CHASKA, Minn. – There’s a fun scene, a scene my daughters love, in the movie “The Avengers.” Bruce Banner shows up for the big fight at the end against aliens flying and smashing up buildings in New York.
“Dr. Banner,” Captain America says, “now might be a good time to go get angry.”
“That’s my secret, Captain,” Banner says as he transforms into the Hulk. “I’m always angry.”
That scene makes me think of a tempestuous and awesome young player named Patrick Reed. Did you see him Saturday at Hazeltine? It was as stormy a golf environment as you will ever see, more Alabama-Auburn than United States-Europe. The intensity of the huge American galleries teetered on the edge – sometimes went over edge. The pressure was as thick as fog.
And Patrick Reed was invincible. He made the clutch putts. He hit breathtaking shot after breathtaking shot. He tormented the European players with his brilliance. On the 16th hole in his afternoon match, he hit a 4-wood into the wind off a downslope, and it was so astounding, his partner Jordan Spieth would say, “before it reached its apex, we were both screaming. That’s how cool it was. I screamed, ‘Let’s go, Patrick!’ I don’t know what he screamed.”
What is it that triggers inside the mind and body of Patrick Reed in these moments? What is it that transforms him from a normally excellent player into something else at the Ryder Cup, something huge and green and scary and all but unbeatable?
“Good question,” he says. Well, it is a good question.
Reed is unlike anyone else in professional golf. He’s 26 years old and it seems all his young life he has been driven by demons. As a kid, according to Shane Ryan’s book “Slaying the Tiger,” he would introduce himself to people with, “I’m Patrick Reed, and I’ll kick the **** out of you at golf anytime you want.” He got booted off the team at Georgia and was almost kicked off the team at Augusta State. There have been cheating allegations. There was at least one and perhaps two underaged drinking arrests. He ticked off just about everyone by showing up on the PGA Tour and almost instantly declaring himself one of the five greatest players in the world.
Mainly though, when you look at Patrick Reed’s life, you just see a lot of people who could not stand the guy. But as the old line goes, he couldn’t stand them either so it was all even.
And, through it all, there has been one constant in his game: The more divisive his circumstances, the better he plays golf. He twice led tiny Augusta State to the NCAA Championship, a staggering achievement. And he was unbeatable, literally, in the tournament. He went 6-0 in his matches, twice crushing U.S, Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and once beating future PGA Tour stalwart Harris English – the latter happening even though it has been reported that several of his Augusta State teammates were actually rooting for English.
This has continued on into his professional career. Reed is famous around the Tour for being a loner. For a time his wife Justine was his caddie, now it is his brother-in-law Kessler Karain. They call themselves “Team Reed,” and no one else really gets into that circle. Reed almost always practices alone. He usually plays practice rounds alone. He has severed ties with his parents and sister – he did not invite them to his wedding, and last year Justine had his parents escorted out of the U.S. Open. This has played out in various heartbreaking ways on social media.
“Happy birthday, my son,” Bill Reed wrote on Twitter this past August. “May your day be incredible as it was for us 26 years ago. Love, Dad. #PatrickReed.” Below was a photograph of Bill with his young son watching a golf tournament.
Through it all, Patrick Reed wins. He became just the sixth player – after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia – to win four PGA Tour events before his 25th birthday. He won his first tournament with a staggering shot in a playoff against Spieth, a shot Spieth would call one of the greatest he ever saw. He won The Barclays just a month ago and moved into the top 10 of the world rankings.
But he really captured everyone’s attention at his first Ryder Cup two years ago. That American team, you will remember, was a bit of a mess. The PGA of America had brought on legend Tom Watson to bring some discipline and toughness to a team that wanted neither and resented him for it. The American players were bitter and generally overmatched by a superior European team.
And there, in the middle of it all, was Patrick Reed, and he was a revelation. He was paired with Spieth, the ultimate dark-side-light-side pairing, and together they sliced through Europe. On Sunday, In his singles match against Henrik Stenson, Reed made a huge birdie putt at the seventh hole and then held his finger to his lips, shushing the crowd. They booed him relentlessly. He never looked happier.
That is unless you count Saturday, when he was making the most incredible shots while the unchecked crowd cheered him like he was LeBron. He would shake his fists and shout, “Come on!” He would wave his arms and ask the crowd for more. Golfers so rarely play in this sort of crazy environment, where European bad shots are cheered lustily, where people will shout, “Get out of the hole” to opposing players' putts and occasionally break out with a “USA! US!A!” chant, where fans serenade Rory McIlroy with “Sweet Caroline,” as a cheap shot referring to his breakup with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
“Good times never seemed so good!” McIlroy sang back because, like Reed, he too loves this craziness, thrives in it. Sunday afternoon, as if by providence, Reed will play McIlroy in the very first singles match, and that is an electrifying possibility. McIlroy is, of course, the better player. He’s the No. 3-ranked player in the world at the moment but after his almost unbelievable victory at the Tour Championship last week, most would tell you he’s back to being the best player on earth.
But this is the Ryder Cup, and something in Patrick Reed detonates in these moments.
What is that something? Saturday, there were numerous theories about it, psychoanalysis about his need to belong, his hunger to prove people wrong, his fury lifting him to a higher place. “I just feed off [adrenaline] for some reason,” he says. Truth is, we don’t know.
But there is a great story about Reed in Ian O’Connor’s ESPN piece from a couple of years ago. O’Connor found an old high school teammate named Darren Bahnsen, who said that one time he was playing a practice round with Reed and he hit a good drive, 275 yards down the middle. He felt good.
“Patrick said, ‘Man, that’s a good drive,” Bahnsen remembered. “And then he got down on two knees and hit his ball 10 yards past me. From his knees.”
Now, you have to ask yourself: What can you say about a person who would see a teammate hit a good drive, feel good about himself, and then go down on both knees and drive the ball past him? You’d have to say that guy's talented. You’d also have to say he’s someone who has something inside driving him, something not easy to understand. It’s the Ryder Cup, so yes, now’s a good time for Patrick Reed to get angry. Then, maybe that’s his secret. Maybe he’s always angry.