- Whether you love him or hate him, Patrick Reed has added flavor to the sport of golf with his brash attitude and impetuous approach.
On the proverbial mountain of professional golf’s core values, stoicism sits near the summit. Players are expected to respond to good shots with understated displays of emotion—a fist pump sits on the upper bound of acceptable—and bad ones with equally muted displeasure. Yelling after a made putt at the wrong time will irk your playing partners. Throwing your club elicits disapproving mutters from crowds and a possible fine from the Tour. There simply isn’t much room for expression.
This, of course, is not a knock on the game we love so much. Quite the opposite, really. It’s part of what makes golf different from those other raucous, sweaty sports. Golf is—all together now—classy. It takes place on delicately manicured swaths of land. It requires players to call penalties on themselves. Its participants outfit themselves in collared shirts, tucked into tailored pants and nestled under lovely sweaters.
PGA Tour professionals are, by and large, personifications of this gentility. They dress well. They keep their heads about them. They generally don’t say anything too juicy to the media, preferring to keep any disagreements within the Tour fraternity. To speak negatively about another player publicly is as big a faux pas as running at Augusta National.
And then there’s Patrick Reed.
By now, you’re probably familiar with the reigning Masters champion’s many controversies, some weightier than others. But let’s quickly review:
• While at the University of Georgia, Reed was arrested for DUI, accused of a second alcohol-related incident, and accused of stealing a Rolex, a putter and $400 from his teammates. He was also accused of cheating during tournament rounds. After an ignominious departure from the golf team, he transferred to Augusta State.
• After becoming the youngest-ever (23) winner of a World Golf Championship in 2014, Reed immediately declared himself a “top-five” player in the world. Nearly five years later, he has yet to reach the top five in the world rankings.
• Later that year, cameras caught him using an anti-gay slur—calling himself a “f---ing f-----”—after three putting at an event in China.
• He earned the “Captain America” nickname for his on-course success representing Team USA at Presidents’ and Ryder Cups, but equally for his brash attitude. His trademark move is shushing the crowd after making a putt.
• In March of this year, Reed was denied a free drop at the Bay Hill Invitational. He said to the rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth,” suggesting Spieth would’ve been treated differently.
• After Reed won the Masters, Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck detailed his estrangement from his family, which he hasn’t spoken to in years. Neither his mom, dad or sister were welcome at the course that day despite living in Augusta.
• In August, Reed posted on Instagram to complain about free tickets to a Red Sox game. Reed said the PGA Tour put he and his family in the “line drive section.”
• Hours after the U.S. was crushed, 17.5-10.5 by Europe in the Ryder Cup, Reed gave a now-infamous interview to The New York Times. He suggested he was “blindsided” by not being paired with Spieth and that “the issue’s obviously Jordan not wanting to play with me.” He also criticized captain Jim Furyk for sitting him twice. Numerous members of the team disputed Reed’s account of the events, with one going as far to say he’s “so full of s---.”
Reed hasn’t exactly endeared himself to fans, the media or his peers. Apparently it's not a new phenomenon. On Wednesday, Kevin Kisner—who, like Reed, played college golf at Georgia—told Golf Digest that all of Reed’s former teammates hate him: “I don’t know that they’d piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth.” Quite the visual, that.
Whether you like him or feel some other way about him, one thing about Reed is undeniable: he’s a villain. Perhaps an unconventional villain, even an unwilling one who badly wants to be a hero. But a villain nonetheless. People hate him. People root against him.
Baseball has the New York Yankees. Tennis has Nick Kyrgios. Happy Gilmore had Shooter McGavin. The PGA Tour has Patrick Reed. And that’s not a bad thing.
Let’s face it: Golf, with its cookie-cutter broadcasts and overwhelmingly vanilla personalities, could use a villain narrative. Villains inspire enthusiasm, both positive and negative; rooting against someone can be as enjoyable as rooting for someone. Villains create dramatic, easy-to-follow storylines that resonate with more than just golf fans; you don’t have to know what a knockdown-fade is to understand good guy vs. bad guy. More than anything, though, Reed’s villainy adds a dash of color, of personality, of conflict, to a sport that so badly needs it.
There are so many wonderfully talented, world-class golfers with squeaky-clean public images. More are always welcome. But what golf really needs is someone different, and Reed is our best bet. Brooks Koepka fancies himself underappreciated, but that comes off as more a motivational tactic than anything. Tiger Woods also comes to mind, but being the most popular player in your sport by a factor of 10 sort of disqualifies you from the villain conversation. Which brings us back to Reed.
He doesn’t yet fit the role perfectly, because the best sports villains have some profound redeeming qualities that make them complex, appealing characters—more polarizing than hated. As of now, Reed doesn’t qualify. He hasn’t won enough to build a loyal fanbase, and he’s put himself in quite the PR hole with serious missteps, while the charm remains latent. The most intriguing villains also don't seem to care if people like them. That Reed felt the need to explain himself after his initial Spieth comments suggests he prefers adoration.
That’s not to say Reed doesn’t have his positives. By all accounts, his work ethic is virtually unmatched, and a lot of his recent missteps can be attributed to a voracious competitiveness. He's also a major champion and, despite a meh Ryder Cup this year, he's performed admirably while representing the Stars and Stripes.
Still just 28 years old, he has the potential to morph from pure antagonist to charismatic antihero. Shutting up about the Ryder Cup would be a great place to start. Then again, that’s what his peers would do—and that’s no fun.