AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed had two putts for par, two putts on the 18th green, two putts to win the Masters. He was sitting at 15-under, he had held Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and everyone else off for going on three days. He was 24 feet away with an opportunity to lag it, then tap it, then slip on a green jacket.
The throng around the 18th here at Augusta National sat politely but when his first putt slipped by the hole leaving him a slightly tricky 4-footer, they began a murmur that built into a consensus, not of dread that he might blow this, but rather what sounded like hope that he might.
Know this about golf fans, they are lap dogs. They cheer for everything and everyone. If a guy makes a great shot, they clap, even if it adversely effects the guy they are rooting for to win. That’s the sport. It’s even more polite here at Augusta, where if when someone is about to win a major – even a relative unknown such as Charl Schwartzel or Danny Willett – they rain down thunderous applause.
If it’s one of their heroes – a Jordan, a Phil, a Tiger – they scream so loud it rattles the pollen off the pine trees.
Reed is 27, delivered two NCAA titles to local Augusta State and had played some brilliant, beautiful golf while relentlessly praising and expressing his respect for this place and this tournament and this town.
Yet the truth is, they just don’t care much around here for Patrick Reed. Not even with the Masters on the line. And when he eventually sank that par putt for the championship, some cheered politely and a few shouted and a lot of other people packed up their folding chairs and headed for the parking lot.
This was the most subdued fan reaction to a victory you’ll likely ever hear at Augusta National. It was nothing like any other victory the last few decades.
“It definitely [felt] that way,” Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law, Kessler Karain, said.
“Almost felt like a Ryder Cup,” Reed said of the fans across the day. “They will cheer for good golf no matter what. It’s the same thing here. If you hit quality golf shots, they are going to cheer. But if two guys hit the same exact shots, whoever is the home guy is going to get louder cheers.”
Except this isn’t the Ryder Cup. It’s the Masters.
So why do the fans hate, or at least dislike, Patrick Reed so much?
“I don’t know,” Reed said. “Why don’t you ask them? I mean, I have no idea, and honestly I don’t really care what people say on Twitter or what they say if they are cheering for me or not cheering for me.”
There are reasons, whether they are valid or not. Reed has long carried himself with an I-don’t-care attitude and a supreme bit of confidence that in the genteel world of golf can rub people the wrong way. He was booted out of the University of Georgia. He was hard to coach. He wasn’t always the most likeable teammate. He would trash talk (by golf standards) opponents.
He famously declared himself a top-five player in the world when there was no data that suggested such a thing was true.
“I don’t really regret anything I say,” Reed said Sunday. “I stand by my comments. I feel like I’ve played some golf to get to where I want to be, which is the best golfer in the world.”
Golf should probably get over it and stop being so sensitive but it’s those little things that pile up into a big one. Best golfer in the world … It’s not that he is wrong to aspire to such a goal, why wouldn’t he? It’s just most golfers keep that to themselves. Reed doesn’t. He also kept referring to this victory as “my first green jacket,” implying others to come. Should he not aspire to that?
Take it or leave it, he’s going to verbalize it.
Apparently, most leave it. He just isn’t popular. Or wasn’t. Maybe this changes things with some fans. Still, there is clearly a lot going on with the guy. He remains estranged from his parents and sister and was asked Sunday if he wished they were here to share this moment with him.
“I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments,” he said.
Well, he won this one, taking the lead Friday and holding everyone off that challenged him the rest of the way – Fowler by a stroke, Spieth by two, Sunday playing partner Rory McIlory by six. Most people expected him to crumble under the pressure. He didn’t. McIlroy tried some psychological warfare by noting that it was Reed (who was still seeking his first major) with all the pressure and all the heat.
Reed went out and shot a 71. McIlroy a 74.
By tee time, Reed had flipped the script anyway. He spent the morning watching the Golf Channel as analysts picked apart his game, questioned his resolve and, almost universally, picked McIlroy to win. Many athletes will tune out such media commentary. Reed doesn’t just seek it out, he loves it.
“It just seemed like the pressure at that point was kind of lifted off,” Reed said. “No one expected me to go out and win.”
Then he walked to the first tee and was greeted with some cheers. McIlroy followed soon after and was treated to a roar. It was like that all day. Reed knew he wasn’t the chosen one here.
“His cheer was a little louder,” Reed said. “But that’s another thing that played into my hand. Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but it takes the pressure off me and adds it back to him.”
Reed against the World is reality at this point, so why not make it a strategy? The more people dislike him, the more he finds a way to just relax, play golf and win.
“That’s OK” Karain said. “That’s motivating, too.”
Maybe Reed takes this personally or maybe he doesn’t. His wife, Justine, hopes the Masters victory will at least get him his due as a golfer.
“For a long time, people don’t say his name as often as they should,” Justine said. “That’s what I think. I always thought he’s a great player.”
Reed is a great player, that much was on display. He bested a hellacious field of challengers – Jordan Spieth’s 64, Rickie Fowler’s 67. He cruised through hole after hole of pressure and never really bobbled. He won the green jacket. He said it was proof he had the mental toughness to match his physical talent.
And if the fans didn’t cheer with much conviction, if they were rooting for Rory or Rickie or damn near anyone else, then so what?
Their spite motivated him to get here, to fight off the stress of a Sunday back nine, to sink those putts and to slip on a green jacket whether they liked it or not. Fans aren’t allowed in the champion’s locker room anyway.
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