CHASKA, Minn. – Born in Spring, Texas, educated in Georgia, and truly at home only in San Antonio, for three glorious fall days Patrick Reed played his frenzied role to perfection.
He was animated and angry, energized and endearing; the perfect tonic for America’s Ryder Cup woes if not the ideal epicenter for what turned into the game’s most raucous member-guest (think TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole times 18).
From the outset of the 41st matches, U.S. captain Davis Love III stressed that each of his 12 players had a single job. For Reed, he may have exceeded even the most lofty job description.
The 26-year-old paired with Jordan Spieth to play all four team sessions, hauling his American stable mate across the finish line on Saturday afternoon with the type of performance that defines Ryder Cup careers, a masterpiece that included six birdies and an eagle through 17 holes.
He was even better on Sunday.
When Love marched Reed out in the day’s first match against Rory McIlroy, Europe’s undisputed heavyweight at Hazeltine National, the job parameters remained unchanged - win your match - but in practice the outcome was much more nuanced.
European captain Darren Clarke had to front-load his Sunday singles lineup with hopes that they could set an early tone for a comeback like the one that went the Continent’s way in 2012 at Medinah.
An early American victory would be clutch; if Reed could keep McIlroy from running away with the match and posting an early European flag on the leaderboard, it would have a profound impact on the back end of Clarke’s lineup.
“It was important to get some excitement going in the beginning and get off to a good start,” Love said. “We knew they were going to load the boat, and we had to get off to a good start against them.”
There was a brief moment, just past the lunch hour, when Love & Co. had no American flags on the scoreboard and trailed in six matches. It was Medinah all over again.
Leave it to Reed, the U.S. side’s unlikely ace, to set the tone with a deafening performance. He eagled the fifth to square his match with McIlroy, birdied Nos. 6 and 7 to keep pace with the Northern Irishman and traded the week’s ultimate blow on the eighth hole.
From 50 feet, McIlroy – pushed to the limit by unruly fans all week and keen to push back – charged in a 50-footer for birdie. “I can’t hear you,” he roared at the masses. Moments later, Reed matched him with a 25-footer for birdie, followed by a finger wag in McIlroy’s direction.
So much show, so much swagger, so much spirit.
There’s no better theater in golf than the Ryder Cup, and for three days there weren’t two better leading men than Reed and McIlroy. If the Minnesota masses had a tendency to go too far, and they did, Reed’s antics only went to prove once and for all that it’s not indifference that has cost the U.S. team all these years. If anything, Reed and his frat brothers may care too much.
If you can want something only so much, Reed’s passion was boundless and infectious. But then he’s always been that way.
“He hates losing more than he loves winning,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach at Augusta State and still a member of his inner circle. “He’s a rock star playing pro golf. If he could play in a dome with people yelling at him, he’d love every single week.”
By the time Reed finally pulled away with a birdie at the 12th hole to take his first lead of the day, the rout was on with the U.S leading in seven matches and needing just five points to reclaim the cup.
The U.S. team motto all week at Hazeltine was “12 Strong,” and the box score suggests that was the case with every member of Love’s team earning at least one point. But when the line between obituary and ovation is so thin, the actions of a single man can often dictate the outcome.
Reed wanted to play McIlroy, he wanted to play early, it’s in his DNA. Love and fate delivered both and he took care of the rest in a frenzied blur befitting his budding Ryder Cup reputation.
His record in the transatlantic title bout now improves to 6-1-2 in two starts after going 3-1-1 at Hazeltine, and his reputation as a bona fide match-play closer has now reached urban legend proportions.
“I told Ian Poulter back in 2012 that he was built for the Ryder Cup, and I think Patrick Reed is built for the Ryder Cup, too,” Love said. “He's got that attitude.”
Some players are made for these high-pressure events, players like Reed who thrive on adversity and the harsh head-to-head reality of match play. There’s nowhere to hide or play it safe, just a glaring spotlight and an unrelenting opponent.
Reed wanted the pressure. He wanted the moment. He wanted to be Love’s guy out front nixing any possible European rally.
“My job was to not allow blue [European flags] to go on that board, I couldn’t allow blue to go on that board because I knew they needed me to come out and get that confidence going,” said Reed, his voice hoarse from three days of exuberance. “I knew if Rory went out and got a point, it just wasn’t good for our team. I had to do my part.”
As he headed up the 18th hole, his mission all but accomplished even with McIlroy still having a chance to scratch out a half point if he could win the final hole, Reed provided the perfect walk-off to his week, firing his approach shot to 5 feet and rolling in the birdie putt for a 1-up victory.
He’d done his job. He’d kept McIlory under his thumb, and helped lift the U.S. to its first victory in the biennial matches since 2008. He’d done it with grit and emotion. He’d earned the U.S. side’s Man of the Match honors and a new nickname – Minnesota wild.