saint patrick’s day

NOT ONE OF THE CLASSIC MASTERS’ FINISHES BUT COMPELLING ALL THE SAME AS GOLF’S PANTOMIME VILLAIN OUTLASTED THE CINDERELLAS AND THE SNOW WHITES TO LAND HIS FIRST MAJOR.

‘The Masters doesn’t begin until The Back Nine On Sunday’, they say and there are good reasons why they say it; not least because when Patrick Reed wins the thing, you feel you’ve wasted only half an evening. Was there anybody out there – and I mean anybody – who was rooting for Reed? No. I didn’t think so.

Which I’m sure will tickle the 2018 Masters’ Champion all the more as he laps up the parsimonious praise over this morning’s champagne breakfast. Only he knows how much he truly revels in being Augusta’s anti-hero – not the first time he’s held that title if you believe all that’s been written about his years at Augusta State University – but out on the course it clearly flicks all his switches. ‘I think he embraces being the villain’, says Paul Azinger. ‘Mind you, it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. It’s a game where you’re on your own anyway.’

‘Brash’ would be politest word to describe Patrick Reed; if you’re looking for something impolite, take your pick. He’s been dubbed a cheat, a thief, a piss-head and a homophobe; he’s estranged from his family, his sister says ‘he’s a selfish, horrible stranger’ and his wife – so it’s claimed – once had his parents escorted from the course at the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst. Frankly, I’m not sure quite how she managed to do this given Bill and Jeanette Reed were holding valid tickets to the event but that’s what they say. True or not, there is – no question – bad juju.

His fellow players aren’t that keen either. In a locker-room poll which asked ‘Who Would You Be Least Likely To Wade In And Help In a Bar-Room Brawl?’ Reed – so it’s whispered – finished second behind Bubba Watson. In fairness, Reed probably wouldn’t need that much help in a bar-room brawl. Yes, there’s a touch of the ‘dough boy’ about him – as one commentator rather unkindly put it – but you sense it’d take a couple of crisp, clean punches to put him on the floor and a whole mess of guys to hold him there. Bubba Watson, I’m not so sure about. Watching him walk, he appears to have a body from which the skeleton has been surgically removed.

But if Patrick Reed truly is golf’s favourite pantomime villain – the Millwall of the Masters with his Stars and Stripes yardage book – then you have to admire how he makes it work. Reed walks to the first tee in the final group in the final round and gets dutiful applause, dutiful applause being the bare minimum the patrons offer the players at Augusta National; Rory walks to the first tee in the final group in the final round and it sounds like the Beatles arriving at Shea Stadium in 1965. And while McIlroy – gracefully – doffs his cap and switches on the gigawatt smile, Reed – grimly – keeps his head down and lobs another log on the fire.

‘That’s another thing that just kind of played into my hands,’ Reed said, afterwards. ‘It just takes the pressure off of me and adds it back to him … you had a lot of the guys picking him to win over me and it’s one of those things that the more chatter you hear in your ear about expectations and everything, the harder it is to play golf.’ His caddy – and brother-in-law – Kessler Karain agrees. ‘I definitely feel that way,’ he said of the fans’ clear preference for Rory, Rickie, Jordy, John, someone, anyone other than Patrick Reed to win the thing. ‘And that’s OK, because sometimes that’s motivating, too.’ Yes, well, multiply that by twenty and you’re getting close.

Mentally, Reed is stronger than six acres of Texas onions. He had a blue-chip peleton on a big ring bearing down on him all day – make that two days – and he didn’t blink. In the final round while Fowler knocked out flags, Spieth drained almost everything and Augusta turned into an echo chamber of almost pre-pubescent excitement, Reed never flickered. And watching him – as you always feel when you’re watching Patrick Reed, be it in the Ryder Cup or anywhere else – you sense that whatever doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. Does that sound a little like sneaky admiration? Yes, well, perhaps it does. And, let’s be honest, perhaps it should.

Put it this way, if Rory McIlroy had Reed’s balls – and I’m not talking ‘Titleist Pro V1’ – he’d win every time he teed it up. For the Ulsterman, the final round was a day when nothing went right and almost everything went right, not least his drives and putts. ‘He just hung in there a little better than I did and got the job done,’ said McIlroy afterwards, a comment which was as hopelessly disingenuous as Saturday night’s prediction that Reed would ‘feel the anxiety’ of a protecting a three-shot lead on the final day. If he truly believed that then Rory fatally underestimated the enemy, surprisingly so given what happened in the singles at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Patrick Reed does not do anxiety.

His boyhood hero – inevitably – was Woods and you sense Reed’s a similar animal. Certainly he’s adept – and this is very Tigerish – at minimizing his losses; in other words, his one crap round of the week isn’t quite as crap as everyone else’s one crap round of the week – Reed 71, Fowler 72, Spieth 74, McIlroy 74, Rahm 75 – a crucial factor last week at Augusta. And, again, while McIlroy was backing up birdies with bogeys in the final round, Reed was doing the exact opposite. He’s like a pot of Tipp-ex. He seems able to instantly correct any mistake.

But aside from the anti-hero turning out to be the hero, it was – as ever – an intriguing couple of hours at Augusta. Who dresses these people? Reed’s Barbie pink shirt was dubious; Rickie Fowler’s orange and white ensemble made him look like a traffic cone; Justin Thomas, clearly, didn’t have a mirror in his hotel room – blue shirt, parmesan trousers and piebald shoes – Bubba Watson played the final round wearing shocking pink slippers and Rory McIlroy went with the popped collar pioneered by Lacoste and made famous by Diane Keaton in ‘Annie Hall’. Either he was chasing the frat-boy look or he was worried about heading home with a sunburnt neck.

John Rahm intrigued me, given (a) I’d not seen him before and (b) it’s not often golfers look like they could easily play second row for Bordeaux-Begles. The sheer violence of his swing made you wince – you could practically hear his ball screaming in agony like an incoming shell – he had a putter that looked like a vacuum cleaner attachment and a yardage book in his back pocket which was the size of a paperback book. I also liked the facial hair – an Augusta ‘first cut’ round his face with a ‘second cut’ round his ears – although Dustin Johnson’s Full Bikini Line Wax beard was equally interesting, or as Butch Harmon would say, ‘inneresting’.

Rahm was also the man who couldn’t call his own shots. ‘That’s in the bunker’, he snorted as he ripped the ball towards the seventh green, only for it to fly the sand, explode on the fringe and stagger to the right leaving him a twelve-footer up the hill which he duly drained. It was Rahm too whose twenty-five footer down the vertiginous ninth green took fifteen seconds to get from the end of his toothpick putter to the side of the hole. Like John Daly, he has a butterfly touch for a bison of a man.

And then there’s Jordan Spieth who – I’m sure – is delightful company over a bottle of Budweiser but who spends the entire afternoon chuntering round the golf course. It’s like listening to your grandmother baking a cake. In fairness his drive on the eighteenth had clipped a tree and hadn’t even reached the fairway – not often The Masters strays onto my territory – but there he was, out with yardage book, pacing out his options, working out the next play, yet still grousing – aloud to himself – about the tee shot; ‘… there’s no way that hit that tree, the last limb, oh my God, that’s such bull-shit …’ his mouth excreting his frustration while his mind sized up the solution. I wish I knew how he did that. That is – seriously – spooky stuff.

The commentary was companionable. Butch Harmon described Reed’s corkscrew swing on the big fades as a ‘Dipsy-Doo’, which I liked, although not quite as much as John Rahm’s dropped shot on fifteen and Ewen Murray’s perfectly timed, ‘hmm, he needs three birdies and a prayer’. Murray and the Masters are well matched. The coverage also came with the usual home-hewn graphics, the ones which leave you unsure whether to nod your head or scratch it. Paul Casey – raspberry sherbert shirt, blacksmith’s forearms – birdied the 14th and up came some numbers showing that the Englishman was the first player to go birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie on holes 11-14 since Costantino Rocca in 1997. I’m not sure even Costantino Rocca would’ve known that. Or indeed cared.

But in televisual terms, however you slice it, it‘s tough to bugger up a blanket finish in a Major. Every other minute the tournament hinges on the turn of a hair; an extra ounce on a putt, an extra bounce on a drive, a ball that hangs on a slope, a wedge that spins off the green. The variables are almost infinite and, right up to Reed’s knee-trembler of a three-footer on the final hole, any outcome was possible. When sport offers you that, it offers you everything.

Reed may not be a popular champion but he’s a worthy one. ESPN.com once spoke to his old coach at Georgia State University, Chris Haack, who recalled one of his assistants scouting Reed in a high school tournament. ‘This guy hits it close all day long but never makes anything,’ he said. ‘If he ever figures out the putter, he’s going to be dangerous.’ Safe to say, Reed’s now figured out the putter and, in golfing terms, a good bit else besides. And when he finally figures out the rest of his life, perhaps we’ll all come to like him a little bit more.

09APRIL 2018

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