Springfield, N.J.—Adam Scott looks like a movie star, Dustin Johnson moves like an NBA shooting guard and Patrick Reed? Well, he’s a dead ringer for the Elf on the Shelf. There is perpetually a glint of mischief in his eye, and always something mysterious lurking beneath his boyish grin. Reed’s career is defined by tension and contradictions: he’s a lone wolf who plays his best in team events; he loves to stir the pot but craves acceptance; he looks like a ball basher but is a scrambler at heart.
Like a certain elf, Reed began this PGA Championship by making an almighty mess, playing the first six holes in four over par as he struggled to, in his words, keep his driver “on the planet.” In truth, he’s had issues with his driver most of the year; at Congressional he smashed one up on the tee box for misbehaving. But on Thursday at Baltusrol, Reed battled back to shoot an even-par 70 and then rode that momentum into his 8:10 tee time on Friday. Wielding a new, lighter driver, he made seven birdies and signed for a 65, the low round of the morning wave. He put an exclamation point on the round on his final hole, stuffing a 6-iron from 197 yards to within inches for a walk-off birdie, which he described thusly: “I couldn’t really see where I ended up or where it landed. So I just thought it might have been on the green because not a single person clapped. So I walk up there and I realize it’s a foot [away] and I was just like, OK, I guess the rest of the field has been hitting it inside a foot all day.”
This was vintage Reed: self-aggrandizing and funny, with a little edge. His troubles fitting in at two college programs and his estrangement from his own family has been well documented, including here. And so he exudes a chronic wariness when dealing with the press. “I believe in myself,” Reed said after his round. “I play golf. I am who I am. It comes down to how you all portray me, not how I portray myself, because I didn’t write the article. At the end of the day, all I can do is play golf and be who I am, and hopefully [reporters] will write the good ones.”
Much of the mojo swirling around Reed stems from his infamous comment at Doral in 2014 when he said he deserved to be considered a top-5 player in the world. He had a good point—he had just won for the third time in the span of seven months—but the victories have dried up over the last year and a half. Reed is third on Tour in strokes gained around the green but inconsistencies in his long-game held him back. Yet he fights so hard for every stroke he is still ninth on the money list, on the strength of nine top-10 finishes.
“He’s really close to putting it all together,” says Reed’s caddie Kessler Karin. “It’s just little things here and there, maybe nine holes out of 72 where something slips. You tally it up at the end of the week and it’s the difference between winning and coming very close.”
Reed’s winless year and a half has coincided with growth spurts from contemporaries like Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. I asked him if it has been frustrating to get left behind and his perma-grin got a little tight. “Not really,” he said. “I mean, I’m playing great. I’ve got a lot of top-10s. I’ve just had my best finish in a major so far, and I’ve only been on Tour for three years. Everyone acts like I’ve been on Tour for 15, 20 years. I’m only 25.”
Reed’s 12th-place finish at the Open Championship included an opening 66 but he went backward from there. Yet while some of the game’s top players have look worn-out at Baltusrol—sayonara, Dustin—Reed is energized not only by his fine play but what is on the horizon. No player in men’s golf is more excited about the Olympics than Reed, and he spent much of Friday bantering with the boisterous Joisey crowd about the upcoming Ryder Cup. (Reed is 11th on the list but if he fails to qualify would be a good bet for a captain’s pick based on his macho, crowd-shushing debut in 2014.) Rio and Hazeltine are two excellent opportunities for Reed to win over fans who remain ambivalent, but this weekend he will be playing for himself, not his country. In the last quarter century only five other players besides Reed have won four Tour events before turning 25, and all need no last name: Tiger, Phil, Rory, Jordan and Sergio. This PGA Championship is an excellent opportunity for Reed to remind the golf world how good he is. You can be sure that the man himself hasn’t forgotten.