PALM HARBOR, Fla. – You never intend to play the role of devil’s advocate, but in the case of Patrick Reed the convergence of circumstance and celebrity make fence-sitting uncomfortable at best and disingenuous at worst.
In the hurried moments following his victory on Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Reed, like any athlete fresh from the throes of victory, was asked to react to the seminal moment.
“I’ve worked so hard. I’ve won a lot in my junior career, did great things in my amateur career, was 6-0 in match play at NCAAs, won NCAAs two years in a row, was third individually one year. Now I have three wins out here on the PGA Tour,” he said.
“I just don’t see a lot of guys that have done that, besides Tiger Woods, of course, and all of the other legends of the game. It’s just one of those things that I believe in myself – especially after how hard I’ve worked – that I’m one of the top five players in the world. To come out of a field like this and to hold on wire to wire like that, I feel like I’ve proven myself.”
Predictably, Reed’s comments didn’t sit well in either the social sphere, where he was widely criticized for being so bold, or the practice tee, which is the ultimate benchmark of acceptable behavior among Tour types.
From the moment your scribe arrived for this week’s Valspar Championship the Innisbrook range was abuzz over Reed’s comments.
In short form, there’s nothing wrong with thinking you’re a top-five player – in fact, for a professional golfer it is probably an occupational hazard if you don’t – but verbalizing those thoughts to the world is probably not the best move, particularly for a player who has never teed off in a major championship.
There’s nothing wrong with Reed’s confidence that a healthy dose of humility can’t fix and as many players explained this week at Innisbrook there will come a time when the game will humble you. It always does.
“You have to have a tremendous amount of confidence to play out here, but look, he’s a kid. He’s a kid and he’s excited and he’s playing well. When he looks back at his career, and he will probably have a great career, but he’ll probably laugh at himself,” Erik Compton said. “Everybody knows you’re great, it doesn’t matter if you’re a top-five or a top-six player. When I was a kid I said some stupid things.”
This isn’t about Reed’s Tour frat brothers judging his actions, and to a man they all marveled at his play that has now run to three victories in his last 14 starts, so much as it is socially acceptable norms.
In golf respect is earned, not demanded. It’s a lesson the 23-year-old will learn. Of course, that is assuming he has any interest in such conventions.
“There’s a certain amount of confidence that has to go with golf always, but this game is also founded on a lot of humility as well,” said Brian Harman, who was briefly a teammate of Reed’s at the University of Georgia. “The great ones are always very humble and very thankful. He’s certainly very impressive.”
But this is where things get tricky and the role of devil’s advocate requires a bit more of a long view. In the heat of the moment, when a winning putter is instantly replaced by a microphone, athletes can find themselves quickly coloring outside the lines.
Consider Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s reaction following the Seahawks’ victory in last season’s NFC Championship Game, a postgame tirade during which he declared himself the best cornerback in the game.
Or even caddie Steve Williams’ reaction following his man Adam Scott’s victory at the 2011 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when the longtime looper said in the moments after the triumph, “I have been caddying for more than 30 years now. I have won 145 times and that is the best win of my life.”
Some three years later, Williams regrets those comments.
“Firstly, when you’re a caddie that never happens,” Steve Williams told Australia’s Fox Sports this week. “Of course, I was unbelievably excited. I'd been through a pretty emotional period, and a pretty rough period the preceding 12 or so months with the fallout from Tiger (Woods). I never expected someone to put a microphone in your face when you walk off the 18th green as a caddie. That’s never, ever happened before, and obviously I was pretty emotional at the time.
“Some things you regret,” Williams said. “That would be one of them.”
While this is by no means an apples-to-apples comparison between Reed and Williams and Sherman, but the basic premise remains the same - when emotions are running the highest we shouldn’t always expect the status quo.
Perhaps Reed has already experienced misgivings. In a Golf Channel interview on Monday he seemed to suggest as much. Perhaps he will come to understand the only thing wrong with considering yourself among the game’s greats is verbalizing it. But the one certainty is we shouldn’t be surprised when our athletes become caught up in the heat of the moment.