AUGUSTA, Ga. – Patrick Reed, a Golf Channel junkie, woke up Sunday morning and listened to every analyst but Notah Begay pick Rory McIlroy to win the 82nd Masters Tournament. When Reed walked onto the first tee, it was awkwardly obvious the Irishman, and not the man with Augusta roots, was the crowd’s chosen one. When Jordan Spieth, Augusta’s adopted son, began an electric run ’round Amen Corner, even Justin Thomas felt goosebumps.
Call him the villain, the underdog, the misunderstood loner, the brash patriot who American fans love to root for only at the Ryder Cup. Call him what you will – Patrick Reed is now a Masters champion.
“Almost felt like a Ryder Cup,” Reed said. “When I was overseas, they will cheer for good golf no matter what. It’s the same thing here. If you hit quality golf shots, they’re going to cheer.”
It’s just that they’re going to cheer for the home guy louder, and even though Reed lived here as a young man and led Augusta State to two Cinderella-esque NCAA crowns, he might as well have been competing on foreign soil. Reed may fancy himself as Captain America, but Augusta patrons put their rooting interest first in McIlroy’s career Grand Slam, followed by Spieth’s come-from-behind 64, then Rickie Fowler’s dramatic flair.
Best player, if not the most popular
In the end, however, they were left with Reed, the best player, if not the most popular.
“Patrick is a bulldog,” said Reed’s technical coach, Kevin Kirk. “He’s used to being the underdog. It doesn’t bother him that people like or don’t like him. ‘I’m out here to win this golf tournament if you like it or not.’”
One week before the masses arrived in Augusta, while many of his brethren were competing in Houston, Reed took a deep dive on a course where he’d had little success. The first day he spent eight hours on four holes at Augusta National. Team Reed developed a tee-shot matrix for Nos. 1, 2, 12 and 13, determining which shots go best with a particular hole location in a particular wind. On the greens, with historical pin sheets in hand, they’d roll balls until they found the straightest putts, thus determining the fall lines. Kirk estimates that Reed hit no more than 30 full shots in those eight hours and “about 5,000 putts.” The next day Reed played 18 holes in eight hours. By the time Masters week rolled around, wife Justine worked hard to get her husband off the course.
“If I let him,” she said, “he would be here all day every day.”
Reed’s master class in the nuances of golf’s holy land paid off handsomely. The feel player turned tactician made all the right misses at the 82nd Masters, carding no worse than bogey over 72 holes against a best-in-field 22 birdies and two eagles. Reed took five fewer putts than any other competitor and closed with a 1-under 71 to finish at 15-under 273, one stroke ahead of Fowler and two ahead of Spieth. It marked the first time since Tiger Woods, David Duval and Phil Mickelson went 1-2-3 in 2001 that the top three solo finishers at Augusta were Americans.
When others doubted, Reed turned that negative energy into a positive. There were times when the buzzing of Augusta’s sub-air system was louder than Reed’s reception around the greens. Reed Jedi mind-tricked himself into thinking that was a good thing. Most fans wanted someone else (anyone else) to win – fine, more pressure for them.
‘It was going to be a dogfight’
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Reed said. “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.’ Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent, but do you have it mentally; can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round.”
The week began with incessant Tiger talk. The most anticipated Masters in recent memory oozed with intrigue from the moment Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson teed it up in a practice round together. The group, which also included Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters, teed off in the order of total Masters victories: Tiger, Phil, Fred, Thomas.
“It’s a respect thing,” Mickelson said.
The vets may have dominated the early discussions, but the twentysomethings put on the real show.
For a fifth consecutive year Spieth contended on Sunday at the Masters, a remarkable and unmatched stat among his peers. Fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw said no one in the field could match Spieth’s imagination. Perhaps most impressive about the space between Spieth’s ears: His ability to combat the demons with confidence.
Spieth began the final round nine strokes back of Reed, his Ryder Cup partner. He set out trying to eclipse Jack Burke Jr., 62 years to the day he vaulted from a record eight back at Augusta. Spieth said he didn’t glance at the leaderboard one time Sunday as he stacked up birdies on a crisp spring day.
Spieth just ran out of holes
Reed heard a roar shoot up into the pines on Amen Corner as he made the turn. That was Spieth, pouring in a 27-footer for birdie on the 12th – his one-time nemesis – to get within three. This continued throughout the back nine, with Spieth sending chills down the spines of anyone in the zip code of the 16th with a 33-foot bomb.
“I was kind of glad he ran out of holes,” Reed said.
Fowler put up a strong fight over the weekend, posting 65-67, and ultimately came up one stroke short to finish second despite a beautiful birdie up the last. He left Augusta National feeling like he’s due to win a major. This close call felt different, Fowler said, and he’s already pointing his sails toward the U.S. Open at Shinnecock, a favorite track.
Reed, a 27-year-old father of two, said he put too much pressure on himself at this event in previous years. Hyped-up Reed became go-about-your-business Reed. He talked in even, matter-of-fact tones in his press conferences. He was confident but said nothing controversial – nothing remotely close to the man who in 2014 declared himself a top-five player in the world before he’d even competed in a major.
It was that kind of brazen self-belief that allowed Reed to lead Augusta State to two consecutive NCAA titles against college golf behemoths Georgia and Oklahoma State. Reed went 6-0, establishing his reputation as a beast in match play.
“Patrick, he’s not scared,” Fowler said.
It’s the same mindset that allowed him to Monday-qualify an astonishing six times on the PGA Tour after college.
“It was PGA Tour or bust,” former Augusta State coach Josh Gregory said. “He didn’t really know that mini tours existed, candidly.”
Gregory, who works as Reed’s performance coach, doesn’t like to talk about the drama that followed his star player throughout college. Reed was dismissed from Georgia’s golf team before transferring to Augusta State, where it was still anything but peachy.
The school now known as Augusta University was a Division II commuter school whose golf team happened to play DI on a $30,000 operating budget. Gregory compares the likelihood of their NCAA titles to Loyola-Chicago cutting down the nets in back-to-back seasons.
“Now looking back on it, I don’t know how in the hell we did it,” he said.
Hometown crowd not so much
While the city of Augusta didn’t throw the golf team a ticker-tape parade, there was a police escort back to campus followed by a luncheon at Augusta National hosted by Billy Payne. Plus a bonus round of golf at the mecca.
All of this hometown cooking makes it seem logical that Reed would find the Masters crowd in his favor. Locals, however, are more likely to be Georgia Bulldog fans than Augusta Jaguars. And with so many out-of-towners ringing the fairways and greens, the hometown guy essentially played an away game.
Even Reed’s estranged parents and sister, who still live in Augusta, weren’t by his side. When asked in his post-tournament press conference if it was bittersweet to win the Masters without them present, Reed said: “I mean, I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”
That’s not to say there’s not a lot of family around. Reed’s wife, Justine, handles the family’s business affairs and pours over stats. She used to caddie, too, but passed the gig onto her younger brother, Kessler, after becoming a mom.
Reed said he finally listened to his wife about hitting 3-wood off the first hole, and it paid dividends.
“There were certain holes that gave us fits,” Justine said. “I told him that if you could play these holes at even par, you’ll be in contention on Sunday.”
Reed opted to become a free-agent when it comes to equipment in 2018, and it took until March for him to quit tinkering with his mixed bag. A new Ping driver in particular, combined with a more comfortable approach to cut shots, set him up for a commanding performance at the year’s first major.
Wearing pink is the new red
Reed grew up wearing Sunday red in homage to Tiger Woods. He carried that tradition onto the PGA Tour, but he wore azalea pink in the final round at Augusta as Nike scripted red only for the man himself.
Count Woods among the mentors Reed has quietly collected on Tour, along with Bubba Watson. At Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, Reed isn’t shy about picking Woods’ brain. Last November at the Hero World Challenge, Reed played nine holes with Woods at the Albany resort.
As the wind whipped off the right side off the par-3 fifth hole, Gregory recalled Woods saying to Reed: “C’mon, I want to see a fade.”
Reed stepped up and hit a low stinging fade that carved right toward the flag. Gregory thought that was Woods’ way of challenging Reed to be a more complete player.
“I didn’t know you had that in you,” Woods quipped.
Like it or not, golf fans, he’s only getting started. Gwk
(Note: This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Golfweek.)