2014 Newsmaker No. 7: Patrick Reed

By Ryan LavnerDecember 14, 2014, 2:00 pm

Patrick Reed managed to become a household name in 39 seconds.

Perhaps you didn’t know that he went 6-0 in match play while leading tiny Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010-11.

Maybe you didn’t see that he’d captured his first PGA Tour victory in August 2013 at the Wyndham Championship, where he topped Jordan Spieth in a playoff.

You might have missed his tour de force at the Humana Challenge, where he smashed all sorts of scoring records en route to an easy W.

But there was no mistaking this.

For the casual fan, the golf season begins at the WGC-Cadillac Championship outside Miami, and there was Reed, dressed in a familiar red shirt and black slacks, a one-shot winner, giving a greenside interview to Golf Channel’s Steve Sands.

In 39 seconds, Reed went from being known as one of America’s best rising talents to practically public enemy No. 1.

In 39 seconds, Reed compared himself to the “legends of the game” and declared that he was “one of the top five players in the world.”

This wasn’t an athlete getting caught up in the moment, a victim of live television and today’s “Gotcha!” social-media culture. No, Reed had said virtually the same thing a day earlier, during a sit-down interview with NBC, even before he’d beat Bubba and Tiger and Rory and all of the other world-class players who had gathered at Doral.

Reed’s comments proved more memorable than any of the 284 shots that he hit that week. In a quiet sport like golf, his bravado didn’t sit well with fans, who prefer their stars to be gracious, humble, grateful. Nor Reed’s boasts didn’t set well with his Tour brethren, especially since the then-23-year-old was actually No. 20 in the world and had not yet played in a major.

2014 Newsmakers: 6. Wie7. Reed8. R&A9. Bubba | 10. DJ | Honorable mentions

Not that Reed cared, mind you. He said he was a top-5 player because that’s what he believed. If that’s the kind of positive self-talk that allowed him to unlock his inner world-beater, then so be it.

The trouble with such bluster, of course, is the constant need to back it up. In the eight events after Doral, Reed had five missed cuts and no finish inside the top 35. He returned to the spotlight at Congressional in July, where he held a two-shot lead after 54 holes, but he stumbled to a Sunday 77 and tumbled all the way to 11th. No top-5 joke went unwritten on Twitter.

With so many of the other top Americans misfiring, Reed’s three wins in seven months were still enough to guarantee him an automatic spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and for that he should be considered fortunate. So much of an outsider was Reed that it was unclear who, if anyone, would want to partner with him. The answer seems so obvious now, because in one of Tom Watson’s few strokes of genius he teamed Reed with fellow 20-something Spieth.

Over those three days in Scotland, Reed began to change public perception. First, the young studs steamrolled Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter and native son Stephen Gallacher in morning fourballs. Then, after Watson made the first of several curious decisions by benching the rookies in the afternoon, Reed and Spieth turned around the next day and went 1-0-1, electrifying Team USA fans with their passion and solidifying this as the best America duo not just for 2014 but also the foreseeable future.

And finally, Reed saved his antagonistic best for Sunday singles, when after making a par putt against Henrik Stenson, he pressed his right index finger to his lips and shushed the home crowd. He went on to win, 1 up. If nothing else, the kid has stones.

In what amounted to another lost Ryder Cup, Reed was easily America’s best player, going 3-0-1, all while offering hope for the future in this new era of task forces and subcommittees.

He remains far too combustible on the course to truly be considered a top-5 player – the 68-82 swing in Boston comes to mind – but he’s making progress, up to No. 23 at year’s end.

More than his golf it’s his competitive friction that makes Reed so wildly entertaining. He’s carried a chip the size of Texas on his shoulder since his junior days in the Lone Star State, and it’s brought him success at every level. In college, he was always overshadowed by Peter Uihlein and Russell Henley, Scott Langley and Bud Cauley, Blayne Barber and Patrick Cantlay. Reed not only has the two NCAA titles, but he also has more Tour wins than all those players combined.

Sure, his fiery disposition will occasionally cause him to run afoul of fans and sponsors, such as when he directed a profane, homophobic slur at himself after a missed putt in Shanghai. But the kid is a splash of bourbon on an increasingly vanilla tour. 

Thirty-nine seconds solidified that.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1