News & Opinion

Reed relies on OT to master Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Patrick Reed is one of those golfers who doesn’t see straight lines. He sees curves. And if he has anything to say about it, the golf ball will be shaping from right to left. It's one of the reasons – along with his gifts of imagination, touch and heart – that seemed to make Augusta National Golf Club tailor-made for Reed to win there someday. But to become the “top 5” player whom he professed to be, Reed needed to add a baby cut to his arsenal, and back in 2013 he got a lesson from one of the best ballstrikers ever to shape it left to right.

Reed was on the back of the range during the PGA Tour Champions’ Insperity Championship at The Woodlands in Texas when a mutual friend introduced him to Hall of Famer Lee Trevino.

“I always wanted to meet him,” Reed told me of the six-time major winner.

It didn’t take long for Trevino to ask the rising star to hit some shots.

“I was hitting my draw,” Reed said, recalling the meeting. “He said, ‘Show me the fade.’ I hit my little wipey fade. It goes 10 yards shorter. He said, ‘Aim more left and feel like you cover it.’ The ball came out lower and went the same distance as my draw. It was awesome.”

Trevino, 78, made a living aiming left, swinging right, and watching his ball land in the center of fairways and greens.

“I’ve never seen a fader starve to death,” Trevino said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys that hook the ball go hungry, but not a guy that fades it.”

Reed marveled at Trevino’s demonstration.

“He had two cups of coffee for breakfast, walks out on the range, pulls out a 6-iron, full swing and the first ball he hits is a butter cut,” Reed said. “I’m just like, That’s not fair. It was great.”

But the swing tip never really stuck, and Reed's swing instructor, Kevin Kirk, said he continued to encourage his pupil to expand his repertoire. The two worked on shaping it left to right during the winter, and earlier this spring Reed complained that he still was having trouble cutting the ball. Kirk asked his pupil to “scrap all the rules,” and so Reed imitated Arnold Palmer's whirlybird, helicopter follow-through that he had developed through lonely hours of trial and error.

"He hit a little bleeder out there. I said, There you go," Kirk recalled. "He said, 'I can't do that.' You can't? Why not? It's perfect."

A thing of beauty, it was not, but pretty wasn't the point. Reed used it to great effect on tee shots at Nos. 8, 15 and 18 last week at Augusta. The addition of the fade to his arsenal made him a better player and helped him win the Masters by one stroke over Rickie Fowler on Sunday (“Fearless Reed wins Masters showdown,” April 9). For the season, Reed ranks No. 193 in driving accuracy, at 63 percent, but he hit 71 percent of his fairways at Augusta. Reed proved once again that when he plays from the fairway, he's tough to beat.

The evolution of Reed into a Masters champion included another seminal moment. Despite having a few rounds under his belt at Augusta National during his time at Augusta State University, Reed compiled a record at the famed layout that gave no indication that last week would be his time. He had yet to break 70 in any round there, and missed the cut twice in four previous Masters appearances. As a rookie in 2014, his chili ran hot and he blew past the media after shooting 79 and missing the cut. 

"He hates playing bad. It hurts him. It's painful," Kirk said. "If he misses the cut at John Deere, he gets hot."

Reed needed 15 starts in major championships before notching his first top-10 finish, a tie for second at last year’s PGA. At his winner's news conference, I asked him what he thought held him back in the biggest events. Reed emphasized his mental approach.

“The biggest thing was I put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I went out there and I tried so hard to get the ball in the hole. I tried so hard to hit the perfect shots, that going into this week, I was just like, Hey, it’s golf. Go play.” 

Reed made one more significant change that has gone unnoticed. Reed loves to compete, and he rarely takes a week off from competition. Bubba Watson gushed about Reed’s intensity and said he didn’t know how he maintained it week after week. Last year, Reed played 29 PGA Tour events and made three additional overseas starts on the European Tour. But despite playing in the Houston Open during the past three years and making his home in the Houston suburb of Spring, Reed took a rare week off and headed to Augusta early for what Kirk called “a deep dive.”

He isn't exaggerating. They spent eight-hour days studying Augusta National, and playing only four holes. When I asked Kirk how many groups played through, he replied, “All day’s worth. However many that is.” 

Instead, they mapped out a matrix for holes 1, 2, 12 and 13 – the ones that troubled Reed the most – to determine the proper shot shapes to go with each possible hole location and potential wind. Most of the time was spent on the greens. 

“We didn't play. We just walked around,” said Kirk, who estimated that they hit only 20-30 shots. “And about 5,000 putts.” 

Using historical pin sheets, Reed rolled balls until he found a straight putt and determined the fall lines. The next day was rinse and repeat, playing 18 during another eight-hour session.

“To play well on this golf course, you have to operate on such a non-linear plane,” Kirk said. “If you try to just go point-to-point, you’re going to get killed out here.”

Augusta National provides a barebones yardage book to contestants compared to the green maps typically sold at most events to professionals and feature easy-to-read arrows, allowing players to view contour and fall lines, in addition to slope percentage, anywhere on the green. These booklets have some traditionalists, including Jack Nicklaus, up in arms, claiming that they have removed some of the skill in reading greens. 

"To me, the game of golf is learning how to play the game and be responsible for everything you do,” Nicklaus said. “That's the fun of it. It's fun to learn how to putt greens and how to play clubs. You know, I was the first guy on the tour – and I got it from Deane Beman, actually, at the National Amateur in 1961 – of walking off a golf course and getting yardages. Now everything is given to the guys. I just thought that it was more fun to do those things yourself. And I think you become a better golfer.”

And that's what Reed did. He arrived early, like Nicklaus used to do, put in the time, did it the hard way and learned the intricacies of Augusta's undulating greens. From knowledge came power. After never having shot in the 60s there, he did so in each of the first three rounds. Reed took 104 putts over 72 holes, the fewest of any competitor at the Masters. A year ago, he took 63 putts in 36 holes en route to missing the cut.

Does this mean that Reed will go early to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, site of the U.S. Open in June, and prepare the same way? 

“Probably,” Kirk said. “Now that he’s got this little thing going in his head that this is the way to get it done, we’ll be out there camping out and the caddie will be going, Are we done yet?”

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak