnson? Or, is he destined to become another Weir, Immelman, Schwartzel, Scott, Willett and Garcia?
Perhaps, in order to go forward, we need to go back – to 2016, to the Ryder Cup, where Reed went head-to-head with Rory McIlroy and emerged the winner 1 up. That showdown in the Sunday singles was described by Johnny Miller as the best Ryder Cup match he’d seen since the ‘War on the Shore’ in 1991.
The entire round was full of animation, emotion and superb play as both combatants tried to gain the edge. At the par-three 8th, McIlroy had nailed a 50-footer for birdie. After a series of fist pumps he cupped his ear. ‘I can’t hear you!’ he raged. Reed’s response to halve the hole? He boxed a 30-footer. ‘Come on!’ he shouted, then wagged his finger at McIlroy, who smiled, and the two exchanged fist bumps as they left the green.
Later Reed said the rivalry between himself and McIlroy was merely ‘fun and games’. To his credit, the Northern Irishman didn’t complain. ‘Yes, we mocked each other from time to time, but it was all in good fun. I have no problem with Patrick Reed.’
Tellingly, McIlroy, who has four Major titles to his name, but no Green Jacket around his shoulders, at the time said: ‘If he ever finds that level of play somewhere other than the Ryder Cup with regularity he’ll win four, five Majors. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like the way he putted under pressure today. If he can take the emotion he brings to this event to a Sunday at a Major …’ He paused and shook his head. ‘It’ll be a sight to see.’
On Sunday 8 April we saw that as Reed captured his first Major. Ironically it was after seeing off McIlroy along the way after they had been sent out as the final pairing, with many of the opinion that the Northern Irishman, so often close at Augusta and seemingly on the verge of finally breaking his duck, would prove too strong. Others were supporting McIlroy for the simple reason that they don’t like Reed.
‘The support for Rory was another thing that just kind of played into my hand,’ Reed said afterwards. ‘Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, it also took the pressure off me and added it back to him. You had a lot of the guys picking him to win over me, and it’s one of those things that the more chatter you hear in your ear about expectations and everything, the harder it is to play golf.’
Those who were in the anti-Reed camp would have all gone home disappointed as he first repelled McIlroy and then held his nerve as Spieth and Rickie Fowler emerged from the pack to make runs that might well have reduced lesser men to a pile of mental rubble. Reed isn’t cut from the same cloth
as his countrymen Spieth, Fowler, Justin Thomas and Broeks Koepka, twentysomething Americans with whom the public has a love affair. Guys who plenty of American fathers wouldn’t mind seeing their daughters bring home for a family dinner.
Perhaps it’s because Reed has always told things the way he sees it, lacking a filter to what comes out of his mouth. Perhaps it started in 2014 when he stuck his head above the parapet after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. He not only joined Woods, McIlroy, Mickelson and Garcia as the only players to have won three Tour events by age 23, he also became the youngest winner of a WGC event.
And it was there that he told the world, on national TV, that it shouldn’t be a surprise. After declaring himself a ‘top five player in the world’ after a third-round 69, he was asked by NBC’s Steve Sands to clarify his statement on the Sunday.
Reed’s reply went: ‘I’ve worked so hard. I’ve won a lot in my junior career. I did great in my amateur career. I went 6-0 in matchplay in NCAAs. We won NCAAs two years in a row at Augusta State. I got third individually one year at NCAAs. Now I have three wins on the PGA Tour. I just don’t see a lot of guys who’ve done that, besides Tiger and the other legends of the game. I believe in myself. I feel like I’m one of the top five players in the world. I feel like I’ve proved myself.’
And, as if to show he’d backed his words up with actions, that week he put a bumper sticker on his courtesy car that read: ‘HOW’S MY PLAYING? DIAL 1-800-EAT-DUST.’
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson has clawed his way up the World Ranking again and he is in the Reed camp. ‘He’s a good guy. He’s honest as the day is long. And he’ll always have your back if you’re his friend. Can’t ask for more than that.’
It’s as if Reed is to golf what Kevin Pietersen is to cricket. You might never have met them, or seen them in the flesh, but you have an opinion. You don’t like them. You might have read snippets of them falling out with teammates, or you haven’t been impressed by the way they ooze self-confidence.
Even before he went out there on the final Sunday, Reed was quizzed by the assembled media at Augusta. ’Patrick, it doesn’t take much to do a quick Twitter search to find a lot of people rooting against you. Why do you think that is? Why are there fans who don’t embrace you?’ came the query.
‘I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them? I mean, I have no idea and, honestly, I don’t really care what people say on Twitter or if they are cheering for me or not. I’m out here to do my job, and that’s to play golf,’ he said.
Reed is not even unanimously popular in his own family. He has been estranged from his parents for several years and was described by his sister Hannah as a ‘selfish, horrible stranger’ in a Facebook post in 2016.
In 2015 Reed came second to Bubba Watson in an ESPN players’ poll before The Masters where they asked 103 Tour professionals which player they
would not help in a fight in the car park. Which sort of makes sense given Watson’s comments about Reed having a friend’s back.
It was in March that the American further alienated fans when he was in dispute with a rules official over a drop, and he was captured on live TV saying, ‘I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys.’ He later requested another official to review the matter because he needed an ‘unbiased source’.
‘I don’t ever regret anything I say,’ Reed said at Augusta. ‘I stand by my comments. I feel like I’ve played some golf I need to play to get to where I want to be, and that’s the best golfer in the world. The way you’re going to do that is to perform in these big events and win them.
‘I’m just happy to be able to say I’ve gotten over that hump of not winning at all last year. Coming into the year, one of my biggest goals was to win a Major and compete in tournaments. To be able to get them both at once, to end the drought and win a Major, helps me mentally and helps my résumé. And hopefully I can take this momentum forward and play some really solid golf.’
The neutrals will be hoping Reed can use his Masters victory as a springboard to showcase his undoubted talents at the other Majors too and go on to prove that winning at Augusta wasn’t a never-to-be-repeated one-off. But, where will he place in history?
Will he become another Immelman, or, more kindly, a Schwartzel, or will he become another Watson? Or, perhaps he will reach for the sky, like Woods, Mickelson and Spieth.
– This article first appeared on the cover of the May issue of Compleat Golfer