The Villain: Patrick Reed

(Hello—a quick note up top to explain the presence of this story on Tobacco Road Blues, of all places. I’ve been working on a golf book for the past year and a half—Slaying the Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the New PGA Tour is scheduled to hit stores this May, and can be pre-ordered now—and after finishing the first draft of the manuscript in December, I became acquainted with a strange phenomenon: When you finish a book, you have to wait months before it’s published. Which is fine, unless you’ve done any investigative reporting, in which case you have to sit on your hands anxiously and pray that nobody re-creates your legwork and publishes the results in a more flexible medium before the book hits. In the case of my work on Patrick Reed, those prayers went unanswered, which is no surprise, given his notoriety and his success. As it happens, a big story on Reed is coming out in a major outlet soon, and since it proved impossible to publish anywhere else on such short notice, I’m showcasing it here before that story hits. This is not an official book excerpt. Instead, think of it as a sample of my work from the past year—a few vignettes on a common theme. It’s a long read, but it might be interesting. —Shane Ryan)

 

THE VILLAIN

Q: Do you think the media’s making you out to be a villain?

A: Yeah. For sure.

—Reed

Patrick Reed: Twenty-four years old, built like Babe Ruth—short, heavy, barrel-chested, with a build that makes you think “stocky” and “powerful” rather than “fat”—quick to anger even by pro golf standards, and a born winner.

Those are the descriptions that come to mind when you study Reed’s résumé and watch him on the course. With his win earlier this month at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he became just the fourth player in the last two decades to win four times on the PGA Tour before his 25th birthday. The other three are Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Sergio Garcia—names that demonstrate the lofty company he keeps.

With Reed, though, success is never simple. There has always been something a little off-key brewing beneath the surface of his story—a swirl of rumors dating back to his college days, when he lasted a year at Georgia before transferring to Augusta State and winning two national championships, the second of them against the school that had kicked him out. There’s much to be said about his professional life, and that story is ongoing. This is a story about his past—the triumphs and the stumbles.

*

The more Reed won on Tour, the more inevitable it became that his complicated history would return to haunt him. Finally, after the biggest win of his career at the Cadillac Championship last March, ESPN’s Ian O’Connor dragged some of the skeletons from the closet in a Masters-week story called “Patrick Reed’s Turbulent Rise.” O’Connor’s research, spanning courthouses and coaches and parents and former college and high school teammates, lifted the veil, at least slightly, on Reed’s youth. The story made it clear that his peers had never really liked him, especially at the college level. A new picture of Reed emerged: Brash, arrogant, abrasive, unapologetic, winner. He turned potential friends against him, and he never seemed to care about the consequences—at least not enough to change.

In terms of the nitty-gritty details, though, O’Connor couldn’t quite pierce the wall of silence put up by the very same people who despised Reed. A citation in an Athens courthouse revealed that Reed had been arrested for intoxication his freshman season, but if that was the standard for a villain, half of the country would be doomed (as O’Connor admitted). The reason why Georgia coach Chris Haack had kicked Reed off the team remained a mystery, as did the ensuing troubles at Augusta State, which head coach Josh Gregory and Reed’s former teammates kept close to the vest.

“It’s certainly no secret to us, but I’m not going to be the first one to blab about it,” Georgia alum Brian Harman told me, summing up the prevailing philosophy among nearly everyone inside the loop.

Whatever the reason for the silence, it was clear that the ESPN story had only struck a glancing blow—the truth went far deeper than a mere drunken night, and the real story was left unresolved. As another media member put it to me, “that was as close as anyone ever got, and they didn’t get that close.”

*

From the start of my travels in a year on Tour, I found Reed to be one of the most compelling young golfers around, and I began trying to arrange an interview with him as early as January. He proved an elusive figure, even with a cooperative agent, but I finally sat down with he and Justine—his wife and former caddie, who had just given birth to their first child—at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia in early July. I held off on his college years as long as I could, but eventually I broached the topic, which led to an awkward exchange:

Me: Did you read Ian O’Connor’s article?

Patrick: No.

Me: I mean, a lot of people want to know-

Patrick: I talked to him about it.

Me: You did talk to him?

Patrick: I think so, yeah.

Justine: Yeah, I read it.

Patrick: Yeah. Yeah no, it was at…

Justine: You read it.

Patrick: We were at Augusta, huh? He talked to me before he wrote it.

Me: But you didn’t read it?

Justine: I think he read it.

Patrick: I think so, I don’t know. There’s so many articles…it’s so hard…

Justine: There’s so many stories. But I do recall that story.

From Reed’s body language after I said O’Connor’s name, I got the sense that he knew exactly what I was talking about. I believe that he lied, and I don’t say that with any judgment—I learned early on that lying is a critical part of the process with PGA Tour players and their representatives, and it serves a purpose. It’s not incumbent upon them to provide unfavorable information about themselves, either from their past or their Tour lives, and in fact being honest can, at times, have a detrimental effect. There was no reason for Reed to do my work for me.

But I was curious to see his reaction to the story, and the fact that he had feigned ignorance until his wife essentially called him out was telling—it had hit home, and it was something he worried about. Before moving on, I brought up the idea that when you really looked at the story, there was nothing too damning beyond the kind of alcohol infraction experienced by hordes of college students every year—including myself.

Me: But see, the interesting thing for me was…I mean, I’m someone who got arrested in college for shooting off a fire extinguisher. It feels like everyone I know does, so it felt like whatever he wrote wasn’t everything. It was like, ‘oh, that’s it?”

Justine: It was everything.

Patrick: No, the article he wrote was everything. I mean, it’s…

Justine: There’s nothing else out there.

Those responses came quickly, and reminded me of an old trope: The cop standing in front of a grisly car wreck, saying, “move along, nothing to see here!” Again, they said what they had to say. And again, they were lying.

*

From the time he was very young, Reed brought an unusual focus to the sport, right down to the smallest details. When he was ten, he stopped wearing shorts on the golf course, both in competitive tournaments and range rounds, because he saw that the pros had to wear pants. In the brutal heat of midsummer, he’d be the only kid at a tournament in khakis, and even when he came close to passing out, he’d never succumb.

Two of Patrick’s dominant personality traits emerged early, and both worried his parents, Bill and Jeannette. The first was his incredible capacity for rage. He expected so much of himself that when he went into a slump, he’d transform into a sullen powder keg of frustration and anger, to the point that his parents wondered whether or not he was truly enjoying the sport. Reed always told them he was, but his emotional explosions painted a different picture.

The other problem was his outward shows of confidence, which crossed over into a cocky, arrogant tone too often for Bill’s liking. He knew his son’s success somewhat depended on this self-assurance, but when Patrick introduced himself to strangers by saying things like, “I’m Patrick Reed, and I’ll kick the shit out of you at golf any time you want,” Bill also knew he had a problem. The issue was that Patrick’s obsession was all-consuming—he had no other interests, and though it made him one of the best juniors in the country, it also meant that his self-worth was entirely wrapped up in the game. Combined with a natural arrogance and a snarly demeanor, he had a knack for bad first impressions.

But what was the solution? The difficulty, according to his parents, was that while they tried to keep him humble, everyone around them was telling Patrick how great he was. They were right, too—he was a natural—but the constant praise made it difficult to regulate his behavior outside the home. Still, their fears that he would burn out never came to pass, and they watched as other top-ranked junior golfers dropped out or peaked too early while Patrick surpassed them all.

Success followed success, and after a chance visit to Athens, GA on the way home from a summer tournament, Reed reversed a prior commitment to Texas and pledged his college years to Georgia. He won the Louisiana state championship as a junior, and because he already had enough credits to play Division-1 golf, Georgia coach Chris Haack encouraged him to come to school a year early. The class above Reed was full of unknown quantities, and Haack thought he might need Patrick sooner than expected.

As it turned out, those unknown quantities were Russell Henley, Harris English, and Hudson Swafford, all of whom panned out in a big way. It was too late for Reed to reverse course, though, and when he finally came to Georgia, he found himself as a cog in a stacked roster that included the three super sophomores and senior star Brian Harman.

Haack had a rule that any player who made the semifinals of the U.S. amateur in the summer wouldn’t have to qualify for the first college tournament in the fall, and when Reed advanced to the final weekend, losing to Danny Lee in the semis, he was exempt for the start of his college career. This, along with his penchant for boasting, somewhat isolated the 17-year-old Reed when he arrived on campus. It didn’t help that whenever he qualified for a tournament, he was knocking out a veteran, and Reed wasn’t the kind of kid who was equipped to handle the delicate situation with the requisite tact. If anything, it was reminiscent of another Georgia player who ran afoul of his teammates and coach in a year with an unusual amount of talent. Like Bubba Watson, Reed quickly drifted outside the Bulldogs’ tight inner circle.

When he explained to me what went wrong in his freshman season, Reed chalked it up to being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people in such a small area, leading him to seek out a more comfortable environment.

The truth isn’t quite so simple. The full story, from sources who prefer to remain anonymous, shines a light on a golfer who veered completely out of control in his one year at Georgia. Everything O’Connor said about his personality quirks was true—he alienated his teammates immediately with displays of arrogance, and he had an unapologetic way of practicing and playing apart from the team. If that were the only issue, though, he might have merely remained an irksome presence. It wasn’t, he didn’t, and the situation grew much worse.

During a qualifying round prior to a tournament, according to sources, Reed hit a ball far into the rough. When he approached the spot, he found another ball sitting closer to the fairway, and was preparing to hit it when several of his teammates confronted him. Reed pled ignorance, but the other Georgia players were convinced he had been caught red-handed trying to cheat. That same fall, several items went missing from the Georgia locker room, including a watch, a Scotty Cameron putter, and $400 cash. When Reed showed up the next day with a large wad of cash, sources say a teammate confronted him and asked how he’d come by the money. Reed said he’d played golf with a professor at the school and hustled him out of the cash. The player in question took this claim to the professor, who had no idea what he was talking about—it had been weeks since the man had played with Reed.

Again, no action was taken, but as far as his teammates were concerned, Reed was guilty of cheating and thieving. Even now, on Tour, a source told me that there’s a private joke among certain players when Reed enters a locker room: “Hide your things,” they tell each other. “Patrick’s here.”

In addition, the arrest for intoxication—when Reed was found drunk at 2:30 a.m. on campus—was only the first of two alcohol violations. The second came hot on the heels of the first, during the week of a Georgia football game. That day, Reed and a friend had loaded up on alcohol before leaving for the game. (To Bill and Jeannette, the drinking was a new side of Reed—he had never had much of a social life at all in high school, and though he had the odd girlfriend here and there, drinking was never part of his agenda. Their theory today is that Patrick was trying to fit in on a college campus where he felt desperately alone.) Later that night, near Atlanta, he was arrested again on a second alcohol charge.

This time, the Reeds hired a lawyer, and were able to keep word from reaching the team after a judge threw out the case. By February, though, Chris Haack found out, and he scheduled a meeting with Patrick. According to the sources, Reed came in for the meeting with his mother Jeannette, who was visiting. When Haack brought up the second arrest, Jeannette reacted with surprise:

“We thought no one knew,” she said.

At that point, sources say, Haack realized there had been a cover-up, and he couldn’t trust anything that came from Reed or anybody else in the family. Combined with the personal and ethical problems Patrick presented, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Haack began the process of severing ties between Reed and the golf team. Reed kept his access to all facilities for the rest of the academic year, along with academic tutoring, but in terms of Georgia golf, the relationship was over. It was understood that Reed would transfer for his sophomore season.

*

The choice came down to Florida, Wake Forest and Augusta State, and considering that his parents now lived in Augusta, he didn’t brood over the decision for long. Head coach Josh Gregory sold him on the idea that he’d already tried the big schools, and it was time to see how he’d function in a smaller environment. Reed could see the wisdom in that, so he chose to spend the next two years at Augusta State, living at home the second year.

Gregory’s program was an interesting anomaly in the sport—golf was the school’s only Division 1 program, and the college itself had none of the allure of the surrounding SEC and ACC schools, with their huge student populations, top level football programs, sprawling campuses, and the student-centric milieu that included vibrant small cities, Greek life, and—since we’re talking about teenage males—beautiful young women everywhere. When Reed was in high school, Gregory didn’t even bother recruiting him; as he told me, “Augusta State doesn’t get the Patrick Reeds of the world.”

Recruiting against schools like Georgia and Georgia Tech was a pipe dream—no student would visit both places and come away with an urgent desire to make Augusta his college home. Instead, Gregory would look for mid-level talents in the southeast that had some of the competitive drive he coveted—guys he could mold into great players. He also recruited internationally, where the reputation of his competitors didn’t carry quite as much weight. And, when fate dealt him a lucky hand, he’d take the odd cast-off; the stud like Reed who, for whatever reason, couldn’t cut it at his original school.

Gregory had been a lifelong underdog himself, a college golfer under Hank Haney at SMU who never won a tournament, and he knew almost from the minute he turned pro that he lacked the mental game to succeed. When he looked around at his friends who were succeeding at the highest levels, he saw players who believed they were twice as good as they actually were. Gregory was the opposite—he never thought he was half as good as he really was—and the sport made him miserable. But the analytical brain that spoiled his playing career made him an ideal coach. He knew exactly who to look for, and he became an expert not only at finding diamonds in the rough, but training them to take down the high-profile players in whose shadow they had spent their entire lives.

Reed, though, represented a new challenge entirely. Gregory understood that he needed a player of Reed’s caliber to put a very good Augusta State team over the top, and he also knew that Reed wasn’t squeaky-clean. But he had no idea how bad things would get, and how fast. Once again, Reed made a terrible first impression, angering his teammates and making life difficult for his coach. He talked too much about himself, refused to listen to advice, and came off as someone with deep insecurities who was trying to project an infallible image.

(Gregory laughed at the fact that despite all the troubles, if you put Reed in a room full of adults, he’d be totally at ease and totally charming. I found the same to be true—the angry tyrant I had watched on the course was never in evidence in a one-on-one setting. I enjoyed my time in West Virginia with he and Justine more than most of my interviews with Tour players, and despite the moments when his account departed from the truth, I thought of him as a good storyteller with more personal charisma than I’d expected.)

When I asked Gregory what form Reed’s behavior took, he described a player who was so intent on proving that he was the best golfer—motivated by an intense fear of failure—that he couldn’t turn it off and have normal social interactions with his teammates. Even though adults liked him, he had a one-track mind around people his own age, and his relationships with golfers became antagonistic and tense. He would openly tell his teammates that he was better than they were, that he was going to beat them, and etc. They didn’t enjoy having him around, and Reed could sense—and was hurt by—their dislike, which only exacerbated his need to prove his value on the golf course, and to identify completely with the idea of Patrick Reed the golfer. The self-defeating cycle perpetuated itself, driving an enormous wedge between Reed and the rest of the team.

On one memorable night—one of the few times he hung out with his teammates in a social setting—sources say he became so belligerent at one of his teammates that he earned a punch in the face. He also got suspended for the start of the season for reasons that remained shrouded in mystery for the longest time, kept secret by golf’s omerta.

The news trickled around the Georgia golf community, though, and the cause of the suspension—confirmed by multiple sources—didn’t surprise the teammates who knew him back in Athens: Cheating in a qualifying event.

*

The suspension cost him the first two tournaments of the season, and Gregory told him that unless he grew up, and grew up quickly, he’d never make it either in college or on the PGA Tour. Gregory also placed a phone call to Haack, angry at just how difficult his player had proven to be, and Reed’s teammates held several meetings that year deciding what to do about the black sheep. In addition, a source close to the scene told me that Reed would often have tense phone conversations with his father after events he didn’t win, and that these would often become accusatory and angry, devolving into intense shouting matches before Reed hung up. The exact nature of the relationship wasn’t well known, but the sense among the team was that Bill was unreasonably tough on his son.

It’s tempting now to paint a story of redemption—a path upward from the darkest hours. With Reed, though, there was never a seismic personality shift in college. In 2011, he stopped hanging out with his teammates off the golf course completely. He also stopped cheating, and he was slightly more cordial with his teammates, but when I asked multiple sources whether this meant they actually liked him, the response was unanimous: Hell no.

*

In fact, something odd began to take shape with those Augusta State teams. Where most coaches preach team chemistry, what developed between Reed and his teammates was the opposite. They so despised each other that the environment became abnormally competitive—particularly between Reed and Henrik Norlander, two alpha dogs who wanted to beat each other so badly that they played with a desperate intensity even in practice rounds. It’s not the textbook way to build a team, much less one that any coach would recommend, but for Augusta State, it created a hard edge among the players that served them well in NCAA match play. The idea of being intimidated by some unknown opponent was laughable—they had to deal with Patrick Reed every day.

Everyone I spoke with agreed on one thing—if it wasn’t for Josh Gregory’s guidance and belief in Reed, he would have gone off the rails and been out of NCAA golf within a matter of months. The fact that he showed any improvement, or at least kept himself out of trouble, was due entirely to the standard Gregory set, and the artful way he dealt with a player who didn’t respond well to authority.

Still, his teammates’ attitude never changed. Before the last round of his college career, in the national championship against Harris English, a group of Reed’s Augusta State teammates approached English—one of the most well-liked, easygoing players in the sport—with an emphatic message:

“We want to win the national title, but we hope you kick the shit out of Patrick Reed.”

*

The trouble for them was that nobody kicked the shit out of Patrick Reed, especially in match play. In a one-on-one situation, he could escape his head completely and focus on beating a single opponent. During his sophomore season, after riding out the suspension, Reed proved that he was a valuable addition to the team, quickly forming a strong 1-2 attack with Norlander.

In June, at the NCAA Championships at the Honors Course in Ooltewah, TN, the Jaguars shot well enough to secure the sixth position after the three stroke play rounds ended. A year earlier, the championship format had changed; where it used to be purely a stroke play event, now the top eight teams after the medal rounds would face off in a match play bracket. That meant Augusta State, the 6-seed, would face Georgia Tech, the 3-seed, with five players from each team squaring off against each other in a best-of-five contest.

Reed drew Chesson Hadley that day, the Yellow Jacket who would go on to become PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2014. Neither player ever established more than a one hole lead, but coming down the 18th hole, Reed, who had proven his match play chops at the U.S. amateur the summer before he came to Georgia, was 1-up. They needed his win, as Tech led 2-1 in matches completed. Hadley’s approach was mediocre, landing more than 30 feet from the pin, and Reed, sensing blood, put his 12 feet away. Barring a miracle, a two-putt would win. Incredibly, though, Hadley holed his long birdie attempt. The pressure was squarely on Reed, and he responded, sinking his own birdie and letting out a primal shout when it fell.

Henrik Norlander won the deciding match on the 18th hole, and Augusta State pulled off the upset to advance to the semifinals. There, they handled the Florida State Seminoles, with Reed winning again, and it was on to the championship, where they’d face their stiffest challenge yet in top-ranked Oklahoma State. The Cowboys featured future pros like Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Tway, and Peter Uihlein—son of Wally Uihlein, CEO of the Acushnet Company and the man who runs Footjoy and Titleist, which makes him one of the most powerful people in golf.

Uihlein is as close as anyone comes to golf royalty, and Reed, with his combative nature and the giant chip on his shoulder, seemed to take a special pleasure in playing against him. They were drawn against one another, and after Uihlein took the first hole, Reed won the next three. That led to the seventh hole, where Uihlein conceded a short par putt to Reed, and Reed refused to return the favor when Uihlein’s birdie attempt rolled up next to the hole. Uihlein, annoyed, stood over his putt and missed. The annoyance turned to rage as he swatted the ball into the nearby water, and Reed, now 4-up, knew he’d won the mental game. He coasted from there, and the match ended 4&2 in Reed’s favor. Henrik Norlander and Mitch Krywulycz came through in their matches, and Augusta State’s motley crew of underdogs had its first national title.

Afterward, Reed approached Gregory with tears in his eyes and thanked him for sticking by his side. He knew how close he’d been to losing his second team in two years, and how it would have made him poison to every other college program. He had nearly sabotaged himself out of both a national title and the stable foundation he desperately needed before launching his professional career, and only Gregory’s forbearance had saved him.

*

The 2011 national championship was held in Karsten Creek, Oklahoma State’s home course, and when the hosts won their quarterfinal match and Augusta State—now the 7-seed—topped Georgia Tech for the second straight year, a revenge narrative took shape. The bitter Oklahoma State players had made comments the year before to the effect that the best team had lost, and they were eager for another crack at the upstarts who had left a sour taste in their mouths.

Thousands of Oklahoma State fans lined the course for the semifinal, and the way they’d erupt when one of their players hit an approach to 30 feet, yet stay completely silent if an Augusta State player stuck one inside five feet, reminded Josh Gregory of the Ryder Cup. The coach walked with Henrik Norlander during his match against Kevin Tway, and they were on their way to the 13th tee when he decided to stir the pot.

“Tough crowd out here today,” he said loudly, giving Norlander a fist bump.

“Shut up, asshole,” came the response from a voice in the crowd.

Gregory loved it, and the atmosphere was right up Reed’s alley as well. He was set to go last in the running order, and he knew the match could come down to him, which was just fine—he wanted the pressure on his shoulders, and hadn’t enjoyed a year earlier when he finished his match in the championship round too quickly, and had to watch his teammates fight to the end. When the draw came out, and he saw that he’d be facing Peter Uihlein for the second straight year, he thought, “even better.”

(After telling me how happy he was when he realized who his opponent would be, Reed was quick to add that Uihlein was his “good friend”— a typical verbal maneuver for Reed, and one which I might even have believed if he didn’t keep using it in reference to certain golfers, like Harris English, who I knew definitively were not his friend.

Later in the year, when I told Henrik Stenson that Reed had included him in the “good friends” list, he laughed, and responded with his unique brand of dry, Swedish humor.

“I wouldn’t say that we go way back,” he deadpanned. “I played one practice round with him at Wells Fargo a couple years ago. And…well, it’s nice if he thinks that everyone he knows a little bit is one of his friends. That’s obviously a way to look at it. But if I’m going to express myself politically, I guess he’s an interesting character.”

Later, when I asked why he kept to himself on the range, I got a truer version from Justine: “Really, he has few good friends out here, but he’s not worried about being the most popular guy.” I looked to Reed, who nodded. “She basically nailed it.”)

Uihlein was now the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, and had played in the Masters in April—a rare honor for a college student—but the accolades only seemed to stoke the flames of Reed’s competitive fire. Uihlein, from the start, never had a chance.

Reed birdied six of the first 11 holes, and as he walked up the 10th, Uihlein looked at him something like disbelief. “Every time I play you, it’s like I run into a buzzsaw,” he said. “You just cut me down.” Reed won the match by the gaudy score of 8&7—he had faced the top amateur in the world, and the player the Wall Street Journal had called “the next great champion” just two months earlier, and humiliated him on his home course.

Norlander won again, and in a dramatic match that went extra holes, Carter Newman—a senior, and the team’s fifth-best player—saved himself from disaster by holing lengthy putts on 17 and 18 before beating Sean Einhaus in extra holes and sending Augusta State to the championship round for the second straight year.

Waiting for them, on the other side of the bracket, were the Georgia Bulldogs.

*

Gregory worried that Reed would be too amped up for his match, considering the circumstances, and he tried to emphasize that focusing on the opponent wouldn’t help. It had limited effect—Reed wanted the win worse than he ever had before, and nothing Gregory could say would calm him down.

Reed’s teammates delivered their message of support to Harris English, and the match was on. This time, Reed fished his wish—Russell Henley beat Norlander, Hudson Swafford lost, and the teams split the other two matches, leaving Reed and English as the last men on the course. Their point would decide the national championship.

“If you were to go back in history and ask Harris if there’s one match that he wanted to win,” Chris Haack told me later, “that was the match. Not only did it mean winning the national championship, which was ultimately what we all wanted, but just a lot of the…oh, gosh, I don’t know, the way that things always transpired with Patrick…it just wasn’t a very…”

Here he trailed off, before concluding, “I want to take the high road here.”

Reed held a 1-up lead early, and though English squared the match before the turn, Reed won the 10th and 13th holes to go 2-up. He held the same lead heading into the 17th, and needed only a half to win the match. Neither player hit a great drive, but when English hit his approach into the water, the match was down to its dying embers. Reed made a mess of the hole, but still left himself with two putts from six feet to win. His first crawled up to bare inches away, the second was conceded, and just like that, Reed had finished off the greatest underdog act in college golf history. Josh Gregory and Augusta State had won back-to-back national championships, and they did it in style, beating two of the sport’s biggest juggernauts.

For Reed, it was the end of a short but brilliant career, and the cherry on top of a 6-0 match play record at the NCAA championships. He kept his emotions in check—deep down, he knew Haack wasn’t wrong to let him go, and as badly as he wanted to win, there was a bittersweet feeling knowing his college career was over.

To the Georgia players and coaches, though—and even to some of Reed’s teammates—the win represented the opposite of a fairy-tale ending. Reed and English had deserved different fates in their final match, they thought, and everything about it felt deeply unfair. One of O’Connor’s sources, in the ESPN story, called it “the death of karma.”

*

“I’m hoping one day he’ll come out and have the honesty to talk about his past. It would really be a great cleansing process for him, but I don’t know if he’ll ever do that. I wish he would, because unfortunately he’s going to get always get questions about his past. Always questions about what happened at Georgia, what happened at Augusta State, what happened with his parents. I wish he would get it off his chest at some point in life, because I think it would help him become a better person.”

—Josh Gregory

It’s hard to know whether a troubled athlete ever truly changes, and the ubiquity of high-paid experts dedicated to crafting their player’s image casts a cynical light on the concept of personal growth. Which changes are sincere, goes the unanswerable question, and which are mere PR window-dressing and stagecraft, designed to lure a gullible writer?

Even if he never changes, reasonable people can still see shades of gray, and forgiveness isn’t out of the question.

“He has a big heart,” said Bill Reed. “It’s hard for him to show it in certain circumstances, because he needs to be on guard. He’s so driven, and to him he thinks it’s a sign of weakness. And you have to understand too, he’s still only 24 years old, and he’s been in the adult world a lot sooner than children his age should be and need to be.”

Brian Harman put it more bluntly.

“You have to remember that he was 17 years old,” he said, of Reed’s freshman year at Georgia. “We all do a lot of stupid shit when we’re 17.”

Reed’s story since his last college match has been one of success—he got his first PGA Tour win by out-dueling Jordan Spieth at the Wyndham Championship in 2013, and then won twice more in 2014, prompting the infamous “top-5” comment that brought him his first real dose of public notoriety.

His temperament, on the other hand, hadn’t really evolved. Throughout the 2014 season, I watched Reed blow off reporters in anger after his bad rounds, including at the Congressional in June, where after doing his requisite two questions with tv—nobody says no to tv—he wouldn’t offer more than a terse “nope” when a Tour official asked him to meet with the writers. Later, though, starting at the British Open, he began to face the music. He obviously still hated the process, but he’d endure a question or two without storming off, like the rest of his fellow pros.

Did this represent real maturity? It’s always hard to know for certain, and as Reed himself told me in our interview, the media will never get to know the “real” him. He also believes the broader forces are trying to make him a villain, so the relationship is tainted from the beginning—both sides are mostly fine with assuming the worst about the other.

In any case, it’s safe to assume that Reed’s anger runs a few degrees hotter than the average golfer—in Shanghai, at the WGC event in November, he was caught on camera chastising himself with the kind of language that goes beyond the usual self-loathing. “Nice fucking three-putt, you fucking faggot,” he said. “Go fucking hang yourself.” (In a bizarre postscript to the fallout, he decided to seek “guidance” from Bubba Watson, of all people.)

Reed also became estranged from his family after graduating from Augusta State and leaving home in November 2011—an estrangement that has lasted to the present. Neither his mother or father were invited to his wedding in December 2012, and contextual clues indicate that the relationship worsened from there.

When the Augusta Chronicle, ignorant of the longstanding rift, ran a tame video interview with Bill, Jeannette, and Patrick’s younger sister Hannah after his win at the Wyndham Championship, sources told me that the Legacy Agency, which represented Reed at the time, requested that the video be taken down. The matter died when the Chronicle refused to capitulate, but the gesture shows how strained the relationship must be. In 2014, at several tournaments, independent sources told me that Justine hired at least one bodyguard to “protect” her from Bill and Jeannette.

For their part, the Reeds didn’t want to speak on the record about the divide—“As a parent, no matter how much pain you’re going through, our philosophy on it is we’re never going to throw one of our own children under the bus,” Bill said. “No matter how much our children hurt us, I’m not going to hang them out to dry in a national setting.”—but Bill is on Twitter, with a profile picture showing he and Patrick at a golf tournament, and a tweet from Dec. 2012 seems to make a pointed statement about his relationship with his son:

“You can love someone with all your heart but there is no promise they are going to love you back. The ladies in my life are best!”

(Note: After this piece was published, a national golf writer pointed out to me that the preceding tweet was written on Reed’s wedding day.)

His mother Jeannette also has a social media presence, and her Twitter feed is dense with vague messages that hint at a relationship gone sour, and alternate between bitterness, sadness, and the hope of reconciliation. The latest instance came in December, when she wrote, “One would imagine the pure joy of Christmas past would touch a person’s heart in some way #miracle #hope.”

“If a person does not know where they started from, they sure as heck do not know where they are going….,” she tweeted on April 30, not long after the 2014 Masters, and the oblique references go back to the start of her timeline in 2013, with messages like, “Sometimes you have to move on without certain people. If they are meant to be, they will catch up…..”

One message in particular seems to be a reference to Justine: “There are doers, givers & takers in the world. You do & give it your all out of love & support, the takers step in & take what is not theirs.”

The vagueness of the tweets clarified this month, when Bill Reed became angry that his son hadn’t been in touch for their daughter Hannah’s birthday.

“Very sad and heart breaking at #PatrickReed did not wish his little sister happy birthday God has a plan wish we could see it,” he wrote, and both Jeannette and Hannah responded in kind.

The family relations, though, are too complex to be untangled from a few words on social media. For now, it’s enough to say that Patrick Reed is fighting a battle on two fronts. On the golf course, he’s winning in style, and may be the toughest young American in a generation loaded with talent. Off the course, he’s been painted into a corner by a complicated past and the questionable choices of the present.

In a culture that loathes gray area, Reed has been typecast before his 25th birthday. He is golf’s remorseless villain, and stands as a rare exception to the old proverb—not everybody, it seems, loves a winner.

 ***

 

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PGA Draft

PGA Draft after the break… Continue reading

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Excel Sheet after the break… Continue reading

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Problems

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True Detective

This dialogue comes from Shea Wigham’s sermon in the third episode of HBO’s True Detective. The full video can be seen here.

You was blind to him as your footprints in the ashes, but he saw you. Beneath every disguise, every gesture false or true, every silent resentment, he saw you in those dark corners. He heard you, oh my brothers: He heard those thoughts.

Now, I’m here today to talk to you about reality. I’m here to tell you about what you already know. That this, all this, is not real. It is merely the limitation of our senses, which are meager devices. Your angers and your griefs and your separations are a fevered hallucination once suffered by us all, we prisoners of light and matter. And there we all are, our faces pressed to the bars, looking out, looking up, asking the question, begging the question: Are you there? Would that we had ears to hear because every moment, every now, is an answer. Every beat of every heart, every second of every minute, every minute of every hour, every hour of every day, is an answer. And the answer is YES. YES. YES.

Listen. Your sorrows pin you to this place. They divide you from what your heart knows, and there are a lot of good hearts out there, I’m looking out there and I’m seeing a lot of good hearts out there. And we bandage our soft selves in hardness, in anger. You are a stranger to yourself, and yet he knows you. And when your hard heart made you like unto the stone and broke you from his body, which is the stars and the wind between the stars, he knew you. He knew you yet and forever. Because I ask you, how could the father forget his children? How could the world forget itself? It doesn’t matter that the children do not understand what they are, it doesn’t matter that the world thinks it is many different things rather than one: Him. Doesn’t matter.

My sad and joyous and frightened and courageous brothers and sisters, I want you to do something for me. I want you to close your eyes. I want you to close your eyes and let your chests swell as his lungs fill his portion in us, in each other, every single one of you sitting here today, each other, I want you to listen for that answer. If ever your sorrow becomes such a burden that you forget yourself, forget this world, I want you to remember this truth. It’s as indelible as the sun in the sky and the ground beneath your feet: This world is a veil, and the face you wear is not your own.

The shape of our true face is not yet known to us, and so I press my eyes to the bars and I look out and I look up and I ask the question. No, I beg the question: Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, your arms open and close and the echoes of my life could never contain a single truth about you. You move the feather and the ash, you touch the leaf with his flame, you lent your soul to an infinity of atomic creation and of it I am less than a drop in the ocean.

So how then can I know sorrow? How then can I know despair? Does the rain know sorrow? Does the grass and the mountains, the beautiful mountains, know despair? Such is not his province, and so not be our purpose. Be in him, of him, and then know peace. That is his gift to us. Our birthright. In the end we will find ourselves at the beginning, and will at last know ourselves, and our true faces will weep in his light. And those tears, those tears will feel like a warm rain. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

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A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

Blue is just another word for sad

-Me, over and over again, while I beat my head against a wall

Here’s a question: when did we as a society start to think that our sturdy, boxy cars weren’t good enough, and that what we really needed were bubbly spaceships made out of plastic. Here, this is what will keep you safe: a multi-ton death machine built to crumble around you instead of protect you! When did we replace functional, metal bumpers with sheets of plastic that can’t withstand any contact with another vehicle?

I hit a car. I hit an unoccupied, perfectly still vehicle inside a parking garage before the UNC-ECU game. Name the one car you don’t want to hit if you have a choice and I hit it. I hit a Lexus SUV in a parking garage and I was naïve enough to think that nothing would happen in the game that could suck worse.

You experience a complex mélange of emotions when you hit a car and there’s no one in it. What you should do (leave a note, we are a society etc. honesty is the best policy etc. lying never helped anyone except for politicians and CEOs etc.) is in direct opposition to what you could do, which would be to just drive away. It’s less about getting away with having made a mistake, and more about being able to do things in a vacuum. Like being home sick from school but you start to feel better by the afternoon, and you can run around the house naked or play video games and it’s entirely up to you whether anyone finds out what you’ve done, bad or benign. Like existing in another universe for a hot minute.

I did the honorable thing, though, I left a note under a windshield wiper and I parked right next to the car, but if I had known the way the game would turn out I would have driven to another spot, and then past that spot, and then out of Chapel Hill, and then right into Jordan Lake.

During the third quarter, I found myself wondering what would happen if Larry Fedora did that, simply led the Tar Heels off of the field and out of the stadium, mid-play. The ECU team would have to leave too, right? What would happen? If I have the option of walking away from my own mistakes, can’t Bryn Renner also walk away from his car-crash playing? They didn’t, and I didn’t, and the worst part of sitting through the drubbing Carolina was handed was that I couldn’t leave early, because I had to find out how much it was going to cost me to fix this guy’s bumper.

So I sat there, and I bathed in the boozy arrogance coming off of the ECU fans around me (the folks behind me, I swear if I’d wanted to I could have lit their breath on fire). A guy stood up whenever the Pirates did anything remotely good, wearing an outfit he was way too old for, and just waved his arms, screaming. It was the worst.

The problems with UNC’s defense seem to be that they’re running some kind of made-up scheme, they aren’t fast enough to get to where they need to be, and when they finally do get to where they need to be they somehow don’t know how to tackle. (The problems with the offense seem made up: someone has stolen Renner’s ability to throw a football. Eric Ebron insists on dropping one easy pass a game, like it’s in his contract along with a bowl of green M&M’s.  The two most promising freshman on the team are both receivers, one is three feet tall and the other is named Bug. Nothing makes sense and I hate everything. There’s holding on every single play.)

My favorite backyard football play was made up by a friend of mine, who called it “Leaves.” When you run Leaves, the receivers sprint as fast as they can down the field, then turn around and sprint back, and the quarterback hits whichever one is open. Any group of humans could run Leaves ten times against the Tar Heels and score on 5 of their tries. Logan Thomas has picked this defense apart as of a day before the writing of this. Brandon Connette will pick this defense apart. So will whoever plays quarterback for Pitt, so will whoever plays quarterback for Old Dominion. This seems like just reverse-jinxing but it’s actual, legitimate despair: UNC can’t beat Duke. Duke’s offense is too good for this defense to handle. That’s a real sentence I just typed.

This is what it’s like to love UNC football, which can’t love you back and will eat you alive. You spend 90 percent of the time worrying about everything going to Hell and the remaining 10 percent of the time in Hell. The worst I’ve ever felt as a sports fan was after the Duke basketball game in March. The mini-breakdown I had that night culminated with a mental rundown of all of my regrets while I listened to Celtic Woman sing “O Holy Night” and drank beer until I fell asleep. This ECU game was close.

It felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone. At one point, the announcer shamed a student after she missed on her first field goal attempt for free chicken biscuits for life or some such, by saying “come on, it’s military appreciation day,” as if to say “get it together, you slob. People are dying all over the world and you can’t even knock an extra point in? Do you hate America?” The hype video before the 4th quarter only serves to remind people that there was a time when UNC football players knew how to hit the opposing team hard enough to affect them or stop them in some way, an idea wholly foreign to the group we trot out every week. Inside my head, I kept screaming for Rod Sterling to come out of the shadows and explain to me what lesson I had just learned so I could turn the TV off. I wanted someone to tell me that there was no creature on the wing, but all I saw was that grown man in cargo shorts and a cowboy hat making elaborate and infuriating first-down gestures every single time a run up the middle resulted in a 15 yard gain for the Pirates.

What hurts the most is that this was supposed to be The Year. We had a proven quarterback and a year of the new system under our belt, and a stable of running backs that was supposed to be at least reliable in the absence of Saint Giovanni. An ACC schedule without Florida State or Clemson that peaked in difficulty with the first game and then dropped off considerably. Even the most jaded fan could have looked at that schedule at the beginning of the year and seen 9 wins. But then again this was also supposed to be the year when I was responsible enough to not hit a parked car.

So I sat there in the parking garage and waited for whoever drove the Lexus to come and see the silly wreckage I’d perpetrated on its bumper, and when he finally did he looked at me and said the only true thing we ever came up with as a civilization: ‘shit happens.’

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Breaking Down (the most terrifying aspect of) Thursday’s Cackalacky Border War

Humans, the finest of all seasons is almost officially upon us. If you look closely, there are some leaves beginning to change, I wore a long-sleeved shirt the other day without immediately suffering heat stroke, and actual meaningful football games begin this Thursday at PM6, when North Carolina travels southward, into a den of garnet deviants who fight birds for sport.

UNC again finds themselves situated in a role of football prominence, opening the season in prime-time national television against a highly ranked SEC opponent for the second time in 4 years. The Cackalacky Border War has the potential to be, at the very least, a great deal of fun, pitting the demented genius Steve Spurrier against the younger, probably just as demented Larry Fedora[1], and the blazing Fed Spread against a very, very stout Defense.

Lots of eyeballs will be on this game, even outside of our fair state and the one below us. Fans across the country will have their eyes wide-open and glued to this game for the same reason that I will have mine covered: we are terrified of what Jadeveon Clowney, Gamecock’s defensive end/level-6 Kaiju, is going to do.

Because it could be anything. We’ve all been inundated with that clip from the Michigan game, to the point where we understand that Clowney is some kind of superhuman missile-person who can’t be stopped from getting into the backfield. If you told me that he would record 5 sacks, I’d believe you, and if you also told me that he would walk onto the field to WWE Superstar The Undertaker’s theme music and pop a football with his bare hands, I’d believe that too.

We tend, though, as a society of football fans, to think of Clowney as a separate being from the other players on the field, but he’s not. He’s an unstoppable force, sure, but to prove that he needs movable objects, and with those men lie my concerns. So without further ado…

 

Who Has The Most to Fear from The Clownpocalypse?

 5. James Hurst

Hurst bottoms out the list, which seems odd at first glance, since he’ll be the gentleman saddled with the most Clowney responsibility, and won’t have the luxury of some kind of exo-suit to help him (guys, Pacific Rim is really good). But here’s why he’s so low: no one expects anyone to be able to block Jadeveon, and the majority of people watching this game will have no idea how good Hurst actually is (really really really good is how good). All Hurst has to do is play to the level that he’s proven he’s capable of, and keep Clowney under some semblance of control for even the smallest majority of the game, and he will have exceeded the expectations of most of the country. He’ll have help, of course, as it seems reasonable to double-team the guy, and one thing that gets lost in the concussive grandeur of that play against Michigan is that Clowney is a mortal, blockable human being. His impact on that game was pretty minimal up until that point, and only a missed assignment let him get into the backfield untouched.

 4. UNC’s committee of running backs

Universally beloved tailback Giovanni Bernard’s departure leaves some size-infinity shoes to be filled, and that unenviable task will fall on A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, and freshman Khris Francis (who positively stole the show in the spring game). Blue is a bruiser, Morris brings more flash to the table, and Francis showed flashes in the spring game of that same kind of patient hyper-awareness that made Gio so good, so the best case scenario for UNC is that they’ll always have one of three fresh, differently skilled backs to rotate into the game. The problem with that is three separate bodies for Jadeveon Clowney to separate from their heads.

These guys have all probably seen the Michigan clip as many times as we have (and realistically, I’ve seen it 20 times without even searching for it; that’s how ubiquitous it was) if not more, given its particular relevance to them.[2]

Regardless, these are the three bodies that Clowney is most likely to collide with after getting a head of steam, and for that they all edge out Hurst on our list.

However…

 3. UNC Fans

Physical pain heals. As the great Shane “Footsteps” Falco has said, “pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.” Maybe these guys get their bells rung, maybe they get the wind knocked out of them, but they’re young, and some time in an ice bath is going to placate 80% of what happens on a football field.

On the other hand, a state full of people will be watching this game, yearning for some kind of sign from the real Carolina that’ll signify actual football relevance, and by virtue of that yearning we take players and turn them into our heroes, unloading our hopes and dreams into them.

Now, by all accounts, Jadeveon Clowney is a humble, easygoing guy who rightly equates twitter with trouble and keeps out of the limelight (one conversation with Jay-Z notwithstanding) but because of the way stories and the human brain work, UNC fans will have no choice but to see him as a villain. If he puts a hit on anyone that takes them off the field for even, like, two weeks, he’ll occupy the same space as Bernard Pollard in Patriots fans’ minds, and he’ll seep into our nightmares.

I’ll put it this way, once, in 2011, I watched South Carolina play Arkansas, a team I am entirely apathetic toward, and I was scared of Clowney for two weeks after. I can’t imagine what I’ll feel when he’s charging towards…

 2. Bryn Renner

Renner, after a hit against Wake Forest that had him looking like the most concussed man on Earth, spent a lot of time last season finding creative new ways to get hit in the head every week. When he’s operating at full capacity, I honestly believe he’s the second best quarterback in the ACC (and not just because I’m hugely biased. If I were just hugely biased I would say that he’s better than Tahj Boyd, which is only true when Boyd is off his game). After South Carolina, UNC has a very forgiving schedule. They navigate the ACC without Clemson or Florida State, and are in the best position they’ve been in since the Mack Brown days to win 9 or 10 games. This can happen with a healthy Bryn Renner, but being the target for a transcendent, physics-defying, singularly talented defensive end is not the best way to stay healthy.

1. South Carolina Fans

I have this friend with a lot of theories, who is a USC fan and believes in what he calls the Chicken Curse. The Chicken Curse[3] is, as you’d expect, the malevolent force by which the University of South Carolina Football Gamecocks find themselves on the cusp, in recent years, of great success only to have it snatched away by evil forces, or Florida. The curse injured Marcus Lattimore twice, and I think there are more than a few in Gamecock nation who fear that Clowney will be the latest casualty, and that’s a special kind of acute psychic agony, and that trumps any fear that I or Bryn Renner or Larry Fedora have.

I won’t, even jokingly, wish any physical harm on a football player who doesn’t play for State, but I would have no problem with a manifestation of the curse that keeps Clowney hovering 6-10 feet off the ground for 4 hours starting Thursday at 6 (on ESPN).


[1] I don’t believe that Fedora ever speaks in an even, mellow tone. Between his initial press conference, seeing him on the sidelines, and the basketball games he’s popped up at, I think Larry is like Nic Cage in that all of his dialogue is either screamed or whispered. I also imagine him with a stopwatch at all times, watching people performing slow activities with the same mix of bewilderment and disgust that John Calipari has for players over the age of 20.

[2] If I’m Larry Fedora, I institute a ban on that clip in June. I install keyboard monitors on all of my running backs’ laptops. Either that or I loop it over and over again in the locker room until it loses all of its power, like when you say the word “room” over and over again and it just turns into a sound without meaning that you’re making.

[3] Not that you care, but my favorite active sports curse is the Curse of the Billy Goat currently setting teeth to their gnashing and garments to their rending in Chicago, Illinois, USA, because this is what the guy with the titular goat actually said: “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

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