Where sports are concerned, “villains” are like the American Express card. Don’t leave home without ‘em.
Each major sport has them, thrives on them. For those serving the sinister guise, the role almost always represents a backstreet compliment. That is, to be a villain, to inspire such animosity, one must be accomplished at the craft.
Let’s face it, did anyone spend energy hating on “Nature Boy” Ric Flair if he wasn’t bouncing Dusty Rhodes’ head off the turnbuckle? Was anyone paying attention to Terrell Owens shaking pompons if he wasn’t celebrating another touchdown catch? Does Sydney Crosby annoy if he’s not putting the puck in the net? Is LeBron James polarizing playing just a few minutes a night? Do you care if Alex Rodriguez did PEDs if he’s not Hall of Fame material?
Heroes need antiheroes, yin needs yang, positive needs negative or you got no battery. The world of sports is a dull, repetitive, cliche’ riddled place without such balance. It’s what keeps you regular.
All of which brings us to sunny San Diego and the Farmer’s Insurance Open later this week at Torrey Pines. The treasured public facility has played host to this PGA Tour stop since the late 1960s, Over the years, it has had many champions, nice guys like Jay Haas, David Love III and Justin Rose, legends like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods (seven times).
On Wednesday, when the 2022 party starts early in lovely La Jolla, Calif., it will welcome back galleries, something it did not have in the pandemic-impaired edition of 2021. And it will welcome back a champion, one that helps golf fill the aforementioned nefarious need.
Snidely Whiplash himself — Patrick Reed.
Reed’s rise — if that’s the proper word — to rapscallion status has been long and eventful. It began with allegations that cheating and stealing surrounded his dismissal from one college — Georgia — and his isolation at another — Augusta State.
His 2012 marriage to Justine Karain caused estrangement with his parents. Reportedly, the parties have had no contact since. Where public perception is concerned, shutting out mom and pops is not a good look. After Reed won his third PGA Tour event in 2014, he brashly declared himself one of the top five players in the world. At the time, he actually was Hank Aaron, i.e. No. 44 in the rankings.
There’s more: At the 2018 Ryder Cup, he complained about a “buddy system,” about not being utilized in every session and suggested Jordan Spieth didn’t want to be paired with him. In 2019, he caused quite a stir with his handling of a bunker shot at the Hero Challenge. Television replays showed Reed clearing sand from behind his ball with a practice swing — a clear rules violation.
And yes, controversy accompanied Reed’s dominating Farmers win last year. He ran away from the field, a 14-under total producing a five-shot win. He also drew attention from the impropriety police when he declared an imbedded ball at No. 10 during the third round. A television replay showed the ball had bounced. Reed marked the ball and had it in hand before calling an official over for a ruling.
Afterward, Xander Schauffele suggested Reed’s actions weren’t well received among his peers. “The talk amongst the boys isn't great, I guess,” Schauffele said. At the same time, the Tour brass insisted Reed had done nothing wrong. Still, Reed kept the uncomplimentary talk going later in the year when he — or someone handling his account — “liked” social media snipes at Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, who did not make Reed one of his at-large picks.
As you can see, as is the case with many dissentious sports figures, Reed has a hard time steering clear of his own path. That said, the allegations of cheating are what rankle Reed the most. A cheater in golf is akin to a horse thief in the Old West. And as they used to say, "There ain't nothing lower than a horse thief.”
“Being called a cheater; that’s so far from the truth,” Reed told Golf Digest. “No athlete, no golfer who works to make it to the highest level is a cheater. If you take what you think is a correct drop, and it turns out to be an incorrect drop, that’s a rules infraction, and there’s a penalty.
“Happens all the time. Cheating is intentionally trying to gain something on the field. I’d rather play as hard as I can and lose a golf tournament than cheat and win. You can ask every golfer on the PGA Tour, and they’ll all say the same. When that word gets thrown around, whether it’s about you or someone else, that’s wrong, and it’s false.
“We’re out there, with blood, sweat and tears, trying to be the best we can and be role models. I’ve had conversations with famous athletes and successful CEOs, and the lesson they all preach is, focus on what you can control. You can’t please everybody.”
Reed doesn’t like the catcalls or the negative headlines, believes them to be unfair. But he has a remarkable ability to focus and soldier on. He entered 2022 with more than $36 million in career earnings and began the week at No. 26 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Moreover, he also has gotten some help.
For one, the pandemic eliminated many galleries, which also eliminated the boorish behavior of hecklers. What’s more, Reed no longer wears the black hat alone, or even most prominently. That is, Bryson DeChambeau has emerged as a “villain” to be reckoned with over the past many months, blaming equipment after a poor performance, trading social media barbs with Brooks Koepka and declining to talk to press.
DeChambeau is widely recognized for hitting bombs, and they often land in his own camp. He will be in the field at Torrey this week, as will world No. 1 Jon Rahm, PGA champ and San Diego son Phil Mickelson, Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama and 24 of the top 30 in the FedEx standings.
And so will be Reed, the standing Farmers champ, who shot an opening round 64 and a closing round 68 last January, who is one of golf’s “villains” because he’s one of golf’s best. Disparage him if you so choose, there’s plenty of ammo. But also give him his due.
And don’t leave home without him.