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Spieth-Reed friction looms over U.S. team

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Patrick Reed apparently saved his best shot for after the Ryder Cup.

During a week when “Captain America” seemed to lose his superpowers, going 0-2 before a meaningless singles victory, Reed capped off a forgettable performance by taking a few swipes at his own teammates Sunday night.

The final question of the Americans’ closing news conference was directed at Reed and his longtime partner, Jordan Spieth, who were curiously separated last week despite having an 8-1-3 record together. Sitting on opposite ends of the dais, Reed shot Spieth a look that suggested he was about to go nuclear; Spieth wisely jumped in and claimed that everyone was “totally involved” in the decision to split, which U.S. captain Jim Furyk then refuted, saying that it was “totally my call.” The stories didn’t add up, and the European Tour moderator cut off Reed before he could answer.

An hour later, in a phone interview with The New York Times, Reed unloaded a week’s worth of frustration: He blamed the breakup on Spieth alone (“The issue is obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me”); suggested there’s a “buddy system” that doesn’t weigh everyone’s input equally; and criticized Furyk’s decision to play him only twice in team matches (“For somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice”).

His last beef is misguided – Reed’s play the first two days was dreadful – but he was understandably annoyed. The Americans got smoked, and the Masters champion had been scuffling for months, and he probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind once he learned Spieth didn’t want to play with him and that, to him, the U.S. decision-makers were more interested in preserving friendships than earning points.

Would Reed have fared better reuniting with Spieth? Maybe, but if Spieth was no longer invested in the partnership, then that pairing was likely doomed, too. And besides, Spieth teamed nicely with Justin Thomas, with whom he’s been friends since childhood. It was up to Reed to find happiness after the breakup.

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To his credit, Furyk received plenty of media criticism in the immediate aftermath and brushed off the second-guessing as part of the job description: “I realize that as a leader of this team and as a captain, the brunt of it is going to be on my plate, and I accepted that when I took this role.”

He just didn’t expect the friendly fire from within his own team.

Like Phil Mickelson before him, however, Reed’s harsh commentary can’t be dismissed as merely the musings of a disgruntled team member – at the very least he shined light onto a controversy that was allowed to simmer throughout the week. Furyk, his vice captains and the veteran superstars should have fixed the communication breakdown and squashed any lingering animosity, for the good of the team.

Instead, with one interview, Reed unwittingly offered a glimpse into why Europe is so successful in the Ryder Cup and why the Americans can only try to manufacture camaraderie.

The Europeans, after all, have had no trouble folding polarizing players into the team dynamic – when’s the last time you heard of any discord or petty infighting? That speaks to the effectiveness of not only the captain and his assistants, but also the selflessness of the star players, who every two years put aside their differences for one week and one common goal.

“I just think we all get along so well,” Rory McIlroy said. “We’ve known each other for a long time, and there’s a continuity in our group that maybe the other side doesn’t quite have. … Obviously, we all have our separate lives going on, but once we get together for the Ryder Cup, we all come together as one.”

The Americans seem to understand the importance of that concept – they hung “Leave Your Egos at the Door” posters in the team room – but, according to Reed, have not yet fully embraced it.

“They do that better than us,” Reed told the Times, and thus Europe has won nine of the past 12 Ryder Cups.

Of course, there were no such complaints when the Americans crushed their opponents in 2016, but that cathartic victory looks more and more like a one-off. Hazeltine was tailor-made for the U.S. team’s bomb-and-gouge style, and the Europeans brought six rookies to a road game in what captain Thomas Bjorn now describes as a “transition” year. It’s telling that none of those first-timers made the team again in Paris.

The task now for the U.S. brass – and particularly the mild-mannered Steve Stricker, assumed to be the captain in 2020 – is deciding how to handle Reed’s public criticism. They’d be wise to allow him to air his grievances in full. Still just 28, he is likely to be a fixture on the team for years to come, and the Americans could use more passionate players like Reed, not fewer. If he’s shunned for speaking his mind, then his growing sense that there’s a “buddy system” in place will only be validated.

Reed may have been slightly more tactful than Mickelson’s press-room mutiny in 2014, but the message in both attacks is the same: Issues remain within the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and it’s the next captain’s job to fix them.