2019 Presidents Cup Preview: Bettors Beware, the Villain Role Suits Patrick Reed Well
Adam Hagy, USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Patrick Reed
Five years ago, as the United States team was in the midst of an embarrassing Ryder Cup loss that would induce a messy aftermath, Patrick Reed, who’d earlier in his singles match missed a putt of which he said, “I probably could make on one foot left-handed the day before,” rolled in a more difficult version, then turned to the clamorous European fans on European soil and promptly shushed them.
It was golf’s equivalent of a wide receiver bombastically celebrating a first down while his team trails by four touchdowns – or at least, it would’ve been if not for the grin across Reed’s lips as he pressed his right index finger against them.
“I was doing it all in fun,” he would later say, and nobody who witnessed the harmless act would argue it was anything more egregious than that.
Preserved in time, though, that moment taught us a lot more about Reed than simply that he likes to have a little fun while he plays, an idea which has taken on a whole different meaning in the wake of recent events.
What we learned in that moment is that Reed is the rare professional golfer who enjoys playing the role of villain. Colin Montgomerie could hear a whisper about his pleated khakis from two fairways away. Sergio Garcia has long struggled to win over fans and influence people. Bubba Watson has found it impossible to balance caring about what the public thinks of him while pretending to not care what the public thinks of him. Reed, though, is a different animal, the rare breed who preys on combative culture.
When he was paired with Rory McIlroy in the final group at last year’s Masters, Reed undoubtedly acknowledged the first-tee ovation for the foreigner, while he, from right down the road in Augusta, received tepid applause, presumably a reaction to having shunned his own parents, who could only watch on TV despite being so close to the course. Of course, Reed wound up winning the green jacket that day, effectively shushing the crowds which had given him that silent treatment.
All of which is relevant once again this week, as echoes of cheating will reverberate around Reed for his rules violation at the Hero World Challenge – quite literally, in fact, as the Australian galleries are expected to saturate Royal Melbourne with a chorus of jeers for the biggest villain on the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
“I don’t have any sympathy for anyone who cheats,” International team member Cameron Smith told reporters this weekend. “I hope the crowd absolutely gives it not only to him, but everyone.”
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If he’s listening, Reed won’t only be hearing the derision from the opposition’s supporters, either. On Monday morning, one by one, callers on a national radio program in the U.S. queued up to make their thoughts known on the situation: Almost unanimously, these American golf fans believed Reed should’ve been immediately removed from the roster.
Even if such a punishment fit that specific crime, the logistics never would’ve allowed for such a ruling – nor would the powers-that-be, including team captain Tiger Woods, who’s taken a shine to Reed, one of his four wildcard selections to the team.
Ever passive, Woods said of Reed’s cheating allegation aftermath, “Of course we’re going to be asked, but when it comes right down to it, we’ll just get ready to play and play. Whatever Patrick has put out there is he’s focused like he is in every Cup, he just goes out and gets his point. [This] week will be no different.”
There’s an excellent it chance it won’t be any different from those previous situations. Reed’s best golf has often countered public sentiment, like the professional wrestling heel whose storyline calls for continued domination while being browbeaten by the assembled audience.
He remains an anomaly in the game of golf, where popular players enjoy the safe space between the ropes and unpopular players work tirelessly to repair that image.
Reed’s latest controversy would’ve been best served with a heap of contrition, but – for better or worse – that’s not his technique. The American players were always going to be derided by spectators in enemy territory and Reed was always going to play the role of Public Enemy No. 1, however he’s now offered them fodder which extends beyond the usual catcalls.
This is the type of scenario that every golfer dreads, but it’s Reed’s safe space. He feels the most comfortable when it’s him against the world, when he can silence the critics and the doubters and the abusers by holing a crucial putt, letting a grin come across his lips, then pressing that right index finger to them and shushing everyone around him.
He’ll later say it’s all in good fun – and he isn’t lying. Remember, he’s the rare breed who preys on this.