SAN DIEGO – Ball don’t lie.
It’s an NBA term famously credited to Rasheed Wallace, who was ejected from a game in 2012 for shouting it at Goran Dragic, who missed the first free throw after what Wallace thought was a questionable foul.
The idea is that a bad call, a bad ruling, a bad drop will ultimately be judged by karma, but, of course, that’s nonsense. Patrick Reed can be an exceptional golfer and someone who flies too close to the rules’ edge. He can be both things.
But however you navigate the cosmic tumblers, it was impossible not to apply the mythical properties to Reed’s day at Torrey Pines.
There is absolutely zero correlation between “The Reed Ruling” and Sunday’s result, other than whatever shots the 30-year-old saved himself by getting up-and-down for par on the fateful 10th hole. On this front, the scorecard don’t lie.
Reed, whose ruling and ensuing drop left of the 10th green on Saturday created a media maelstrom that chased him all the way into the final round at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Like I said yesterday with the rules official, they said they showed it upstairs and everything with me yesterday, that the protocols I went through and everything that transpired was the right thing,” said Reed, following a closing 68 that was good for a five-stroke victory.
Whether you believe Reed broke the rules, either intentionally or otherwise, doesn’t matter. Not now. His previous indiscretions had already created enough doubt to make Saturday’s debate nothing more than a kangaroo court.
Forget that not one, but two PGA Tour rule’s officials had declared that he’d done nothing wrong despite a replay that clearly showed Reed’s golf ball bouncing after hitting the turf. Forget that he went beyond what the rules require and requested a ruling from an official on the spot. Forget that he explained to anyone who would listen that his golf ball was embedded.
Public opinion was not on his side.
Reed is a hard man to like. Although that flat swing is impressively repeatable and he may have the best short game in golf at the moment, he violates professional golf norms at every turn.
In 2019 at the Hero World Challenge there was a similar rule’s issue. Despite video evidence of the violation and a ruling that added two strokes to his card he pushed back at the time, “it is my word against their word.”
If that’s not contrite enough, Sunday’s side-by-side comparison with Rory McIlroy also didn’t do Reed any favors.
Not long after Reed’s snafu on No. 10 on Saturday, McIlroy had a similar incident. His second shot at the 18th hole landed in the left rough and when the Northern Irishman found his ball, he deemed it to be embedded. No one saw it land. No one saw it bounce. Like Reed, McIlroy took relief and moved on.
A video surfaced on Sunday of McIlroy’s second shot, showing that his ball, like Reed’s, had bounced. McIlroy was devastated after being told of the video after his round, not because he took an incorrect drop, because he didn’t, but because the rules mean more to him than anything.
“Like everyone out here, it's the worst thing in golf to be labeled as someone that tries to get away with something or labeled a cheater and that's just not how you want your reputation to be,” McIlroy said. “I've never tried to get away with anything out here. I think I said at the time in golf you'd rather be on the right side of the rules than the wrong side of them because that's just what our game's about. Our game is about integrity and it's about doing the right thing. I always try to do the right thing and hopefully people see that.”
For those looking for the same emotion or ethos from Reed you should prepare to be disappointed. He remained on message in his post-round press conference and reiterated that he did everything by the book.
“I've already said everything I need to say about what happened yesterday,” Reed said. “All I can really do is focus on today and just listen to what the rules officials said, and they said that I didn't do anything incorrect.”
The Tour also reiterated at the start of Sunday’s broadcast that neither Reed nor McIlroy did anything wrong, but a general consensus on social media that Reed had violated at least one acceptable norm was echoed by one player.
“I would not put myself and create a situation like that,” Xander Schauffele said when asked if he’d ever been in a similar situation to Reed’s on Saturday. “If my ball's embedded, I usually will wait and call someone and kind of wait until everyone's on the same page, wait to look at video.
“Obviously the talk amongst the boys isn't great, I guess, but he's protected by the Tour and that's all that matters, I guess.”
After a full day to digest Reed’s ruling, many players agreed that he may not have violated the Rules of Golf but his actions didn’t conform to the unwritten rules (note lower case). At issue for many is why Reed picked up his ball and placed it in another spot before the rule’s official arrived to confirm it was embedded.
Whether this locker room violation is handled within the confines remains to be seen. These types of unwritten violations tend to go unreported, but what is certain is that Reed’s already iffy image has suffered another self-inflicted haymaker.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome there will be those who will continue to criticize Reed, and given his history with the Rules of Golf that’s fair. But as Wallace might bark from the other side of Torrey Pines’ 18th green, the “ball don’t lie.”