From Monday qualifiers to the winner's circle, Patrick Reed is a world-beater
Donald Trump, you most likely know, is all about superlatives. He's all about the best. He drove himself all over his Blue Monster course at Doral on Sunday, checking out his fabulous galleries, his fearsome water hazards (318 drowned balls over four days) and, of course, his "fantastic" red-shirted winner, Patrick Reed. You could make the argument that the young Texan is the best American golfer under the age of 25. You could make the argument that Reed is the best right-here, right-now American golfer period. After all, who else has won three times on Tour in the past seven months? Trump will tell you: the astrophotographer Jimmy Walker, a veteran on a crazy hot streak; and the 23-year-old Reed, kid dynamite himself.
The Cadillac champ was saying on Sunday night that he considers himself one of the top five players in the world. O.K., maybe that's a bit of a stretch. Reed has not even teed it up in a major, and majors evaluate true golf talent better than Blake Shelton judges true country. Along the same lines, Reed was saying on Sunday that he's ready for a Ryder Cup pairing with Tiger Woods, his childhood hero. You have to admire the chutzpah, given that he has not yet played a round of golf with the 14-time major champion. And if Woods should not be available -- and with his balky back, who knows what the rest of the year has in store for him? -- Reed said Phil Mickelson would also be a suitable partner. "My wife says Phil is my twin star," Reed said last week.
Reed is, just as Mickelson was when he was 23, almost astonishingly verbal, confident, mature and direct. Most notably, Reed and Mickelson are hyperaggressive, win-now players. "You're going to lose some playing that way, but you're going to win some too," Reed says. As if Reed knows anything about losing. Three times in 51 starts on Tour he has slept on the 54-hole lead -- at the Wyndham last year, at the Humana last month and at the Cadillac last week -- and three times he has walked off with the win.
Of course, there are limits to brashness, particularly late on Sunday afternoons on the PGA Tour, and what Reed did on the 72nd hole was out of the Tiger Woods playbook, not Mickelson's. Protecting a two-shot lead on the 18th hole, with a murky pond left and a palm grove right, Reed went 3-iron, 7-iron, sand wedge, concluding with two confident raps of the putter. That closing bogey gave him a one-shot victory over Bubba Watson and Jamie Donaldson in a 69-man, no-cut World Golf Championship event that paid $1.5 million to the winner's pregnant wife, Justine, who runs the Reed family books, and $45,000 to Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who shot rounds of 74, 82, 79 and 79. DFL is a good gig these days.
Reed's scores on a difficult, renovated par-72 resort course (page G14) that is a minefield of ponds, humps and bunkers were 68, 75, 69 and 72. Reed played the final hole as Woods did when he won at Doral in 2007. "The guy has the best golf IQ around," Reed says. If you're a young pro taking one page from Tiger and another from Phil, and you've won at every level at which you've played, and you're really skilled and you work really hard, you might do pretty well at this game.
Reed is not one to ever be satisfied with his game. His fairway bunker play needs work, he'll tell you. He can hit draws all day long but is still developing a fade game. He and his coach, Kevin Kirk, will have off-Tour weeks during which they spend 25 hours on the range and many more on the golf course.
On the subject of up-and-comers, Harris English, Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth have become mainstays of the better grill-room golf chat. Be honest: Was Reed even an afterthought in that conversation? We're guilty here too, and the pros who make up Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teacher Poll (Reed garnered 2% of votes for best American player on the PGA Tour under the age of 25) don't seem to be believers yet either. He doesn't look like a 21st-century world-beater. He shaves when he feels like it, and his manner is unassuming. His physique is similar to Jack Nicklaus's at 23, with meaty legs and arms, fleshy hands and a stomach that presents some challenge (he notes humorously) for the Perry Ellis fitting department. No big deal. That body type has had a long history of golfing success. See the Hall of Fame lockers of Nicklaus, Julius Boros, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and, while you're in St. Augustine, Bobby Locke. "I'm not a workout junkie at all," Reed says. "I'd rather lie in bed and watch TV than get in the gym." Somewhere in Houston, Ed Fiori -- the round man who took down Woods in that classic 1996 showdown at Quad Cities -- is smiling.
There's something lunch bucket about Patrick Reed. The word work pops up regularly during interviews. So does the word we, his way of recognizing his team, which includes Justine, his caddie (Justine's brother, Kessler Karain), his instructor, his agents and his sponsors. When Patrick was an amateur, his father, Bill, a medical supply salesman, would often caddie for him, and his mother, Jeannette, was usually in the gallery, but the winner didn't discuss them much last week, even when invited to do so. Patrick and Justine, a registered nurse who Reed says "can do it all," are expecting a daughter in May.
After his Friday round, in howling winds that humbled the best golfers in the world, Reed said it felt "almost like a major." Let's check back with him on that at the end of the year, after he's played in his first Masters, his first U.S. Open, his first British Open, his first PGA and, in all likelihood, his first Ryder Cup. He said last week he can't wait to meet Tom Watson, and to partner with Woods to take on Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell. Reed regards Poulter as a friend. There aren't too many American golfers who would say that, but Reed likes the way the Englishman plays, and he likes his candor. As for McDowell, when the two were paired at Pebble Beach last year, a stroke-play round somehow turned into a match-play competition, at least in Reed's mind. That's how he rolls.
He is not afraid of change. Last year he went from playing 14 Nike clubs and a Nike ball to 14 Callaway clubs and a Callaway ball. The biggest adjustment, he says, is that the Callaway ball doesn't curve as much, and he is a golfer who never sees a straight shot. He has switched coaches and caddies. (Justine was on the bag for his first Tour win, but she stepped aside after she got pregnant.) A native of San Antonio, Reed played two years at Georgia, then transferred to Augusta State, where he led the Jaguars to two NCAA titles. He went 6-0 in match play in those two title runs, twice beating Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein, once the world's top-ranked amateur. "He's a tough kid, a tough competitor," Uihlein said last week. "He's a bulldog." There is nothing in Reed's demeanor that suggests he's playing the Tour to win popularity contests and make friends. He's looking to make money and win titles and find an outlet for his considerable competitiveness.
His year is going to be interesting. He's planning to play next week at Bay Hill and to check in early for the Masters. He played Augusta National three times in college, in wet, long conditions. Still, he notes, he has never shot over par there. At 18 he made it to the semifinals of the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst, site of the national championship in June. In 2012 he played in eight Monday qualifiers for Tour events and got into six of them. Nobody can recall anybody else doing anything like that.
"I think about those Monday qualifiers a lot," Reed says. "You go out there, you know you have to make a score, and you're as aggressive as you can be on every shot, but when it's time to be cautious and play for par, you do that too. And that's how I'm playing the Tour."
How many 23-year-olds are married, expecting, with money in the bank and more rolling in, and with their feet planted on ground? He's pretty rare, this Patrick Reed. Despite appearances, there's nothing common about him.
On Sunday night a reporter asked him, "How long have you worked hard?" Reed wasn't sure he heard the question correctly.
"How long have I worked hard?" he asked.
"How long have you worked hard," the reporter said again.
"My whole life," Reed replied.