Patrick Reed turning his imperfect homecoming into perfect Masters

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Nothing seems to bother Patrick Reed. Not the rain. Not the field. Not waking up as the leader of a major for the first time in his career, nor the pressure of playing in the Masters, nor going head-to-head with the likes of four-time majors champion Rory McIlroy (been there, done that).

Not even the backdrop of so much baggage from his personal life being dug up (again) and hung on the media clothesline (again) while he’s trying to focus on playing the most important professional week of his career.

This is how Reed, former somewhat scarred member of college golf teams at Georgia and Augusta State, responds to it all: a Masters-leading 18 birdies in the first three rounds, including 13 birdies and two eagles in the past two; birdies on nine out of 12 par-5 holes; birdies on three consecutive holes after things seemingly begin to teeter and McIlroy chips in for an eagle on No. 8 to tie him. Then he eagled Nos. 13 and 15.

Take that, Rory. Take that, everybody.

The great athletes can compartmentalize. Reed is proving to be just that. Doesn’t matter that’s he’s not the most beloved individual on tour, or that his life story has become an open book for all to Google and consume and tweet about.

“I’m not at all surprised,” Josh Gregory, Reed’s co-coach and former Augusta State coach, said by phone Saturday from Dallas. “Everything he did in college has prepared him for this. It was only a matter of time before this happened.”

It’s not over yet. The back nine on Sundays at Augusta National has melted down more than a few Masters leaders. But Reed appears up for the task. He will take a three-shot lead into the final round after joining rare company with his third consecutive sub-70 round (69-66-67). His 5-under Saturday leaves him at 14 under over three days.

“I’m just out there trying to not allow the moment to overtake me,” Reed said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

McIlroy, who’s three back at 11 under, said, “All the pressure,” is on Reed. It’s a bit of gamesmanship, likely stemming from their Ryder Cup showdown in 2016 (won by Reed).

Reed didn’t even crack a smile when told of the comment.

“Well, I am the leader, so I guess so,” he said. “At the same time, he’s trying to go for the career grand slam, so you can say the same. I just woke up this morning and went out to play golf, and I’ll do the same tomorrow.”

When Reed was asked about so many people on social media seemingly were rooting against him, he also responded without sparks: “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them? I have no idea and honestly don’t care what people say on Twitter. I care about how I’m playing golf.”

He excels now at controlling his emotions. It’s easier than controlling the narrative.

“Patrick has a happy life,” Gregory said. “He’s got a great wife and two beautiful children, and he has grown up a little. A lot of the stuff that people are talking about happened six, seven, 10 years ago. We’ve all made mistakes in our life. He’s past that. He’s moved on. The most important thing to him now is becoming a better husband, a better dad. When he goes home, there’s no drama.”

In a Saturday Evening Post, white-picket-fence world, this would be a perfect homecoming story. But it’s not perfect, and it’s not really a homecoming.

Reed, who’s originally from Texas, attended Georgia but was dismissed by the golf team after one season (2008-09). There were accusations of cheating in a qualifying tournament, stealing from a teammate and other alleged issues, most of which he has denied.

But once a blemished Bulldog, always a blemished Bulldog. He also tweeted a photo of himself at the Georgia-Notre Dame football game last year wearing an Irish jersey. Yeah, that’s not going to endear you to anybody in Athens.

Reed transferred to Augusta State, less than four miles from Augusta National. But this isn’t his “home course.” His school was allowed through the gates only once a year -- and even that was during the cold of January or February.

But Reed led the Jaguars to two NCAA championships (2010 and 2011). It was a perfect launching pad for a pro career that already has seen him get a second-place finish in a major (PGA last year), two top-10 finishes last month (second in the Valspar, seventh in the Arnold Palmer Invitational) and beating McIlroy in the U.S.’s Ryder Cup win.

Perfect career start. Perfect life? No.

Reed reportedly was not popular with college teammates, perhaps because of his extreme confidence/arrogance, and that has continued in the pros. In 2015, an poll of 103 PGA tour pros asked the question: Who would you not help in a fistfight?

Reed finished second in the poll – behind another former Bulldog, Bubba Watson.

His personal life is a mix of blessings and baggage. He’s happily married with two young children. But he has been estranged from his parents and his sister, Hannah, since 2011. His parents were not invited to his wedding. He also objected to them being in the gallery at the 2014 U.S. Open and, reportedly prompted by his wife, Justine, requested they leave the grounds, according to a story in Golf magazine.

That was not the end of public drama. Two years later, Reed’s sister turned her Facebook page into the National Enquirer, exposing her version of the family story.

An excerpt of her long post: “Patrick is not the same person he used to be. He accused me of faking my two kidney surgeries to get him back into my life, completely disowned me, never wishing me a happy birthday (or for) graduating. ... This is not a brother anymore, but a selfish, horrible stranger and it’s heartbreaking.” It went on from there, with Hannah accusing Reed’s wife and in-laws of spreading lies about physical abuse and alcoholism in his parents’ home.

Gregory, who attended the tournament Friday, is staying out of all that. He cares only how Reed is doing today in his life and this week in Augusta.

“You can see how he’s keeping his emotions,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be a little nervous Sunday but he’ll handle it fine.”

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