There are few words in the golfing vernacular more loathsome than “cheater.” Although “shank,” “snowman,” “fore” and “looks like drinks are on you” come close.
Other sports, of course, deal with scofflaws seeking unfair advantage. Baseball has its sign-stealers. Football has its Patriots. The Olympics has its Russians. In many corners, these instances are greeted with a wink and a knowing nod. But in golf above all other sport, cheating gets treated like a mark of shame that freckles a man forever.
Which brings to mind your 2018 Masters champion and fallen Georgia Bulldog Patrick Reed.
“Cheater!” came the clear cry from one member of the gallery last week as Reed putted in a playoff in Maui, tropical breezes mixing with vile slanders. We got your Aloha Spirit right here.
Earlier, in mid-December in Australia, as one Golf World writer put it, Reed traversed a “gauntlet of hate” during the Presidents Cup. Aussie fans threw so much abuse his way that at one stage Reed’s caddie went after one and was suspended from the rest of the competition.
He came to the party with an already spotty reputation. After he was kicked out of Georgia, for instance, there were printed allegations that he had cheated in a team qualifier and suspicions that he had stolen from teammates. All of which Reed has consistently denied. His family situation is an unfortunate soap opera. He is brash and unapologetic in a demur game. While it’s hard to tell with the polite Masters masses, Reed may have been the least embraced champion since Vijay Singh in 2000. (The aloof Singh has lived with the stigma of a long-ago suspension from the Asian Tour for allegedly altering a scorecard).
And then, during the Hero World Challenge last December, Reed twice brushed away sand near his ball while taking practice swings in a waste area. Not that it helped much, he couldn’t keep his next shot on the green. But when rules officials reviewed the video evidence, they assessed him a two-stroke penalty for improving his lie.
Improving your lie. Isn’t that an interesting phrase for someone who is said to have trouble with the truths of golf?
To be clear, I have a hard time with the cheater label. Until the PGA Tour takes some harsh action against Reed that would substantiate such a slur, nothing so certain can stick. And the Tour may be the most permissive, look-the-other-way parent organization in sports.
It is impossible to know what Reed’s intent was in whisking some grains of sand away from the back of his ball that day – a simple misstep or one of the most poorly-thought-out calculated attempts to gain an advantage in the age of every twitch being captured on high-def?
“If you do something unintentionally that breaks the rules, it’s not considered cheating,” he informed reporters at the Presidents Cup.
I certainly don’t know enough about what’s going on in that corn maze between his ears to call him a cheater. Neither do you. Although I suspect he wasn’t just working on his Zen sand gardening in the middle of a tournament.
Ah, but now lawyers are involved. It has come out that Reed’s representatives had served Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee with an order to “obtain assurance that you will refrain from any further dissemination, publication or republication of false and defamatory statements concerning Mr. Reed, including any allegations that he ‘cheated’ at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.” The letter was obtained by Golfweek.
Soon after the incident, Chamblee said on the Golf Channel, “To defend what Patrick Reed did is to defend cheating.”
And he recently told CNN, “My comments were weighed heavily before they came out of my mouth, and they were meant to address the larger issue of what I believe to be the decaying traditions of the game.”
Taking the issue off the course and cloaking it in legalese, yeah, that will make it all go away. That’s just one more pork belly on the grease fire.
This undoubtedly will follow Reed all the way to April, back to Augusta, where as an owner of a green jacket he owns a haughty status. Even if this is not the kind of stirring, heroic backstory that usually floats around Augusta National’s palatial press room.
To some degree, Reed is a fellow who seems to thrive on chaos and may even use some of this turmoil as fuel to propel him to another serious Masters run this year. He has only won once since claiming the ’18 Masters, but the big game of the world’s 11th-ranked player can coalesce at any moment. The guy doesn’t need to cheat to win.
This much I do know for sure and will offer it as advice to the patrons at Augusta National this spring: Don’t shout so much as a single “Noonan!” in Reed’s direction during Masters week. The pines have ears. I’ve long suspected that there is a dank, dark dungeon beneath the Butler Cabin where those badge-holders who are anything but reverential are temporarily held. Whatever the arrangements, anyone yelling “Cheater!” on those grounds will never be seen there again.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.