- Patrick Reed says his unpopularity doesn't bother him, but he looked rattled in his first round at Augusta since winning the green jacket.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed wore his green jacket to dinners and basketball games. He wore it to pick up his five-year-old daughter, Windsor Wells, from school. He wore it—at Windsor Wells’s request—to the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. He knew he would have to return it to Augusta National once the year was up, and he wanted to maximize his time with it. He all but slept in at night: He hung it everywhere he went so that he could see it as he fell asleep and as he woke up. He was so worried about letting it out of his sight that in the 12 months between his 2018 Masters win and his attempted title defense, which began Thursday, he did not even have it dry-cleaned. His first major, won on a course he played as an Augusta State amateur, meant everything to him.
“I was always thinking that the first one would be the hardest,” Reed said Tuesday. But as he tries to win his second, he realizes he might have been wrong.
He shot a one-over 73 on the day, which left him seven strokes behind the leaders and tied for 44th. He spent most of the day saving par. The challenges came as something of a surprise to him, given how calm he felt the year before. Even on Thursday, he felt calm when he awoke. He felt calm when he began warming up. He felt calm even as he ascended the first tee shortly before 10:30 a.m. Then, about two minutes before the announcer spoke his name—Patrick Reed, 2018 Masters champion—Reed looked at the leaderboard and saw the 1 next to his name. His heart began to race. He hit 3-wood, which normally keeps him short of the fairway bunker. Instead he one-hopped his drive into the sand.
“I was more nervous than I expected,” Reed said after the round. “Obviously the adrenaline was going.”
His second shot clanked into the left bunker. He was thrilled to get up and down for par. Let’s just go out and play golf, he reminded himself. Still, the day did not come easy. He hit only eight of 14 fairways, tied for 57th in the field. He hit eight greens in regulation, tied for 77th. His approaches averaged 60’4” from the hole—86th of 87 golfers in the field. If not for adequate putting, a lucky break on No. 9 and an eagle on No. 13, he might have taken himself out of contention entirely.
His wife, Justine, walked all 18 holes with her sister, Kristiane Karain, and brother Dan. (Her other brother, Kessler, serves as Reed’s caddie.) Over and over, they held their breath, then exhaled. “He’s not making it easy on himself,” Justine said as Patrick chipped 40 yards, from the pine straw, over a hill, onto the eighth green. “He’s two-over now, but a lot of guys would be five-over, the way he’s played.”
Reed occupies a difficult position in golf. He is elite, but many people seem to root against him. Perhaps because of his complicated relationship with his family, perhaps because he was dismissed from Georgia amid rumors of cheating (he has said he drank underage), perhaps because he boasted when he was ranked No. 20 that he was a top-five player in the world, perhaps because he said after struggling in the 2018 Ryder Cup that he had been “blindsided” by captain Jim Furyk’s pairings, perhaps because he sometimes seems to bristle at what he perceives as unfair questions, he does not inspire much fan adoration. Crowds often reacted more strongly to Norwegian amateur Viktor Hovland, playing alongside Reed and Webb Simpson, than to the reigning champion. Reed’s group did not receive “featured” status on the website, which allows fans to watch every shot before television coverage kicks in in the afternoon. Only two reporters requested Reed’s time after the round. He claims that his unpopularity does not bother him. Last year, he said the fans’ distaste for him actually helped, because it took the pressure off. When he emerged from the scoring area on Thursday, he was cheerful and pleasant.
“It was just kind of an up-and-down day,” he said. “I felt like the ball-striking was a little loose. I felt like my short game was where it needed to be. Even if you hit quality golf shots here, if you miss it by a foot one way or the other, you’re leaving yourself a very hard next shot.”
No. 9 encapsulated his day. Reed yanked his drive off the left side of the fairway. The ball nestled in a chair just inches from a pine tree, allowing him a free drop one club length closer to the fairway, rather than a lost stroke or an awkward shot. Reed jogged onto the fairway to watch as his approach landed in perfect position a few yards below the pin … then rolled backward off the green. He chipped within a foot, then sank the putt for par.
After finishing No. 18, signing his scorecard, and conducting his interviews, Reed headed into the clubhouse, where two truths awaited him. Whether the fans like him or not, the pressure is no longer off. And hanging in the champions’ locker room, where he will dress and undress for as long as he plays golf here, is his green jacket. If he wants to wear it off the grounds again, he needs to win another Masters.