Former champion Patrick Reed should be a factor again in the 2020 Masters Tournament. And not just because he’s back to playing world-class golf.
Reed, who tied for 36th place in his title defense at Augusta National last year, has won twice since August 2019, including the WGC-Mexico Championship in late February, and was the 36-hole leader in September’s U.S. Open.
It helps to have your game in good order, but what seems to work best for the former Augusta University All-American is when he becomes a lightning rod for criticism. He likes to answer with his clubs. The latest round of volleys aimed at Reed started near the end of 2019, then resurfaced more than two months later, the week he won in Mexico.
On Dec. 6, at the Hero World Challenge, Reed was penalized two shots for improving his lie in a sandy waste area on the 11th hole in the third round. He ended up losing by two shots the next day.
Under the Rules of Golf, players can ground their clubs in a waste area bunker. But they can’t improve their ability to hit the ball by “removing or pressing down on the sand or loose soil,” which is what Reed was penalized for.
Photos: Patrick Reed at the Masters
Afterward, Reed said he wasn’t intentionally trying to improve his lie, adding he couldn’t feel the sand brush his club.
“After seeing the video, I accept that (the two-shot penalty), but it wasn’t because of any intent,” Reed said. “I thought I was far enough away. I think with a different camera angle, they would have realized that … it was not improving the lie because it was far enough away from the golf ball.”
He was heckled during the following week’s Presidents Cup in Australia and again when he lost in a playoff in the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Jan. 5.
The controversy resurfaces
The talk died down until Feb. 17, the Monday of the Mexico Championship week. Brooks Koepka chimed in, saying on SiriusXM that “you know where your club is” when you’re in a waste area or bunker.
Also that week, before the Mexico Championship started, former CBS golf announcer Peter Kostis said he’d seen Reed improve his lie in the rough four different times in his job as an on-course broadcaster.
Somehow, Reed managed to shut out the talk that week and elevate his game, rallying past Bryson DeChambeau for a one-shot victory. Reed, who had 98 putts – including 45 one-putt greens – birdied Nos. 15, 16 and 17 and bogeyed No. 18 for a final-round 67.
“Amazing. I mean, he’s amazing. He’s Captain Oblivious, just can let everything run off his back. I’ve never seen anything like it,” golf announcer David Feherty told Sports Illustrated.
Josh Gregory, who was Reed’s college coach and now is one of his instructors, wasn’t surprised that Reed won with all the talk swirling around him. He’d seen it before, when Reed led the Jaguars to back-to-back NCAA national championships after being kicked out of the program at Georgia.off the Georgia golf team.
“It’s pretty impressive what he can do with some of the negativity that surrounds him,” Gregory said. “As I talked to him on Sunday after he won, I said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ He just feeds off of it. Finds a way to compartmentalize it and just go out and play golf. That’s really all his focus is. He’s trying to become the best he can be and he doesn’t care about the other garbage that goes along with it.”
Reed said as much after his win in Mexico.
“I just think the biggest thing is every time I feel like I go to the golf course, anytime I go out and work with my coach, anytime I’m at home, I always feel like I have something to prove, not to anyone else but to myself, that I can continue to improve on and off the golf course and continue to do the unthinkable and pull off hard shots, make putts when I need to make them, just do the little things.
“And I think because of that, it just has built up so much confidence with how I’ve played so far in my career with putting myself in these positions, I feel like I have a chance to continue and to have a chance to win these golf tournaments,” Reed said. “Just the confidence is through the roof.”
According to Gregory, Reed “has a couple of interests: he’s got his family and he’s got his golf and that’s really all he cares about it. Whether that’s right or wrong, he’s not out here to make a lot of friends. It’s work. When he’s in his work space, his office, for 7 or 8 hours a day, that’s what does. He goes home and does it again. I’ve told people you could write a documentary on how to prepare.”
Reed isn’t even aware of what is being said about him on social media, his instructor said.
“He has no clue what goes on in social media, I can promise you that. He never has,” Gregory said.
Back in the top 10
The victory in Mexico was the eighth of Reed’s career. He said at the time it also set him up for a run at a second green jacket in the past three years.
“It means a lot,” he said after the Mexico win. “One of our goals was to go out and win a golf tournament and try to get in that winner’s circle before Augusta, leading into Augusta.”
Reed didn’t know that, because of COVID-19, he would have to wait an extra six months before the 2020 Masters would be played in mid-November.
Reed, who turned 30 on Aug. 5, moved back into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking after the win in Mexico and has stayed there through mid-October.
Reed, who famously called himself a “top five” player in the world after he won at Doral in 2014, hasn’t quite made it there yet, but he was sixth after tying for seventh in the Charles Schwab Challenge in mid-June, the first PGA Tour event after a three-month pause due to COVID-19. Through mid-October, he was ranked ninth.
“I think he can be the best player in the world at some point,” Gregory said. “He’s maturing. In his game, he doesn’t have a weakness anymore. He’s always been one of the best in the world around the greens. That’s proven. His ball striking is getting better and better.
“He’s learning how to handle his emotions and learning how to manage golf courses. It just comes with age and maturity. He’s still young at this even though he’s been out here since 2012. He’s still very young in his career. There’s nobody who is going to work any harder.”