On the Wednesday before Masters week, 12 days prior to sticking his burly arms into the green jacket, Patrick Reed and swing coach Kevin Kirk arrived at Augusta National Golf Club to devise a scientific game plan designed around the angles, swirling winds and treacherous greens at the course. Under those ear buds, there was a lot for Reed to process and ultimately adopt.
“It’s hard to crack the code at a place like that,” said Kirk, who floated the idea that day to Reed on the flight from Houston. “The place is complicated. You have to be innovative.”
These were not the typical practice sessions you see before major championships. Instead of playing the course, they walked the course, letting groups play through. Kirk estimates that Reed only hit 30 shots, but must have putted 5,000 times in the eight-hour shift on Wednesday. Reed took copious notes in his yardage book, indicating the pin placements, fall lines, wind directions and the best shot shapes for every scenario. At 7 p.m. ET, one of the club’s assistant pros came out to politely inform them that the course was closed. As Kirk remembered it, “The kid said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but I’ve got to ask you guys to leave.’”
Words like “multiple matrices” and “myopics” were part of the coach-player conversation. So were the teachings of Jerry Lynch, an elite sports psychologist, who had a hand in 35 world championship rings and Olympic medals, including Phil Jackson’s 11 NBA titles, and the 2015 and 2017 championships for the Golden State Warriors as a consultant to Steve Kerr.
Already a multiple winner of the Harvey Penick Award, given by the South Texas PGA as its Teacher of the Year in their section, Kirk attended a conference in Boulder, Co., called “Way of Champions” that impacted the manner in which he thought about coaching. Kirk followed up and decided to use Lynch a consultant. According to Kirk, “(Lynch) creates cultures where performances thrive.” That was the case with Reed when he stepped to the first tee eight days later, a bulldog that had become a thinking man’s golfer.
As complex as it seemed, the analytics made sense to Reed. Instead of slowing down his pre-shot flow with over-analysis, Reed and caddie Kessler Karain made decisions confidently and executed a winning score of 273,which stands third-lowest in Masters history. “It gave him the confidence around the greens that he needed on the course,” Karain said.
The best example in how it helped Reed off the tee was the shape of his ball flight on the par-5 eighth, where he played a baby cut instead of his favored draw and made three 4s on the hole. Statistically, Reed was third in strokes gained: putting, fourth in strokes gained: tee to green, and led the field with 24 birdies and eagles.
“He was always a numbers guy,” Kirk said. “He could handle the process of interpreting data quickly. In his world, it was not too burdensome for him. It allowed him to make decisions quickly.”
Josh Gregory, the other half of Reed’s coaching circle, and his coach at Augusta University, knew that Reed might have been slow to buy in but was frustrated by missing two missed cuts in his four previous Masters starts. From experience, Gregory knew that once Reed committed, he was all in.
“It was different but different isn’t bad; it can be a good thing,” Gregory said. “He realized his approach hasn’t worked very well and was open for new ideas, this new challenge.”
The timing couldn’t have been better. Motivated by not posting a victory in 2017, Reed worked in the cold rain and wind of Houston’s winter. Once he piecemealed a set of clubs from his old favorites, Reed started to build momentum through the Southern swing, with a second-place finish at the Valspar Championship, a T-7 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a T-9 in the WGC-Bell Technologies Match Play. Since his game was trending, Reed didn’t need to hit many balls when he returned to Augusta the following week. In fact, he only played Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9 on Monday night of Masters week, and nine holes per day on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Sticking to the plan is something he struggles with all the time,” Gregory said. “Yet he was disciplined, no matter whether he had a three-shot lead, or tied for a brief time. He’d struggled in the past of deviating from the plan trying to make birdies, trying to force it, but every day, I’d hear him saying ‘patience.’”
Gregory thought Reed was best after taking the lead on Friday night and again in his post-round interview on Saturday, when he kept reiterating the same words about following his game plan. What it taught Reed is that he doesn’t have to be a hero to win golf tournaments, that the percentages and the angles do matter in playing shots and golf holes, that 30 feet away from the cup can be considered a good shot at Augusta National.
Knowing that Reed has expressed his feelings about winning the Grand Slam in 2018, Kirk confirmed the same preparation will probably be adopted for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Gregory wouldn’t be surprised if Carnoustie (Open Championship) and Bellerive (PGA) get the same treatment.
“Now that he’s realized,” said Gregory, “how to become an elite player and how to win majors.”