Ten months ago, after winning the World Golf Championship event at Doral, Patrick Reed told the media that he believed he was one of the top five players in the world. Reed based that comment on the fact that he had won three PGA Tour events in seven months.
He wasn't ranked anywhere near the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking, but Reed knew – as does everyone else in golf – that the OWGR is often inaccurate since it is stretched over a two-year period. Reed hadn't even been an exempt player at the start of 2013.
The reaction to Reed in the locker room and the media room was almost identical: How dare he! One might have thought Reed had told a group of kindergartners there is no Santa Claus, or had said the Ryder Cup was just an exhibition.
For the next few months, every time Reed missed a cut or had a bad day, someone would inevitably comment: "Top-five player, huh?"
Of course, Reed went on to be one of the few bright spots for the U.S. Ryder Cup team last September and then won for a fourth time at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions two weeks ago. He is now the No. 15 player in the world, according to the OWGR. According to many others, he's got the potential, at age 24, to be a no-doubt top-five player in the near future.
But seriously, folks – who cares? What matters is that Reed said something interesting, something worthy of discussion, something that got the attention of a lot of people. Golf is full of players who tell us when they win that they hit the ball well, made a few putts and are thankful to all the sponsors and their "team." (Everyone has a "team" nowadays, right?)
What the sport needs is more Patrick Reeds. For that matter, it needs more of Phil Mickelson stunning everyone in the room with the comments he made post-Ryder Cup. Oh sure, you can argue that Mickelson had the time and place wrong and you can also argue that he attacked Tom Watson because he was upset about being benched on Saturday. Even so, it was a lot more interesting than hearing, "Well, they just made a few more putts than we did."
And, for better or worse, depending on your point of view, Mickelson's comments led to an intense argument about what's wrong with Ryder Cup golf in the U.S. Maybe the much-ballyhooed task force will come back and report that the U.S. needs to make more putts. Or maybe it will suggest a grass-roots effort to help young American golfers care about the Ryder Cup as much as European golfers do. The point is to have the dialogue.
Dialogue is always better than a monologue. Or monotone.
Twenty-one years ago, the PGA Tour, in its infinite wisdom, decided to bring in a media consultant to coach those who had just made it through Q-School for the first time on how to deal with the media. The consultant's message was pretty much the same as Crash Davis' famous speech to Nuke Laloosh in “Bull Durham”: Never criticize the Tour or anyone on the Tour. Always thank sponsors and volunteers. Talk about your family and be thankful to everyone around you.
David Feherty was in the room that day, having gone through Q-School that fall because he wanted to play the U.S. tour fulltime. Fortunately, Feherty was sound asleep in the back of the room while the consultant droned on. Imagine if he had been awake and had somehow taken her advice to heart. The world would have been a very different place.
I was also in the room that day, at the invitation of John Morris, who had just come on-board as the Tour's director of communication. He was horrified by what he was hearing from the consultant. He asked me if I would be willing to, in effect, give the opposition response. Happily, I told him.
The first thing I said was, "I would urge you to ignore almost everything you heard in the last hour." I had no problem with thanking people, but I suggested that honesty was usually a good idea. Listening to questions before answering was a good idea. Lying was a bad idea – which would mean often not listening to your agent.
A lot of the players in that room became friends of mine, Feherty included – although he slept through my part of the program, too. Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker were there that day and, although they've always said the right things, they are also capable of expressing opinions worth hearing in the right setting.
The Tour, ever image conscious, would much prefer the media consultant's way of doing things. Actually, that's bad for golf because what the sport needs desperately are fresh personalities. As electric as Tiger Woods was on the golf course during his dominant period, he was a Crash Davis-devotee off it. Mickelson is unpredictable, which is good, and Rory McIlroy can light up a room.
To some degree, stars don't need to be interesting – their golf speaks for itself and people are going to want to talk about them and write about them, regardless. It's better for any sport to have stars who are accessible and interesting – tennis was a lot more popular when John McEnroe was the world's best player wasn't it? – but not a necessity.
What golf needs is more guys like Reed, who may not yet be stars, but who say things that get people's attention. That means when Reed gets to the Masters having said that the majors are the place where he most needs to improve, people will want to track his performance – and his post-round comments.
Humor isn't a bad thing, either, although it seems to be frowned upon in the media consultant's handbook. Ten years ago, Jay Haas was given an award by the Golf Writers Association of America for being cooperative and helpful with the media. (An award also won by Stricker and Furyk, no doubt thanks to my coaching all those years ago). In accepting, Haas said, "I guess this should be called the, 'Curtis blew us off so we'll go talk to Jay,' award."
Haas was referencing his close friend, Curtis Strange, who did, on occasion, stalk away from the media after a bad round. The next morning Strange called Haas: "I heard you killed me last night," he said, trying to suppress a laugh.
"Only because I love you," Haas said.
Strange understood. So did everyone in the room. Haas was using humor and exaggeration to make a point. Reed might have exaggerated at Doral last year. But he was making a point – one worth hearing. The more of that in golf, the merrier. For all of us.