KAWAGOE, Japan — It felt so incredibly on-brand that Patrick Reed was waiting in the wings when Bryson DeChambeau tested positive for Covid-19. Captain America, of course, would gladly represent Team USA at the Olympics.
He adores that special moniker, he loves his country and he takes a lot of pride in being a Team USA golfer. He literally called it “a duty of mine” to make the trip.
This militaristic mentality can seem disingenuous to some, perhaps a facade built around an otherwise turbulent golf image. But Reed’s affection for the Stars and Stripes, while most visual in his successes at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, is actually derived closer to home.
“My brother-in-law was a machine-gunner in the Korangal Valley, 10th Mountain Division,” Reed said as we walked in during a first-round weather delay Thursday. “The stories he’s told me? Man. It’s so crazy because you know them. They’re family.”
Dan Karain, from Houston, was indeed a machine-gunner in the U.S. Army, who served in the Korangal Valley, in Afghanistan, an area U.S. troops have called the “Valley of Death.” A pair of documentaries have been made about what happened there and the complications soldiers have faced after their service. When the latter of the two docs, Korengal, was released, its organizers went on a tour across America. During their stop in Houston, Karain was a guest speaker.
Whatever he shared there and whatever he has shared privately with Reed has clearly stuck with the golfer. Reed has often had “10th Mountain” inscribed in red, white and blue on the back of his putters, with its corresponding U.S. Army symbol on the face of the club. “Anytime you’re asked to play for your country, I think you have to do it,” Reed continued. He’s repeated those words constantly throughout his career, but the use of you hits a little harder now. If either Patrick Cantlay or Brooks Koepka showed a little more HOO-RAH, Reed’s last-minute boondoggle would have never happened. But both passed on the opportunity to be an alternate and Reed slid in, happily, just like he did in 2016.
Reed first heard he could play from Andy Levinson, executive director of USA Golf, on Saturday evening in the United States, Sunday morning in Japan. “When I called him to see if he wanted to play,” Levinson said, “I told him you’re not going to be able to practice. He said, ‘Yep, I’ll do it.’” The invite came just after his third round at the 3M Open in Minnesota, around 6 a.m. Japan time, almost exactly 96 hours before the first round of the Olympics.
For anyone to travel to Japan right now — you, me, Patrick Reed or a foreign diplomat — multiple negative PCR tests are required and certified results must be approved by the Japanese government. All tests must take place inside of 96 hours before departing for Tokyo, so there’s some scheduling gymnastics to manage. Reed went straight from TPC Twin Cities to a local hospital for test No. 1.
He played his final round Sunday in Blaine, Minn., was tested again and then took a private flight back to Houston. Reed was tested for a third time Monday, filed an Activity Plan to the Japanese government, and got about 35 minutes of sleep that night, he said, worried that some piece of paperwork had been forgotten. His commercial flight left Texas Tuesday morning and landed in Japan early afternoon Wednesday, but it wasn’t until around 5 p.m. that Reed actually set foot on the grounds at Kasumigaseki Country Club. Most of the field was long gone and discussing dinner plans. Reed drove a golf cart around the course for a few hours, analyzing the final three holes, as he said, in the darkness.
When Shane Lowry met him on the putting green Thursday morning, Lowry asked the question everyone’s been thinking: “How’s your sleep?”
“It went. It came and went.”
“Follow me,” Lowry said with a smile. “I’ll show you where to go, and I’ll show you where to not go.”
With just a line or two written for each hole in his yardage book, Reed leaned in to check out what Tommy Fleetwood’s caddie, Ian Finnis, had sketched out for the 1st hole. In that big, new Team USA bag, there was no pencil, so he had to borrow one. “That’s my lucky one,” Finnis said, handing it over. Reed used it the rest of the day, finally taking notes on how the course actually played for him. He’s staying in the same hotel as teammates Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, but Reed said their perception of the course is really no help to him. Thomas hits it 20 yards farther, he said, and Morikawa hits fades. Reed hits draws.
What he had going for him was an easy golf course, possibly the easiest Tour course the pros will see this year. Also, a thunderstorm blew in just after Reed left the course Wednesday night, softening up the track. He plays a game with average distance, but loves that punchy 3-wood that shoots out low and runs for days, even on the wet grounds. Ten fairways, two sand saves and five birdies added up to a three-under 68, five off the lead.
Unsurprisingly, he was asked about it after his round, asked by players in the clubhouse, asked by others on the practice green and asked by me during the weather delay. How are you handling this, man? His answer has never wavered.
“If I had to land this morning and head straight to the tee,” he said, “I would have done it.”