Paired against Rory McIlroy in the leadoff slot in the Sunday singles matches at the 2016 Ryder Cup, Patrick Reed felt a lump building in his throat. Nerves? Kind of. As the crowd of thousands sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in unison, Reed and his lump both swelled with pride. “I’ll never forget that moment,” he says. “Even though Rory and I put on quite a show that day,” (Reed edged Rors, 1-up) “the pre-round pomp cut right to the heart of things. That was my moment. I remember feeling so lucky to be in that place, with the guys fighting for Team USA in the groups behind me, having the fans in my corner.
“I thought to myself, “Man, whatever you’ve done to get here, Patrick, it was the right move.”” What Reed had done is embrace a take-no-prisoners approach to going low. He fires at pins as if they owe him money. Always has, probably always will. If he’s near the green, he expects every pitch, chip and blast to go in. It’s worked at every level, including spectacularly at Augusta State University, where Reed led the Jaguars to back-to-back NCAA championships in 2010 and 2011. “I seem to play better when I’m more aggressive,” he says. “When I try to throttle back and play things safe, I end up “guiding” the ball into some bad positions.” Case in point: the 2014 Humana Challenge. Reed carded three straight 63s to start the tournament, finding himself in almost-too-easy position to shatter the all-time scoring record of 31-under for a four-day event. “Then, on Sunday, I thought, “just play fairways and greens.” The next thing I know, my seven-stroke lead shrinks to two. Forget the scoring record—I’m going to throw this win away!”
Reed used five birdies to erase four bogeys that day to hold off Ryan Palmer. Then again, that’s his game: birdies. From the start of the 2015 season through this year’s British Open, Reed has holed 1,065 of them. He’s gone seventh, fourth and 18th in total birdies the past three years. There’s a reason for that.
“On the course, I’m aggressive—with the shots I’m choosing and the lines I’m picking. It’s just my way to produce low numbers.”
According to Reed, going for the jugular isn’t so much a choice these days as it is a necessity. “Believe me—I’m not the only aggressive guy out here. Look at some of the lines Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth take. Nobody thinks 70 is a good number anymore.”
Inspired? You should be. And now’s the time to act on it, with some tough-love advice from a man who knows how to back it up.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
I don’t care how crazy the shot is, if you think you can pull it off, do it. I set my confidence-meter high—I need 100 percent belief before I even think about a certain swing. But if I have it, there isn’t a caddie in the world who can talk me out of it. Belief in your abilities is the best thing going for you.
EXPECT A FIGHT
I’ve won seven points for Team USA the past two Ryder Cups. Match play really works to my advantage: I can govern my aggressiveness based on what’s happening in front of me. A regular medal play event is a completely different animal. There are 170 players teeing off from 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.—you have no idea what number you need to shoot, especially if you go out early. Here, it’s up to you how aggressive you need to play it. In match play, you’re always told to expect your opponent to pull off his next shot or sink the putt. I do the same in stroke play: expect that someone’s going to go low, and find a route that allows you to keep pace.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A “GOOD MISS”
Get comfortable with longer putts. Most golfers are happy to cozy those 20- to 30-footers to three feet. To me, that’s still a miss! Here’s the problem with lagging to a three-foot circle: If you’re just a little off, you could easily end up six or seven feet from the hole. On the practice green, roll some 20- and 30-footers with the intention of dying the ball into the hole every time. This way, if you miss, you’ll likely leave yourself a makeable two- or three-footer. Three-jacks are a common, costly mistake, so getting good at this drill will improve your scores—and fast.
BE A MANAGER—OR GET ONE
My wife, Justine, carried my bag until January 2014. Her brother, Kessler Karain, has looped for me ever since, so it’s still in the family. And Justine still does all the prep work: yardage books, planning, etc. We have a system where we developed a solid plan for each hole based on how I’m hitting it, and an aggressive one in the event I’m feeling really good or otherwise need to step on the gas to make a run or pull away. I have yet to meet a pro-am partner who comes to the course with this kind of information. Hitting and hoping isn’t a strategy. It’s a recipe for disaster.
CONSISTENCY CAN TAKE YOU OVER THE TOP
I’m rarely on autopilot. I’m always working with a swing thought or something my coach, Top 100 Teacher Kevin Kirk, has told me (see sidebar, right). The best ones are those that add consistency: preshot stuff, or a setup cue that gets you into a position where, at times, you feel like you’re on autopilot. The goal is to make the same swing on the 18th hole as you did on No. 1. There are days when it’s a bit of a mishmash, but consistency is what produces the numbers you can be proud of.
SO CAN YOUR EQUIPMENT (IF YOU CARE ABOUT IT)
We’re lucky to play in this day and age. The equipment is so good! Callaway could give me 14 new clubs tomorrow that I’ve never hit before and I’d feel okay. Give me a week to get comfortable, and it’s a whole different ballgame. People rarely talk about it, but trust in your equipment goes a long way toward determining how much trust you place in yourself. Get in touch with your gear. Know it inside and out. If you don’t like a club, ditch it! Much like you’d seek out a pro to help you with your swing, seek out a fitter to help you learn about what’s going to perform best in your hands. Trust me—there’s nothing better than knowing that it’s impossible for your gear to let you down.
IT’S OKAY TO BE COCKY
No matter what you do in life—including golf—you have to have confidence in yourself and believe in everything you’re doing. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re probably going to fail. I’ve learned this the hard way a few times, so I may sometimes give the appearance of being overconfident or—as the media has written a few times—cocky. That’s fine. I know who I am at home with my family and friends.
FIND SOMETHING TO PLAY FOR
Having Justine and my three-year-old daughter, Windsor, in my life gives me something to play for. And knowing that they’ll welcome me with open arms regardless of how I play is just another confidence boost. Find your muse, preferably something other than fame or money. Golf is an emotional sport. Tap into it—and go for broke.