The following article is adapted from material that will appear in the author's upcoming book Slaying the Tiger, which is now available for order; it originally ran at Tobacco Road Blues.
Q: Do you think the media's making you out to be a villain?
A: Yeah. For sure.
Patrick Reed: Twenty-four years old, built like Babe Ruth—short, heavy, barrel-chested, with a build that makes you think "stocky" and "powerful" rather than "fat"—quick to anger even by pro golf standards, and a born winner.
Those are the descriptions that come to mind when you study Reed's résumé and watch him on the course. With his win earlier this month at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he became just the fourth player in the last two decades to win four times on the PGA Tour before his 25th birthday. The other three are Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Sergio Garcia—names that demonstrate the lofty company he keeps.
With Reed, though, success is never simple. There has always been something a little off-key brewing beneath the surface of his story—a swirl of rumors dating back to his college days, when he lasted a year at Georgia before transferring to Augusta State and winning two national championships, the second of them against the school that had kicked him out. There's much to be said about his professional life, and that story is ongoing. This is a story about his past—the triumphs and the stumbles.
The more Reed won on Tour, the more inevitable it became that his complicated history would return to haunt him. Finally, after the biggest win of his career at the Cadillac Championship last March, ESPN's Ian O'Connor dragged some of the skeletons from the closet in a Masters-week story called "Patrick Reed's Turbulent Rise." O'Connor's research, spanning courthouses and coaches and parents and former college and high school teammates, lifted the veil, at least slightly, on Reed's youth. The story made it clear that his peers had never really liked him, especially at the college level. A new picture of Reed emerged: brash, arrogant, abrasive, unapologetic, winner. He turned potential friends against him, and he never seemed to care about the consequences—at least not enough to change.
In terms of the nitty-gritty details, though, O'Connor couldn't quite pierce the wall of silence put up by the very same people who despised Reed. A citation in an Athens courthouse revealed that Reed had been arrested for intoxication his freshman season, but if that was the standard for a villain, half of the country would be doomed (as O'Connor admitted). The reason why Georgia coach Chris Haack had kicked Reed off the team remained a mystery, as did the ensuing troubles at Augusta State, which head coach Josh Gregory and Reed's former teammates kept close to the vest.
"It's certainly no secret to us, but I'm not going to be the first one to blab about it," Georgia alum Brian Harman told me, summing up the prevailing philosophy among nearly everyone inside the loop.
Whatever the reason for the silence, it was clear that the ESPN story had only struck a glancing blow—the truth went far deeper than a mere drunken night, and the real story was left unresolved. As another media member put it to me, "That was as close as anyone ever got, and they didn't get that close."
From the start of my travels in a year on Tour, I found Reed to be one of the most compelling young golfers around, and I began trying to arrange an interview with him as early as January 2014. He proved an elusive figure, even with a cooperative agent, but I finally sat down with him and Justine—his wife and former caddie, who had just given birth to their first child—at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia in early July. I held off on his college years as long as I could, but eventually I broached the topic, which led to an awkward exchange:
Me: Did you read Ian O'Connor's article?
Me: I mean, a lot of people want to know—
Patrick: I talked to him about it.
Me: You did talk to him?
Patrick: I think so, yeah.
Justine: Yeah, I read it.
Patrick: Yeah. Yeah no, it was at …
Justine: You read it.
Patrick: We were at Augusta, huh? He talked to me before he wrote it.
Me: But you didn't read it?
Justine: I think he read it.
Patrick: I think so, I don't know. There's so many articles … it's so hard …
Justine: There's so many stories. But I do recall that story.
From Reed's body language after I said O'Connor's name, I got the sense that he knew exactly what I was talking about. I believe that he lied, and I don't say that with any judgment—I learned early on that lying is a critical part of the process with PGA Tour players and their representatives, and it serves a purpose. It's not incumbent upon them to provide unfavorable information about themselves, either from their past or their Tour lives, and in fact being honest can, at times, have a detrimental effect. There was no reason for Reed to do my work for me.
But I was curious to see his reaction to the story, and the fact that he had feigned ignorance until his wife essentially called him out was telling—it had hit home, and it was something he worried about. Before moving on, I brought up the idea that when you really looked at the story, there was nothing too damning beyond the kind of alcohol infraction experienced by hordes of college students every year—including myself.
Me: But see, the interesting thing for me was … I mean, I'm someone who got arrested in college for shooting off a fire extinguisher. It feels like everyone I know does, so it felt like whatever he wrote wasn't everything. It was like, 'Oh, that's it?"
Justine: It was everything.
Patrick: No, the article he wrote was everything. I mean, it's …
Justine: There's nothing else out there.
Those responses came quickly, and reminded me of an old trope: The cop standing in front of a grisly car wreck, saying, "Move along, nothing to see here!" Again, they said what they had to say. And again, they were lying.
From the time he was very young, Reed brought an unusual focus to the sport, right down to the smallest details. When he was 10, he stopped wearing shorts on the golf course, both in competitive tournaments and range rounds, because he saw that the pros had to wear pants. In the brutal heat of midsummer, he'd be the only kid at a tournament in khakis, and even when he came close to passing out, he'd never succumb.
Patrick Reed at the 2014 Ryder Cup. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty.
Two of Patrick's dominant personality traits emerged early, and both worried his parents, Bill and Jeannette. The first was his incredible capacity for rage. He expected so much of himself that when he went into a slump, he'd transform into a sullen powder keg of frustration and anger, to the point that his parents wondered whether or not he was truly enjoying the sport. Reed always told them he was, but his emotional explosions painted a different picture.
The other problem was his outward shows of confidence, which crossed over into a cocky, arrogant tone too often for Bill's liking. He knew his son's success somewhat depended on this self-assurance, but when Patrick introduced himself to strangers by saying things like, "I'm Patrick Reed, and I'll kick the shit out of you at golf any time you want," Bill also knew he had a problem. The issue was that Patrick's obsession was all-consuming—he had no other interests, and though it made him one of the best juniors in the country, it also meant that his self-worth was entirely wrapped up in the game. Combined with a natural arrogance and a snarly demeanor, he had a knack for bad first impressions.
But what was the solution? The difficulty, according to his parents, was that while they tried to keep him humble, everyone around them was telling Patrick how great he was. They were right, too—he was a natural—but the constant praise made it difficult to regulate his behavior outside the home. Still, their fears that he would burn out never came to pass, and they watched as other top-ranked junior golfers dropped out or peaked too early while Patrick surpassed them all.
Success followed success, and after a chance visit to Athens, Ga., on the way home from a summer tournament, Reed reversed a prior commitment to Texas and pledged his college years to Georgia. He won the Louisiana state championship as a junior, and because he already had enough credits to play Division-I golf, Georgia coach Chris Haack encouraged him to come to school a year early. The class above Reed was full of unknown quantities, and Haack thought he might need Patrick sooner than expected.
As it turned out, those unknown quantities were Russell Henley, Harris English, and Hudson Swafford, all of whom panned out in a big way. It was too late for Reed to reverse course, though, and when he finally came to Georgia, he found himself as a cog in a stacked roster that included the three super sophomores and senior star Brian Harman.
Haack had a rule that any player who made the semifinals of the U.S. amateur in the summer wouldn't have to qualify for the first college tournament in the fall, and when Reed advanced to the final weekend, losing to Danny Lee in the semis, he was exempt for the start of his college career. This, along with his penchant for boasting, somewhat isolated the 17-year-old Reed when he arrived on campus. It didn't help that whenever he qualified for a tournament, he was knocking out a veteran, and Reed wasn't the kind of kid who was equipped to handle the delicate situation with the requisite tact. If anything, it was reminiscent of another Georgia player who ran afoul of his teammates and coach in a year with an unusual amount of talent. Like Bubba Watson, Reed quickly drifted outside the Bulldogs' tight inner circle.
When he explained to me what went wrong in his freshman season, Reed chalked it up to being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people in such a small area, leading him to seek out a more uncomfortable environment.
The truth isn't quite so simple. The full story, from sources who prefer to remain anonymous, shines a light on a golfer who veered completely out of control in his one year at Georgia. Everything O'Connor said about his personality quirks was true—he alienated his teammates immediately with displays of arrogance, and he had an unapologetic way of practicing and playing apart from the team. If that were the only issue, though, he might have merely remained an irksome presence. It wasn't, he didn't, and the situation grew much worse.
During a qualifying round prior to a tournament, according to sources close to the team, Reed hit a ball far into the rough. When he approached the spot, he found another ball sitting closer to the fairway, and was preparing to hit it when several of his teammates confronted him. Reed pleaded ignorance, but the other Georgia players were convinced he had been caught red-handed trying to cheat. That same fall, per those same sources, several items went missing from the Georgia locker room, including a watch, a Scotty Cameron putter, and $400 cash. When Reed showed up the next day with a large wad of cash, the sources say, a teammate confronted him and asked how he'd come by the money. Reed said he'd played golf with a professor at the school and hustled him out of the cash. The player in question took this claim to the professor, who had no idea what he was talking about—it had been weeks since the man had played with Reed.
Again, no action was taken, but as far as his teammates were concerned, Reed was guilty of cheating and thieving. Even now, on Tour, a source told me that there's a private joke among certain players when Reed enters a locker room: "Hide your things," they tell each other. "Patrick's here."
In addition, the arrest for intoxication—when Reed was found drunk at 2:30 a.m. on campus—was only the first of two alcohol violations. The second came hot on the heels of the first, during the week of a Georgia football game. That day, Reed and a friend had loaded up on alcohol before leaving for the game. (To Bill and Jeannette, the drinking was a new side of Reed—he had never had much of a social life at all in high school, and though he had the odd girlfriend here and there, drinking was never part of his agenda. Their theory today is that Patrick was trying to fit in on a college campus where he felt desperately alone.) Later that night, near Atlanta, he was arrested again on a second alcohol charge.
This time, the Reeds hired a lawyer, and were able to keep word from reaching the team after a judge threw out the case. By February, though, Chris Haack found out, and he scheduled a meeting with Patrick. According to the sources, Reed came in for the meeting with his mother Jeannette, who was visiting. When Haack brought up the second arrest, Jeannette reacted with surprise:
"We thought no one knew," she said.
At that point, sources say, Haack realized there had been a cover-up, and he couldn't trust anything that came from Reed or anybody else in the family. Combined with the personal and ethical problems Patrick presented, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Haack began the process of severing ties between Reed and the golf team. Reed kept his access to all facilities for the rest of the academic year, along with academic tutoring, but in terms of Georgia golf, the relationship was over. It was understood that Reed would transfer for his sophomore season.
The choice came down to Florida, Wake Forest, and Augusta State, and considering that his parents now lived in Augusta, he didn't brood over the decision for long. Head coach Josh Gregory sold him on the idea that he'd already tried the big schools, and it was time to see how he'd function in a smaller environment. Reed could see the wisdom in that, so he chose to spend the next two years at Augusta State, living at home the second year.
Gregory's program was an interesting anomaly in the sport—golf was the school's only Division-I program, and the college itself had none of the allure of the surrounding SEC and ACC schools, with their huge student populations, top-level football programs, sprawling campuses, and the student-centric milieu that included vibrant small cities, Greek life, and—since we're talking about teenage males—beautiful young women everywhere. When Reed was in high school, Gregory didn't even bother recruiting him; as he told me, "Augusta State doesn't get the Patrick Reeds of the world."
Recruiting against schools like Georgia and Georgia Tech was a pipe dream—no student would visit both places and come away with an urgent desire to make Augusta his college home. Instead, Gregory would look for mid-level talents in the southeast that had some of the competitive drive he coveted—guys he could mold into great players. He also recruited internationally, where the reputation of his competitors didn't carry quite as much weight. And, when fate dealt him a lucky hand, he'd take the odd cast-off; the stud like Reed who, for whatever reason, couldn't cut it at his original school.
Gregory had been a lifelong underdog himself, a college golfer under Hank Haney at SMU who never won a tournament, and he knew almost from the minute he turned pro that he lacked the mental game to succeed. When he looked around at his friends who were succeeding at the highest levels, he saw players who believed they were twice as good as they actually were. Gregory was the opposite—he never thought he was half as good as he really was—and the sport made him miserable. But the analytical brain that spoiled his playing career made him an ideal coach. He knew exactly who to look for, and he became an expert not only at finding diamonds in the rough, but training them to take down the high-profile players in whose shadow they had spent their entire lives.
Reed, though, represented a new challenge entirely. Gregory understood that he needed a player of Reed's caliber to put a very good Augusta State team over the top, and he also knew that Reed wasn't squeaky-clean. But he had no idea how bad things would get, and how fast. Once again, Reed made a terrible first impression, angering his teammates and making life difficult for his coach. He talked too much about himself, refused to listen to advice, and came off as someone with deep insecurities who was trying to project an infallible image.
(Gregory laughed at the fact that despite all the troubles, you could put always Reed in a room full of adults and he'd be totally at ease, and totally charming. I found the same to be true—the angry tyrant I had watched on the course was never in evidence in a one-on-one setting. I enjoyed my time in West Virginia with he and Justine more than most of my interviews with Tour players, and despite the moments when his account departed from the truth, I thought of him as a good storyteller with more personal charisma than I'd expected.)
When I asked Gregory what form Reed's behavior took, he described a player who was so intent on proving that he was the best golfer—motivated by an intense fear of failure—that he couldn't turn it off and have normal social interactions with his teammates. Even though adults liked him, he had a one-track mind around people his own age, and his relationships with golfers became antagonistic and tense. He would openly tell his teammates that he was better than they were, that he was going to beat them, and etc. They didn't enjoy having him around, and Reed could sense—and was hurt by—their dislike, which only exacerbated his need to prove his value on the golf course, and to identify completely with the idea of Patrick Reed the golfer. The self-defeating cycle perpetuated itself, driving an enormous wedge between Reed and the rest of the team.
On one memorable night—one of the few times he hung out with his teammates in a social setting—sources say he became so belligerent at one of his teammates that he earned a punch in the face. He also got suspended for the start of the season for reasons that remained shrouded in mystery for the longest time, kept secret by golf's omerta.
The news trickled around the Georgia golf community, though, and the cause of the suspension—confirmed by multiple sources—didn't surprise the teammates who knew him back in Athens: cheating in a qualifying event.
The suspension cost him the first two tournaments of the season, and Gregory told him that unless he grew up, and grew up quickly, he'd never make it either in college or on the PGA Tour. Gregory also placed a phone call to Haack, angry at just how difficult his player had proven to be, and Reed's teammates held several meetings that year deciding what to do about the black sheep. In addition, a source close to the scene told me that Reed would often have tense phone conversations with his father after events he didn't win, and that these would often become accusatory and angry, devolving into intense shouting matches before Reed hung up. The exact nature of the relationship wasn't well known, but the sense among the team was that Bill was unreasonably tough on his son.
Patrick Reed at the 2014 Masters. Photo by David Cannon/Getty.
It's tempting now to paint a story of redemption—a path upward from the darkest hours. With Reed, though, there was never a seismic personality shift in college. In 2011, he stopped hanging out with his teammates off the golf course completely. He also stopped cheating, and he was slightly more cordial with his teammates, but when I asked multiple sources whether this meant they actually liked him, the response was unanimous: Hell no.
In fact, something odd began to take shape with those Augusta State teams. Where most coaches preach team chemistry, what developed between Reed and his teammates was the opposite. They so despised each other that the environment became abnormally competitive—particularly between Reed and Henrik Norlander, two alpha dogs who wanted to beat each other so badly that they played with a desperate intensity even in practice rounds. It's not the textbook way to build a team, much less one that any coach would recommend, but for Augusta State, it created a hard edge among the players that served them well in NCAA match play. The idea of being intimidated by some unknown opponent was laughable—they had to deal with Patrick Reed every day.
Everyone I spoke with agreed on one thing—if it wasn't for Josh Gregory's guidance and belief in Reed, he would have gone off the rails and been out of NCAA golf within a matter of months. The fact that he showed any improvement, or at least kept himself out of trouble, was due entirely to the standard Gregory set, and the artful way he dealt with a player who didn't respond well to authority.
Still, his teammates' attitude never changed. Before the last round of his college career, in the national championship against Harris English, a group of Reed's Augusta State teammates approached English—one of the most well-liked, easygoing players in the sport—with an emphatic message:
"We want to win the national title, but we hope you kick the shit out of Patrick Reed."
The trouble for them was that nobody kicked the shit out of Patrick Reed, especially in match play. In a one-on-one situation, he could escape his head completely and focus on beating a single opponent. During his sophomore season, after riding out the suspension, Reed proved that he was a valuable addition to the team, quickly forming a strong 1-2 attack with Norlander.
In June, at the NCAA Championships at the Honors Course in Ooltewah, TN, the Jaguars shot well enough to secure the sixth position after the three stroke play rounds ended. A year earlier, the championship format had changed; where it used to be purely a stroke play event, now the top eight teams after the medal rounds would face off in a match play bracket. That meant Augusta State, the 6-seed, would face Georgia Tech, the 3-seed, with five players from each team squaring off against each other in a best-of-three contest.
Reed drew Chesson Hadley that day, the Yellow Jacket who would go on to become PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2014. Neither player ever established more than a one hole lead, but coming down the 18th hole, Reed, who had proven his match play chops at the U.S. amateur the summer before he came to Georgia, was 1-up. They needed his win, as Tech led 2-1 in matches completed. Hadley's approach was mediocre, landing more than 30 feet from the pin, and Reed, sensing blood, put his 12 feet away. Barring a miracle, a two-putt would win. Incredibly, though, Hadley holed his long birdie attempt. The pressure was squarely on Reed, and he responded, sinking his own birdie and letting out a primal shout when it fell.
Henrik Norlander won the deciding match on the 18th hole, and Augusta State pulled off the upset to advance to the semifinals. There, they handled the Florida State Seminoles, with Reed winning again, and it was on to the championship, where they'd face their stiffest challenge yet in top-ranked Oklahoma State. The Cowboys featured future pros like Morgan Hoffmann, Kevin Tway, and Peter Uihlein—son of Wally Uihlein, CEO of the Acushnet Company and the man who runs Footjoy and Titleist, which makes him one of the most powerful people in golf.
Uihlein is as close as anyone comes to golf royalty, and Reed, with his combative nature and the giant chip on his shoulder, seemed to take a special pleasure in playing against him. They were drawn against one another, and after Uihlein took the first hole, Reed won the next three. That led to the seventh hole, where Uihlein conceded a short par putt to Reed, and Reed refused to return the favor when Uihlein's birdie attempt rolled up next to the hole. Uihlein, annoyed, stood over his putt and missed. The annoyance turned to rage as he swatted the ball into the nearby water, and Reed, now 4-up, knew he'd won the mental game. He coasted from there, and the match ended 4&2 in Reed's favor. Henrik Norlander and Mitch Krywulycz came through in their matches, and the Augusta State's motley crew of underdogs had its first national title.
Afterward, Reed approached Gregory with tears in his eyes and thanked him for sticking by his side. He knew how close he'd been to losing his second team in two years, and how it would have made him poison to every other college program. He had nearly sabotaged himself out of both a national title and the stable foundation he desperately needed before launching his professional career, and only Gregory's forbearance had saved him.
The 2011 national championship was held in Karsten Creek, Oklahoma State's home course, and when the hosts won their quarterfinal match and Augusta State—now the 7-seed—topped Georgia Tech for the second straight year, a revenge narrative took shape. The bitter Oklahoma State players had made comments the year before to the effect that the best team had lost, and they were eager for another crack at the upstarts who had left a sour taste in their mouths.
Thousands of Oklahoma State fans lined the course for the semifinal, and the way they'd erupt when one of their players hit an approach to 30 feet, yet stay completely silent if an Augusta State player stuck one inside five feet, reminded Josh Gregory of the Ryder Cup. The coach walked with Henrik Norlander during his match against Kevin Tway, and they were on their way to the 13th tee when he decided to stir the pot.
"Tough crowd out here today," he said loudly, giving Norlander a fist bump.
"Shut up, asshole," came the response from a voice in the crowd.
Gregory loved it, and the atmosphere was right up Reed's alley as well. He was set to go last in the running order, and he knew the match could come down to him, which was just fine—he wanted the pressure on his shoulders, and hadn't enjoyed it last year when he finished his match in the championship round too quickly and had to watch his teammates fight to the end. When the draw came out, and he saw that he'd be facing Peter Uihlein for the second straight year, he thought, "even better."
Patrick Reed in January 2015. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty.
After telling me how happy he was when he realized who his opponent would be, Reed was quick to add that Uihlein was his "good friend"— a typical verbal maneuver for Reed, and one which I might even have believed if he didn't keep using it in reference to certain golfers, like Harris English, who I knew definitively were not his friend.
Later in the year, when I told Henrik Stenson that Reed had included him in the "good friends" list, he laughed, and responded with his unique brand of dry, Swedish humor.
"I wouldn't say that we go way back," he deadpanned. "I played one practice round with him at Wells Fargo a couple years ago. And … well, it's nice if he thinks that everyone he knows a little bit is one of his friends. That's obviously a way to look at it. But if I'm going to express myself politically, I guess he's an interesting character."
Later, when I asked why he kept to himself on the range, I got a truer version from Justine: "Really, he has few good friends out here, but he's not worried about being the most popular guy." I looked to Reed, who nodded. "She basically nailed it."
At any rate, Uihlein was now the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, and had played in the Masters in April—a rare honor for a college student—but the accolades only seemed to stoke the flames of Reed's competitive fire. Uihlein, from the start, never had a chance.
Reed birdied six of the first 11 holes, and as he walked up the 10th hole, Uihlein looked at him something like disbelief. "Every time I play you, it's like I run into a buzzsaw," he said. "You just cut me down." Reed won the match by the gaudy score of 8&7—he had faced the top amateur in the world, and the player the Wall Street Journal had called "the next great champion" just two months earlier, and humiliated him on his home course.
Norlander won again, and in a dramatic match that went extra holes, Carter Newman—a senior, and the team's fifth-best player—saved himself from disaster by holing lengthy putts on 17 and 18 before beating Sean Einhaus in extra holes and sending Augusta State to the championship round for the second straight year.
Waiting for them, on the other side of the bracket, were the Georgia Bulldogs.
Gregory worried that Reed would be too amped up for his match, considering the circumstances, and he tried to emphasize that focusing on the opponent wouldn't help. It had limited effect—Reed wanted the win worse than he ever had before, and nothing Gregory could say would calm him down.
Reed's teammates delivered their message of support to Harris English, and the match was on. This time, Reed fished his wish—Russell Henley beat Norlander, Hudson Swafford lost, and the teams split the other two matches, leaving Reed and English as the last men on the course. Their point would decide the national championship.
"If you were to go back in history and ask Harris if there's one match that he wanted to win," Chris Haack told me later, "that was the match. Not only did it mean winning the national championship, which was ultimately what we all wanted, but just a lot of the…oh, gosh, I don't know, the way that things always transpired with Patrick…it just wasn't a very…"
Here he trailed off, before concluding, "I want to take the high road here."
Reed held a 1-up lead early, and though English squared the match before the turn, Reed won the 10th and 13th holes to go 2-up. He held the same lead heading into the 17th, and needed only a half to win the match. Neither player hit a great drive, but when English hit his approach into the water, the match was down to its dying embers. Reed made a mess of the hole, but still left himself with two putts from six feet to win. His first crawled up to bare inches away, the second was conceded, and just like that, Reed had finished off the greatest underdog act in college golf history. Josh Gregory and Augusta State had won back-to-back national champions, and they did it in style, beating two juggernauts on the way.
For Reed, it was the end of a short but brilliant career, and the cherry on top of a 6-0 match play record at the NCAA championships. He kept his emotions in check—deep down, he knew Haack wasn't wrong to let him go, and as badly as he wanted to win, there was a bittersweet feeling knowing his college career was over.
To the Georgia players and coaches, though—and even to some of Reed's teammates—the win represented the opposite of a fairy-tale ending. Reed and English had deserved different fates in their final match, they thought, and everything about it felt deeply unfair. One of O'Connor's sources, in the ESPN story, called it "the death of karma."
"I'm hoping one day he'll come out and have the honesty to talk about his past. It would really be a great cleansing process for him, but I don't know if he'll ever do that. I wish he would, because unfortunately he's going to get always get questions about his past. Always questions about what happened at Georgia, what happened at Augusta State, what happened with his parents. I wish he would get it off his chest at some point in life, because I think it would help him become a better person."
It's hard to know whether a troubled athlete ever truly changes, and the ubiquity of high-paid experts dedicated to crafting their player's image casts a cynical light on the concept of personal growth. Which changes are sincere, goes the unanswerable question, and which are mere PR window-dressing and stagecraft, designed to lure a gullible writer?
Even if he never changes, reasonable people can still see shades of gray, and forgiveness isn't out of the question.
"He has a big heart," said Bill Reed. "It's hard for him to show it in certain circumstances, because he needs to be on guard. He's so driven, and to him he thinks it's a sign of weakness. And you have to understand too, he's still only 24 years old, and he's been in the adult world a lot sooner than children his age should be and need to be."
Brian Harman put it more bluntly.
"You have to remember that he was 17 years old," he said, of Reed's freshman year at Georgia. "We all do a lot of stupid shit when we're 17."
Reed's story since his last college match has been one of success—he got his first PGA Tour win by out-dueling Jordan Spieth at the Wyndham Championship in 2013, and then won twice more in 2014, prompting the infamous "top-5" comment that brought him his first real dose of public notoriety.
His temperament, on the other hand, hadn't really evolved. Throughout the 2014 season, I watched Reed blow off reporters in anger after his bad rounds, including at the Congressional in June, where after doing his requisite two questions with TV—nobody says no to TV—he wouldn't offer more than a terse "nope" when a Tour official asked him to meet with the writers. Later, though, starting at the British Open, he began to face the music. He obviously still hated the process, but he'd endure a question or two without storming off, like the rest of his fellow pros.
Did this represent real maturity? It's always hard to know for certain, and as Reed himself told me in our interview, the media will never get to know the "real" him. He also believes the broader forces are trying to make him a villain, so the relationship is tainted from the beginning—both sides are mostly fine with assuming the worst about the other.
In any case, it's safe to assume that Reed's anger runs a few degrees hotter than the average golfer—in Shanghai, at the WGC event in November, he was caught on camera chastising himself with the kind of language that goes beyond the usual self-loathing. "Nice fucking three-putt, you fucking faggot," he said. "Go fucking hang yourself." (In a bizarre postscript to the fallout, he decided to seek "guidance" from Bubba Watson, of all people.)
Reed also became estranged from his family after graduating from Augusta State and leaving home in November 2011—an estrangement that has lasted to the present. Neither his mother or father were invited to his wedding in December 2012, and contextual clues indicate that the relationship worsened from there.
When the Augusta Chronicle, ignorant of the longstanding rift, ran a tame video interview with Bill, Jeannette, and Patrick's younger sister Hannah after his win at the Wyndham Championship, sources told me that the Legacy Agency, which represented Reed at the time, requested that the video be taken down. The matter died when the Chronicle refused to capitulate, but the gesture shows how strained the relationship must be. In 2014, at several tournaments, independent sources told me that Justine hired at least one bodyguard to "protect" her from Bill and Jeannette.
For their part, the Reeds didn't want to speak on the record about the divide—"As a parent, no matter how much pain you're going through, our philosophy on it is we're never going to throw one of our own children under the bus," Bill said. "No matter how much our children hurt us, I'm not going to hang them out to dry in a national setting"—but Bill is on Twitter, with a profile picture showing he and Patrick at a golf tournament. One tweet sent out in Dec. 2012—on his son's wedding day, as a national golf writer pointed out to me—seems to make a pointed statement about their relationship:
"You can love someone with all your heart but there is no promise they are going to love you back. The ladies in my life are best!"
His mother Jeannette also has a social media presence, and her Twitter feed is dense with vague messages that hint at a relationship gone sour, and alternate between bitterness, sadness, and the hope of reconciliation. The latest instance came in December, when she wrote, "One would imagine the pure joy of Christmas past would touch a person's heart in some way #miracle #hope."
"If a person does not know where they started from, they sure as heck do not know where they are going….," she tweeted on April 30, not long after the 2014 Masters, and the oblique references go back to the start of her timeline in 2013, with messages like, "Sometimes you have to move on without certain people. If they are meant to be, they will catch up….."
One message in particular seems to be a reference to Justine: "There are doers, givers & takers in the world. You do & give it your all out of love & support, the takers step in & take what is not theirs."
The vagueness of the messages clarified this month, when Bill Reed became angry that his son hadn't been in touch for their daughter Hannah's birthday.
"Very sad and heart breaking at #PatrickReed did not wish his little sister happy birthday God has a plan wish we could see it," he wrote, and both Jeannette and Hannah responded in kind.
The family relations, though, are too complex to be untangled from a few words on social media. For now, it's enough to say that Patrick Reed is fighting a battle on two fronts. On the golf course, he's winning in style, and may be the toughest young American in a generation loaded with talent. Off the course, he's been painted into a corner by a complicated past and the questionable choices of the present.
In a culture that loathes gray area, Reed has been typecast before his 25th birthday. He is golf's remorseless villain, and stands as a rare exception to the old proverb—not everybody, it seems, loves a winner.
Shane Ryan is a writer for Paste Magazine and has freelanced for other outlets, including Grantland, Golf Digest, and ESPN the Magazine. He covered over 30 PGA TOUR events in 2014, and his book on the game's young stars, Slaying the Tiger, is scheduled for a May release, and is available for pre-order. Top photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty.