When he was denied what he thought was a free drop at a tournament a month ago, Patrick Reed complained, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth.”
He was joking. Sort of. People took it amiss anyway.
Reed has spent his brief career annoying believers in the “Grand Old Game.” He’s the sort of golfer Brian Burke would trade for – truculent.
He’s been caught saying some very unkind things on a parabolic mic, irritated his fellows on numerous occasions, rubbished the fans for being too lippy and done a Punch-and-Judy act with George Bush (the one nobody likes).
As a younger man, Reed announced he was already one of the five best players in the world. That he very obviously wasn’t seemed to be the point. Reed wasn’t trying to convince anyone. Since no one else was willing to congratulate him on being so awesome, he decided to do so himself.
In another sport, one more admiring of arrogance, the 27-year-old would be everyone’s favourite loudmouth. But in golf, Reed has always behaved too much the boor with too little to back it up. He is openly despised in many golfing quarters.
After winning his first Masters (and first major) on Sunday, Reed now has the bonafides, if not the supporters.
What luck this is for golf – a sport absent compelling characters since the decline of Tiger Woods has now found his likeness through a glass darkly.
Reed is Woods without the twinkle or the obvious sales angle. He’s a tubby, little bounder who is never going to convince a kid to get off the couch and buy some shoes.
What he will do is encourage people to watch a game fallen into a viewership lull. Heroes are in long supply in golf. They make a new one every few weeks.
But it is has always been short on heels. Reed so enthusiastically fills the role of pantomime villain that he ought to come to the first tee of every tournament in a black, stovepipe hat. He’s Dastardly Whiplash with a farmer’s tan, after a lifetime of soft living.
In American terms, he is the human embodiment of a Red state.
While receiving his green jacket at the Butler Cabin – the most contrived and excruciating ritual in sport – Reed wouldn’t fulfill his sainted role. He didn’t cry or go for pathos. He began reciting his round shot by shot – putting already dreary TV into coma-inducing territory – and said he was just glad that he’d won any tournament after a long drought.
“But to do it at the Masters … ” Reed added in unconvincingly at the end.
Last year’s champion, Sergio Garcia, had a robotic grin plastered on his face the whole time. When Garcia moved in for a hug ahead of the jacket handoff, Reed instead made a grab for the haberdashery.
Reed is not the man you want closing out a celebration of life, unless it’s his own.
Sunday’s round at the Masters was gripping, but fell short of real drama. Reed did not play particularly well, nor did he give anything back. His most memorable shots were saves. He led the entire way.
His 15-under bettered the second-place finisher, Rickie Fowler, by one stroke.
As Reed won it with a tricky three-foot putt, the crowd around the final hole rose to its feet and applauded. But this was not the elemental roar we are used to – a Tiger roar, a Phil roar or, nowadays, a Jordan roar. It was pro forma stuff by people who understand their role as well. They’re here to be polite.
“It was nice to just make the last one,” Fowler said afterward, referring to a birdie on 18. “Make him earn it.”
If there was such a thing as a “Good Sports Guy Factory,” Fowler would be one of its products. He plays the game the right way, visits the infirm on his off days and is roundly admired by his peers. But even someone as polished as Fowler had a bit of edge in his voice as he said it.
From the purist’s perspective, the story of the day was Spieth, the person Reed will tell you gets all the free drops.
Spieth flirted with the best round in Masters’ history. He started the day nine off the pace and ended it just two short. There were long stretches on the back nine where it seemed fated he would win it.
He was certainly the man the crowd wanted – golf’s golden boy. When he got within one shot and his number was posted on the main scoreboard, the well-heeled Augusta mob went bonkers. Reed wouldn’t get a cheer like that at a family reunion.
Had Spieth won on Sunday, we’d have to start talking about him as one of the best ever. It would have been the sort of finish that defines even the greatest career.
Instead, it was like getting to the end of a Rocky film and being told the Russian won on points.
This first major of the year proved a few things: Tiger Woods is better, but will probably never be Tiger Woods™ again; Rory McIlroy plays head games the way the rest of us play boomerang; Jon Rahm is the “Next Big Thing” and Fowler is turning into Greg Norman – not necessarily a good thing.
For the first time in a while, you watched the Masters – something even the golf agnostics do – and thought, “I’m looking forward to more of this.”
But what it did most deliciously was set up a rivalry that can carry this sport forward for the next five or 10 years – Reed vs. Spieth.
The pair represents the polarities of the United States right now. For once, we’re not speaking in terms of politics (they’re both multi-millionaires from Texas – I guarantee you they voted the same way.)
Rather, they delineate the twinned sides of the U.S. sports character. One is charismatic, fun to watch and has succeeded on his merits. The other is Jordan Spieth.
The difference is that one of them cannot help but give in to his base urges – to brag, to whine, to act the fool.
You don’t have to like him. But tell me you won’t come back just to watch Patrick Reed play again and I’ll call you a liar.