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Almost anyone who’s played a round of golf knows someone like Patrick Reed. Just look in the mirror.
Like Reed, we all cheat. At least a little. We all roll the ball in the fairway, fluff it in the rough or move it an extra foot from the oak tree to improve our chances. Or we think about doing those things, and as Jimmy Carter said, paraphrasing, “If I cheat in my heart it is still cheating.”
Let’s acknowledge our indiscretions before castigating Reed as evil incarnate for breaking the rules, or at least bending them to his advantage during Saturday’s third round of the Farmers Insurance Open near San Diego, where the weather is always perfect but the PGA Tour players are not. And there’s the rub. We expect them to be.
Rob Oller is a columnist for the Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.
The best players shoot low scores without cheating
Among the reasons Joe Hacks stand amazed at tour players, one that stands tall without standing out, is that the best players in the world shoot ridiculously low scores without cheating. They play the ball where it lies, no foot-wedging their Titleist out of the weeds.
And no dropping a second ball ahead of where the first one hooked into the woods. Tour players re-tee after hitting out of bounds. If they drive it out of bounds a second time, they don’t say, “That’s enough, I’ll just drop it up there.” No sir. They count every shot. The Tour is more “Tin Cup” than “Caddyshack.” Or it should be.
But Reed inched toward Judge Smails territory last weekend, and deep down that’s what really bothers high-handicappers who expect nearly flawless physical and moral performance from the best players in the world.
To reset: Reed hit his approach shot on the 10th hole at Torrey Pines into the left rough, which was deep and wet. He asked a volunteer spotter if the ball had bounced before settling into the grass. It had, but the volunteer said she didn’t see it bounce.
Hearing “no,” Reed knew there stood a good chance the ball had plugged, which would allow him to improve his lie without penalty. After telling his playing partners, calling for a rules official and feeling around in the rough, Reed picked up his ball and cleaned it, which is allowed under the rules if he determined the ball had plugged.
Did Reed technically cheat?
Opinions differ on whether Reed technically cheated, but the majority of observers agree he acted hastily and perhaps improperly, noting that he should have waited for rules official Brad Fabel to arrive on the scene before lifting the ball. (It should be noted that Fabel, put in the difficult position of ruling on a plugged golf ball that had been unplugged by Reed, concluded the player followed proper procedures.)
It was not the first time Reed has been accused of skirting the rules. In 2019, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for swiping away sand with his club while preparing to hit from a waste bunker during the Hero World Challenge. Reed claimed the TV camera angle made his actions look worse than they were.
Asked about it then, fellow tour player Brooks Koepka did not hesitate.
“I don’t know what he was doing, building sandcastles in the sand, but you know where your club is,” Koepka said.
At Torrey, at least two players questioned Reed’s motives.
Patrick Reed poses with the winner’s trophy following the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course. Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
“Golf’s a game of sportsmanship, and it’s tough to put us in the spot to call him out because we weren’t there,” Lanto Griffin said. “But at the end of the day, I think 99% of the golfers out here, if it’s in question one way or the other, they’re going to go the other way, not taking a drop.”
Xander Schauffele said player discussions leaned toward being skeptical of how Reed handled the situation.
“The talk amongst the boys isn’t great, I guess,” Schauffele said. “But he’s protected by the Tour and that’s all that matters, I guess.”
Between pro and pathetic
The PGA Tour may protect Reed, as it does for most marquee players, but the golfing public has no such mandate. It may be fine for the duffer to scribble a 6 on the scorecard when it was a 7, but how dare tour players lower themselves.
Hypocritical? Of course, but golf is different from most other sports in establishing a clear line of protocol between pro and pathetic.
Jack Nicklaus played the game not only at a higher level than 99.9% of the world, but the Golden Bear did so with high integrity regarding the rules. Most Tour players do the same. Imagine if NBA players called traveling on themselves or a cornerback told the official to throw a flag because he was guilty of pass interference.
What sets Tour players apart, and why Reed comes off so badly, especially after winning last weekend, is they are supposed to police themselves better than the rest of us Keystone Kops.
Rob Oller is a columnist who covers golf for the Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @rollerCD.
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