News & Opinion

Reed, Rose solve major mystery

There is a certain drumbeat and rhythm to golf’s major championships, a comfort level residing inside players that accumulates in drips and drabs, the way light rain becomes a puddle. Sure, there are once-a-generation exceptions – Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth – but for mortals, becoming a force in the majors is something usually constructed brick by brick. 

Patrick Reed, your reigning Masters champion, is a fiery competitor who, at 27, seems to have figured out what it takes at major championships. It did not come easily. He was an afterthought in his first 15 major starts (no top 10s, five missed cuts). And now Reed is the guy with the smirk holding pocket aces at the end of the table. Dating to last summer’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, this is Reed’s red-hot run: tie for second, victory (Masters) and fourth (U.S. Open). 

Patrick Reed
American Patrick Reed enters the British Open on a hot streak in the past 3 majors, including a victory at the Masters.

American Patrick Reed enters the British Open on a hot streak in the past 3 majors, including a victory at the Masters.

Reed has teed it up against 396 competitors at the last three majors, and only four – total – have managed to beat him.

Justin Rose, who has a decade on Reed (Rose will turn 38 later this month) has become a major man, too, breaking through to win the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. The classy Englishman, who keeps homes in Orlando, the Bahamas and London, hopes to improve the quality of his finishes now that he’s back on the side of the Atlantic upon which he learned the game. Surprisingly, his British Open record isn’t very good. (We’ll get to that.)

Reed was a major mystery. Give him some red, white and blue to wear at the Ryder Cup, and he transformed into Superman. He competed so hard at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014 that the Scots couldn’t help but begrudgingly respect him, just the way U.S. fans have looked upon the Ryder Cup superpowers of England’s Ian Poulter. At the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in 2016, Reed again was the man for the U.S., a winner in the event for the first time since 2008.

At the majors, though, Reed never could step out of the phone booth. That has changed. Always a highly confident player, Reed procured a green jacket three months ago that only has flooded his tank of self-belief over the brim. Why has he become so good at the majors? Because he has learned not to get too hyped, and too intense, before he needs to be that way.

“The biggest thing,” Reed said Tuesday at Carnoustie Golf Links, site of the 147th British Open, which begins today (tee times), “is I treat them like they're normal events. I've always kind of gone in majors, put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this, having to make birdie here. And now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it's just another day on the golf course. Let's just go play

“I've been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I've played pretty well in all three of them.”

This hasn’t been a typical Scottish summer. With very little rain, Carnoustie is baked brown, like a crusty, well-done pastry. The pre-tournament discussion has centered on strategy. Carnoustie is considered one of the toughest links of the Open rotation, if not the toughest of them all. So, the course usually demands that it be played tactically, strategically, with players laying back to take penal fairway bunkers out of play.

But with Carnoustie’s fairways baked and the surrounding rough uncharacteristically light and wispy, there is a bolder mindset in play: Take out driver, belt shots across the bunkers and shorten Carnoustie as much as possible. Reed ranks 74th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, at 298.0 yards, and is not a bona fide bomber, so he is caught in the middle in terms of strategy. That’s fine. By this morning, he will have a plan, no matter the elements. 

“I have a game plan for soft conditions, firm conditions, into the winds, downwinds, sidewinds on every hole,” he said. “So, my game plan is set. I'm ready to go. I'm just staying loose and making sure that I'm hitting the golf shots I'm supposed to be hitting on the golf course, and just fine tune the golf swing and just making sure everything is tight and where it needs to be.”

Reed is a member of the European Tour and played last week’s Scottish Open as a tuneup. (He tied for 23rd, and Rose tied for ninth.) Reed even purchased a set of hickory clubs with which to practice when he gets home to Texas. He thinks they’ll be great for training, helping to keep his tempo smooth. 

His excellent Ryder Cup counterpart, Rose, will set out at Carnoustie hoping to improve a record in his “home” Open that doesn’t match the rest of his dossier. We all can picture Rose as the precocious 17-year-old amateur in that maroon sweater two sizes too big at Royal Birkdale in 1998, his arms raised triumphantly after he holed a wedge from the fairway for birdie at the home hole to tie for fourth. It was an incredible performance.

England’s Justin Rose returns home to the U.K. with unfinished business in the British Open.

England’s Justin Rose returns home to the U.K. with unfinished business in the British Open.

Rose turned pro, and instant success seemed on tap. And then he missed 21 consecutive cuts to begin his career. It was a massive blow. He knows a little about peaks and valleys and answering challenges.

Rose pulled himself up and became a terrific global player, winning around the world. But at the Open, he has made 15 starts since that memorable debut at Birkdale, with one top 10 – a tie for sixth at St. Andrews three years ago. His Opens mostly have been missed cuts (five) and middle-of-the-pack performances.

Like Reed, Rose has made the gradual discovery that one doesn’t have to be perfect to be a factor in the game’s biggest events. With experience, he knows he just needs to play solidly enough Thursday-Saturday to give himself a chance come Sunday. 

“I don't feel it needs to be perfect by any means,” Rose said. “I think that's what I've learned over the years, many years, where you're preparing for majors, I felt like everything had to be absolutely spot-on to do well. U.S. Open [at Shinnecock] was a good example of that. I wasn't really on my best form but teed off on Sunday with a chance.”

He would tie for 10th. Rose said he has become comfortable with his poor record at the British Open. Phil Mickelson, who finished inside the top 10 only twice in his first 19 Open starts, showed at Muirfield five years ago that a player can eradicate a pedestrian record at any event in a single week. 

“It's up to me, really,” said Rose, the third-ranked golfer in the world. “Not stats, or not records. It's just about me and playing this golf course this week and creating my chance to win. I try not to look outside any deeper than that.”

Spoken like a man with some major-championship seasoning. 

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: Twitter: @jeffbabz62