SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Patrick Reed thinks it’s pretty simple, really.
“It should be remembered as a victory. At the end of the day the rules officials said we did nothing wrong.”
Last year, Reed won the Farmers Insurance Open by five strokes. The margin is an important detail, so let’s say that again: Reed won by five. But one strange incident complicated his victory, further complicated his reputation and now, one year later, it’s hard to decouple his win from four minutes he spent on the 10th hole of his third round.
Plenty of internet ink was spilled at the time detailing Reed’s perceived offense, so I’ll offer this summary: Reed wasn’t sure if his ball was embedded. He checked to see if his ball had broken ground but then he still wasn’t sure, so he called a rules official, who ruled that it had. Later, video showed Reed’s ball had bounced, which further complicated matters — it’s exceedingly rare for a ball to plug after bouncing first.
But, as Reed reminded reporters on Tuesday, the rules officials determined he did nothing wrong. He put his blinders on, blitzed the field and emerged the winner. By five. But even his peers agree there was — and is — nothing simple about it.
“We’re talking about an instance where only he knows what happened. I’m in no room to judge,” said Jon Rahm, World No. 1 and a past champion at the event. “The footage is — it’s not the best, in that sense. As far as I’m concerned, he is the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open champion and he did it by five. It was great playing the whole week.”
Justin Thomas was asked if Reed’s reputation overshadows his game. “Probably depends who you ask. I think his success and amount of wins and everything he’s done speaks for itself. The stuff that’s happened otherwise, it is what it is and it’s in the past,” he said, walking a fine line between condemnation and exoneration.
This is the bittersweet reality of Patrick Reed, whose greatest successes always seem to come with an extra layer of complexity. His impressive college career was complicated by fraught relationships with his teammates. His Masters victory was complicated by family dynamics. His 2019 Presidents Cup appearance was complicated by ongoing accusations of cheating — plus an altercation involving his caddie and a fan. In each of these cases “complicated” is probably underselling it. And the incident at the Farmers was only further complicated by a Twitter account associated with his team firing off all-caps missives on Twitter, seeking absolution or at least seeking the opportunity to take Rory McIlroy down with him.
Has Reed brought all of this on himself? As Thomas says, that depends who you ask. But there’s no question that the golf world would eagerly consume his next misstep. How else do you explain the forensic analysis of a waste area in the Bahamas or 1.4 million people watching a professional golfer take embedded ball relief?
In a world where all publicity really does seem to be good publicity, Reed seems to buck the trend. He doesn’t get to fly under the radar, quietly cashing checks like Charles Howell III. Nor does he collect on the usual benefits of golf fame; he lacks the celebrity treatment and high-profile endorsement deals of his peers. He’s not on the A-list of Tour stars that regularly sit for interviews. The fact is that most people with an opinion of Reed don’t know him much at all; instead, whenever he is in the news it tends to come with mixed results at best.
How has he handled it? Mostly with his head down.
“Really, I mean, the only thing I can do is keep on moving forward, keep trying to get the best I can on the golf course and handle myself how I feel like I’m supposed to off the golf course,” he said Tuesday. “As long as I feel like I’m doing the right things, all of it will take care of itself.”
Maybe. But it seems just as likely that Reed’s reputation is already embedded in the mind of the public and unlikely to dislodge on its own.
“Well, I definitely feel like everyone who has actually got to know me compared to what they read is completely different. Really, at the end of the day I can’t control really what’s been written, I can only control what I do and how my interactions are with people, with fans, with people who get to know me and things like that.”
He’s right on at least one account — Reed’s approval rating around the Tour is higher than you’d guess. One-on-one, he’s pleasant and thoughtful. His game is a joy to watch, too; both Rahm and Thomas gushed about his touch with a wedge and a putter, attributes he modeled after heroes Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, respectively.
Reed returns to Torrey Pines in less than full form. That’s partly a function of his health, because he’s still just at 90 percent, by his estimation, after battling a severe case of double pneumonia last summer. His play (which, last summer, cannot be fully separated from his health) also fell off after last year’s Farmers. With the win, he climbed to No. 10 in the world but managed just a handful of top 10s in the 28 starts since, missing the Ryder Cup and sliding to his current position at World No. 26 in the process.
Now what? Now comes the next step. Reed has been hard at work with his coaches, making swing tweaks and sending his confidence “through the roof” in the process. He said his health is improving. He says his game is, too. As for everything else? Reed didn’t say much about that, unless you really read between the lines.
“I feel like with golf, the more you can understand what you’re trying to do and feel these things, the easier it is to kind of fix things on the fly,” he said. “Because let’s be honest, with golf you’re obviously always trying to hit the best golf shot, but at the end of the day it’s who can play their misses better and who can manage their off swings the best in order to have a chance to win on Sundays.”
Reed’s misses have gotten more attention than most. The world will be watching to see how he plays them this go ’round.