British Open 2016: Patrick Reed Roars Back to Scotland With Opening Round 66

July 14, 2016

TROON, Scotland — When we last left Patrick Reed, in late September of 2014, he was making friends with the locals when the Ryder Cup was at Gleneagles, 80 or so motorway miles from here. (Take the M7 to the M80 to the M9, etc.) Reed was a trip-and-a-half that week. Even though Europe kept the wee cup, Reed laid claim to some sort of moral victory that week, teaming up effectively with Jordan Spieth on Friday and Saturday, shushing the crowd with his index finger on his lips at one point, then winning a feisty singles match on Sunday.

Finger-on-the-lips is now his calling card, boldly embossed on his belt buckle. Oh, we’re all going to have a good time, between now and close of business on Sunday, seeing how the Scottish golf fans respond to Patrick Reed as he wins this 145th British Open. His opening round of 66 was an ideal way to start.

Yes, because we have become so flavor-of-the-month oriented, everybody in golf has become hyper-focused on the Big IV. We’re talking Jason, Dustin, Jordan, Rory. But what about the fifth-best player in the world, Mr. Patrick Nathaniel Reed, age 25, of Spring, Texas?

Yes, that is a joke. After his win at Doral in 2014, Reed said that in his mind he was a top-five player in the world. Not a damn thing wrong with that. In actual fact, he is No. 18 in the world. But you know who doesn’t care about WGRs? The firm turf of Royal Troon!

Yes, R-Troon met P-Reed on Thursday morn, at the civilized hour of eight, when the breeze off the Firth of Clyde was quite still. Reed is a classic Texas golfer, which means, like Todd Hamilton before him (winner of the last Open here), he is ideally suited to this kind of golf. For two reasons. One, he has a piercing ball flight that will hold its line in the wind. Two, he beats down on it all day long: trap draw, trap draw, trap draw. When you’re playing off very firma terra firma, down and through is the way to go. His Thursday card was a thing of beauty, with an eagle on the third en route to an outward 31 (five under), followed by an even-par 35 on the much-harder back nine. “David versus Goliath,” Reed called it. Poetry, prairie-style.

Part of what makes Reed fun is how he speaks about himself and the game. Last week, playing in the Scottish Open, he said he will be “proud to represent Team U-S-A in the Olympics.” (His place on the team was assured when Spieth elected not to play.) What he sounds like is…us. He began his Open by hitting a nervy, heinous pull-hook 4-iron on the short par-4 first. But then he hit a rock-solid wedge from 139 yards that, he said, “got me going.” You can relate, right? That one shot that lets you get your confidence back? Then, for his second shot on No. 3, 139 showed up in his yardage book again. Two hops (maybe three) and in. Two under through three, the sun is shining the Firth is glistening and it’s all good.

At the Scottish Open he figured out that he needed to make a club adjustment to get his bag squared away for Troon. Like another Troon winner before him—Arnold Palmer, 1962—Reed is an inveterate tinkerer. On Monday, he was in the Callaway equipment truck, parked in a small neat village of them, between the driving range and the clubhouse.

“He’s a numbers guy with an incredible amount of feel,” Paul Monks, a Callaway fitter, said on Thursday. “He had a 3-wood with 16 degrees of loft. It had too high a spin rate and was launching too high for him, hitting it off the tee or off the deck. You’re going to hit some back-nine 3-woods here, especially when the winds gets up. We made him a 14.1. Still too high. We made him a 13.7 and he liked it.” Find a golfer who can distinguish between 14.1 and 13.7 and you can be sure his name is painted on the side of his golf bag. Bubba Watson is the exact same way.

For his Friday round, Reed goes off at 1:04 p.m., Scottish time, with Branden Grace of South Africa and Byeong Hun An of South Korea. The wind should be howling by then as he plays with two other young players looking to win a first major. Take notes, fellas, as Reed will continue his links exhibition. In the Friday round, they’ll be playing through a steady wind, if not a howling one.

Patrick Reed is way craftier than he lets on. He’s brash and great in the pressroom, but around other pros he’s one to listen and to watch. His locker neighbors this week include Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson and Vijay Singh. You can learn a thing or two, watching how those winners of majors go about their business. Next year at this time, Reed’s place among them will be even more secure.

In the early years of the Open, the gents played for the “Challenge Belt,” a gaudy red-leather thing with a big silver buckle that was retired in 1870, when Young Tom Morris won it for a third time. A replica of it is on display at the Open, and it is possibly better looking than even Reed’s all-black Shush Belt.

In 2017, when the Open is at Birkdale, maybe Reed will do some sporty thing and offer the players the chance to play for the Challenge Belt. In any event, his American name will look good on the Claret Jug, alongside the other six American winners of Opens at Troon. Unless, of course, the seventh American winner at Troon is Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker or Billy Horschel.

In any event, the week looks good for Team U-S-A.