SAN DIEGO – The life of an iconoclast is never quiet.
The only thing Patrick Reed did wrong on the par-4 10th hole Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open was pull his drive into a bunker and smother an 8-iron some 50 yards left of the green. Despite the vociferous masses on social media – and even a few in the proper media – the rest of the hole, while admittedly complicated, was textbook.
Some won’t want to hear this, but other than a few bad swings Reed did everything on the 10th hole correctly. He asked the two players who he was paired with at Torrey Pines, Will Gordon and Robby Shelton, if they saw his approach shot land or bounce. He asked their caddies. He asked a lonely volunteer, who had been just feet from where his ball landed.
They all answered no.
This is important because in the court of public opinion, Reed’s own words will be used against him on this front.
“You know when the ball bounces it's almost impossible for it to break the plane and so therefore, when that happens, anytime you see the ball bounce you just play it as it lies,” Reed said after finishing his round and falling headlong into a rule’s maelstrom.
These are the facts: When Reed reached his golf ball and confirmed, as best he could, that it did not bounce when it landed, he declared his ball was embedded and picked it up. He also called over rules official, Brad Fabel, who concurred that Reed's golf ball was embedded and Reed was entitled to relief.
“The first thing you do is call a rules official over,” Reed said.
Subconsciously, Reed must have known the storm that was building, and he showed some self-awareness in the moment. He didn’t have to call in a rules official in this circumstance. Any player will tell you that. Any rules official will tell you that.
“He operated the way the rules permit him to operate,” said John Mutch, the official who reviewed the incident with Reed after his round. “There was nothing under the rules that he did improperly.”
But then the faceless horde on social media didn’t seem to have much interests in the actual facts or the rules that govern the game. A replay of Reed’s approach at the 10th hole showed it did bounce before settling into the rough. But Reed didn’t see that. The other players in the group didn’t see it. The lonely volunteer didn’t see it.
There was also some question about Reed improperly cleaning his golf ball after determining it was embedded. Again, let’s leave the small print to the experts.
“I didn't see that. And once it was determined to be embedded, he would be allowed to clean it. And he also did mark it,” Mutch said. “He also let his fellow competitors know he was going to do that, so he operated the way the rules entitled him to operate.”
But those who spent Saturday screaming at keyboards don’t have any use for Mutch’s calm explanations or expertise. For an alarming number of critics, Reed is guilty until proven guilty. He’s seen as a villain by many. The same guy who shushed the crowds at a European Ryder Cup is the same guy who broke team rules and publicly criticized his teammate, Jordan Spieth, and captain, Tom Watson.
He’s also the guy who has found himself on the wrong side of one too many scrapes with the rules.
At the 2019 Hero World Challenge, Reed appeared to improve his lie in a bunker and he was panelized two strokes, although he said at the time “it is my word against their word.” In 2020, Peter Kostis said on the No Laying Up podcast, “I've seen Patrick Reed improve his lie, up close and personal, four times now.”
In golf, rubbing too close to the edge of the rules is the one thing that won’t wash off, so it’s understandable that armchair rules officials everywhere inched to the edge of their couches on Saturday as Reed assessed his golf ball at No. 10.
Reed doesn’t seem to have much interest in being popular or liked, and his history with the rules is part of his narrative, so if the masses are slow to offer him the benefit of the doubt, know that he’s come by his black hat honestly. But golf, unlike the court of public opinion, is governed by rules.
The image of Reed digging his golf ball from the grass and mud may not be the best optics, but he did nothing wrong.
In another moment of self-awareness, Reed was asked if he feels like the spotlight is brighter when it comes to his play: “Oh, definitely. It is an unfortunate thing that happened today, but at the same time it's exactly what I would have done every time, exactly what every player should do.”
Reed did all the right things, but there’s no escaping that, for some, he’s the wrong player to be given the benefit of the doubt.