SAN DIEGO – Nope. Bring it in for the real thing.
Never before has the day’s fourth group off the first tee held so much intrigue, be it real or manufactured, but for the assembled media and masses the moment was real.
The Golden Child vs. Captain America. If Marvel made a movie of the encounter it would have ended with an epic battle through the streets of Del Mar. But there were no such theatrics on Saturday at Torrey Pines.
For the first time since the U.S. Ryder Cup team was run off the course at Le Golf National in September, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed found themselves paired together for Round 3 at the Farmers Insurance Open in what was essentially a competitively mandated intervention.
As Spieth climbed the hill to the first tee, he wore an unmistakable smirk. He greeted playing partner John Chin and his caddie, extended a friendly fist pump to Reed’s caddie, Kessler Karain, and as Reed offered the traditional – if not a tad stoic – handshake, Spieth leaned in to hug it out. You know, the real thing.
The moment was just as premeditated as it was brilliant.
“I laughed. I think he did, too,” Spieth said of the first-tee embrace. “It was more kind of sarcasm towards [the media]. That was kind of, just, we knew the cameras were on and we knew people were interested in that, so I just thought it would be kind of funny.”
Water under the bridge? Probably not, but it’s certainly a starting point. Give both Spieth and Reed, but mostly Spieth, credit for taking the high road. But with apologies to Spieth, this is not a media-driven non-story. Reed, and only Reed, deserves both credit and condemnation for what transpired following the American loss in Paris.
“The issue’s obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me,” Reed told the New York Times following the matches. “I don’t have any issue with Jordan. When it comes right down to it, I don’t care if I like the person I’m paired with or if the person likes me as long as it works and it sets up the team for success. He and I know how to make each other better. We know how to get the job done.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Reed stoked the flames of discontent for not being paired with Spieth at the Ryder Cup when he told the New York Post in December that the two hadn’t cleared the air and that Spieth, “has my number.” If that sounds frigid, that's because it was.
Although Reed said the two have spoken since the matches, first at the Sony Open earlier this month and this week at Torrey Pines, the Ryder Cup has not come up. No need, according to P-Reed.
“Literally, when we got off the plane it was old news and we all moved on from there, so not really,” Reed said. “I mean, it's really nothing. Jordan and I, we've moved on.”
If nothing else, Spieth’s hug helped diffuse any tension that may still exist and entertain the assembled looky-loos. The duo spent the morning chatting like old pals as they rounded the South Course, though Spieth did spend more time talking to himself, which is the norm when the 25-year-old doesn’t have his best stuff.
Reed’s frustration following the U.S. side’s seven-point loss in Paris was understandable. Prior to captain Jim Furyk’s decision to split America’s dynamic duo, the two compiled an 8-1-3 record in four international team bouts. Reed went 0-2 alongside Tiger Woods in France. What isn’t justifiable is why he chose to bring a team-room issue into the public forum.
The final outcome aside, Reed’s anger is both misplaced and misguided. Spieth ended up paired with Justin Thomas, his lifelong friend, and emerged with Thomas as the U.S. team’s most productive tandem, winning three of four points in the team session. What’s lost in their record as a duo is that what brought out the best in Spieth and Reed in team competitions was probably not sustainable.
While Reed thrives on negative energy and uses any slight, either real or perceived, to gain an advantage, Spieth tends to embrace the half-full cup as evidenced by his high-profile hug on Saturday.
“We just both want to go out and beat each other badly,” Reed said of his partnership with Spieth. “We have that kind of friendly rivalry going on. It just seems to bring the best golf out in both players. When you put two really competitive guys together in the same group you’re most likely going to see some good golf.”
Good golf, perhaps, but not the healthiest of atmospheres, which is why Spieth appears to have opted to play with Thomas at the Ryder Cup.
It’s no real surprise the two haven’t had a post-match rap session. Reed warms up with earphones in and he rarely plays practice rounds with other players. It’s Patrick’s way, and his record suggests his way is working just fine, but he’s certainly not the most approachable person.
There’s little chance that all is forgiven – too much bad blood for that – but they have found at least a public détente. With a single high-profile man hug they’ve proven they can coexist in the work place, but a reprise of the American super pairing at future matches still seems like a longshot.
Some things you can’t take back.