News & Opinion

Bad-boy Reed gives golf an edge

Having shown immense promise while auditioning for the role of pro golf’s lead villain several years ago, Patrick Reed clearly won the part in 2018. Not since Vijay Singh has the game featured a surly loner with a green jacket and a bulletproof vest, so Reed lands in rare company with his Masters victory.

That should be quite a champions dinner at Augusta National in April. Perhaps Reed will serve a rump roast, to remind everyone in attendance which part of his anatomy they can kiss. And given how things went down at the Ryder Cup, the menu definitely should include french fries.

Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed walks alone on the PGA Tour, and he’s not reluctant to step on a few toes along the way.

After Phil Mickelson was scolded publicly for criticizing U.S. captain Tom Watson in 2014, Reed took it upon himself to skewer the entire operation four years later. He might be the only guy on earth who would take offense to being paired with Tiger Woods, a partnership that fell flat on its face, grimace and all. Woods might not own the shiniest Ryder Cup record ever assembled, but he’s as iconic as icons get, and he’d just won the Tour Championship a week earlier.

In Paris, Woods’ partner was nowhere to be found. Captain America turned into Yogi Bear, but Reed likes to go down swinging, and there were plenty of haymakers at the afterparty.

From the post-Masters revelation of his estranged parents to the second-guessing and finger-pointing in the fall, Reed has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with his fractious behavior. The negative headlines clearly overshadow his first major title, a gritty performance with a depressing postscript. Bill and Jeannette Reed live just 10 miles from Augusta National, but because they reportedly haven’t spoken with their son in almost seven years, they were home watching on TV instead of waiting behind the 18th green for hugs and tears.

Every now and then, the PGA Tour produces a star who doesn’t play nice with others. Reed’s lack of social finesse dates to his college days, as you probably know, but lots of 18-year-old nitwits grow up to be perfectly fine men. If you remain rebellious and spend your career loitering around 107th on the annual money list, nobody really gives a hoot, but Reed is much better than that, so he stands out for a couple of reasons.

He’s really good and really bad.

“I don’t know that they’d piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth,” Kevin Kisner said of Reed and his fellow tour pros in a recent Golf Digest article.

Besides being a quote for the ages, Kisner’s assessment speaks volumes about the deep-seated resentment toward Reed by a bunch of guys who have virtually nothing to be angry about. Not all pro golfers get along wonderfully, but ripping someone on a public platform is considered taboo, and therefore, highly unusual.

Again, we’re talking rare company, although company probably isn’t the right word. Singh and David Duval won major titles while stiff-arming just about everyone who dared to approach, and neither would have made it past the first round of a popularity contest. Duval has changed dramatically since his days as golf’s Darth Vader in the late 1990s, mellowing to a point at which those who know him are glad that they made the effort.

Back in the old days, the late Hubert Green could be difficult, and Hale Irwin was known to keep his warm-and-fuzzy disposition under lock and key. On a less successful level, Ken Green and the late Dave Hill were a pair of rogues with axes to grind, so defiant that they seemingly carried a hatchet as their 14th club. For the most part, however, it was more about the bark than the bite. Some people just wake up on the wrong side and find the glass to be half-empty.

Reed is different in that he seems to enjoy and almost nurture his iconoclastic image. In that context, he’s a bit like John Daly, but the two couldn’t have more differing personalities. Long John Screwup was an endearing mess, one of the most popular players in golf history because he kept it real and cherished his fans to an extreme. His flaws were his biggest assets, in a sense, but Reed’s lone-wolf identity easily could be depicted as the offshoot of arrogance.

Not in a thousand years would Daly throw a teammate under the bus. His acts of destruction were confined largely to himself, and that self was quite large. While Daly clearly appreciated the adoration, Reed couldn’t care less about it.

Some might consider him to be a detriment to the game, and given the goody-two-shoes image the tour is so keen on cultivating, they might have a point. Over time, however, those same people might come to appreciate Reed’s candor, if not his lack of culpability. The only person he’s hurting with his buffoonery is himself.

That said, he’s playing golf for a living, and he’s making a ton of money. His camp is small but loyal, just the way he likes it, and his fan base is probably no different. Reed might be boorish and banal, contradictory and vindictive, but he’s no bust. It’s nice to be loved. To the occasional odd duck, it’s even better to be successful.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com