What actually happened with Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy? Here’s a forensic breakdown

Rory McIlroy Patrick Reed

What happened with Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed?


On Tuesday, a curious news story broke that Patrick Reed had “flicked a tee” in Rory McIlroy’s direction in the practice area at the Dubai Desert Classic. My first thought was how on earth is that a story? But my second thought was what on earth happened?! Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

Still, it wasn’t until video emerged on Wednesday that we saw the sort of ghastly driving-range brawl that can only happen in a sport as vicious as golf.

We got some context as the day went on. McIlroy was asked about Reed. Reed was asked about McIlroy. At first, it seemed like a nothing-story. But their responses revealed a petty exchange with more layers than a Ryder Cup assistant captain on a chilly October morning. So what on earth happened? Let’s break it all down.

I’ll do my best to ask the questions — and answer ’em, too.

How did we hear about this to begin with?!

It took some wading through the tangled golf internet (and the deluge of Reed-Rory stories) to even track back to the original article from Ten Golf, which described a “tense” scene. The first article that I’d seen on Tuesday was from the Independent describing Reed tossing a tee in McIlroy’s direction “in disgust.” That certainly caught my attention.

So…did Reed toss a tee at Rory?

Yeah, sort of. He tossed a tee in his direction. I wouldn’t say “at” McIlroy.

Was it “in disgust?”

Not how I’d describe it.

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How would you describe it?

Good question. I’d start by boiling it down to what we can actually see: Patrick Reed went up to greet Rory McIlroy on the driving range while McIlroy was working with his coach Michael Bannon and his caddie Harry Diamond. This can be a tricky thing to do — some people like to shoot the breeze on the range, while others hate being interrupted — but for pros, it’s usually no biggie. Usually.

Anyway, Reed approached Diamond first and got a handshake. McIlroy, who was crouching by his Trackman, didn’t ever really look up. That seemed intentional. After an awkward moment, Reed walked away. And as he walked away, he tossed a tee back toward McIlroy.

Dang. A lot to unpack there. Wait, have Rory and Reed always had beef?!

Honestly? Not really! Everyone will point to their epic match at Hazeltine on Sunday of the 2016 Ryder Cup, where the two were trading fist pumps and shushes. But that was all in good fun, really. They seemed to have a friendly relationship in the years that followed, and when Reed would find himself in the spotlight for unfortunate reasons McIlroy would generally go out of his way to defend him, as Brendan Porath illustrates below.

But of late, yeah, things have probably gotten a bit more awkward, what with Reed leaving for LIV and suing a significant portion of the golfing community.

Got it. So how’d Rory describe the way things went down?

Wednesday was McIlroy’s media day, so he was scheduled to do press even before the Dubai Tee Party became a thing. At first, McIlroy was dismissive of the story. When he was asked what happened with Reed, his first answer was “nothing.” But then he continued on…

“Patrick came up to say hello and I didn’t really want him to. From my recollection, that was it. I didn’t see a tee. I didn’t feel a tee. Obviously, someone else saw that. But it’s definitely a storm in a teacup. I can’t believe it’s actually turned into a story. Yeah, it’s nothing.”

A storm in a teacup. I’m gonna use that. But it’s not really nothing, is it? There’s clearly more to the story.

Totally! If two guys who used to be friendly and are now on opposite sides of a golfing chasm get into a weird range exchange, it kinda speaks to something larger. Luckily, McIlroy couldn’t resist going a little deeper on why he gave the cold shoulder.

“Yeah, I was subpoenaed by his lawyer on Christmas Eve,” he explained. “So of course, trying to have a nice time with my family and someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you’re not going to take that well.

“So again, I’m living in reality, I don’t know where he’s living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t expect a hello or a handshake.”

Wait. Reed’s suing Rory?!

No, but I see how you would have gotten there — especially given it feels like Reed’s suing everybody these days — but the devil’s in the details here. McIlroy was served on behalf of Reed’s lawyer, Larry Klayman, but not for one of Reed’s personal suits. This was Klayman vs. the PGA Tour. Still, it’s clear that McIlroy isn’t a huge Klayman fan and he associates Klayman with Reed. As a result, I don’t think he and Reed will be splitting a summer house anytime soon.

He really got served on Christmas Eve?

Sure did! At his house at 3:50 p.m. on 12/24, according to this affidavit — which was originally posted by Klayman himself.

’tis the season. Anybody else get subpoenaed on Christmas Eve?

Funny you should ask. Davis Love III received his subpoena from Klayman on 12/29. They also tried to subpoena Tiger Woods beginning on Dec. 27 but had…slightly less luck.

Tough guy to track down. Okay, back to Rory. Did he say anything else?

Of course! Once he’d said anything at all about it, follow-ups were inevitable. McIlroy said he hadn’t planned to duck Reed but felt no desire to engage once he’d arrived.

“I was down by my bag and he came up to me, and I was busy working and sort of doing my practice, and I didn’t really feel the need to acknowledge him,” McIlroy explained. “So I didn’t see a tee coming my direction at all, but apparently that’s what happened. And if roles were reversed and I’d have thrown that tee at him, I’d be expecting a lawsuit.”

What then followed was a lengthy, wandering question about whether McIlroy would consider going to “mend bridges” with Reed. He answered with what the transcriber called an “incredulous facial expression,” which is brilliant and accurate. Here’s how that looked:

Oh, yikes, that video! That’s why I keep my questions short. Wait, so what was the deal with the tee, anyway?

Yeah, let’s get to Reed’s side of the story. The Daily Mail reported a series of comments from Reed, who at first pitched his approach as a typical hello.

“Because of the relationship I’ve had with Rory — let’s be honest, we’ve had some great battles at Augusta and other tournaments and our friendships been pretty good up until obviously joining LIV — I walked over there and wished Harry (Diamond, McIlroy’s caddie) Happy New Year and then Rory because it is the first time I have seen them.”

Fair enough. And Diamond did shake his hand, Reed said, but McIlroy “was messing with his Trackman and kind of decided to ignore us. We all know where it came from — being part of LIV.”

Huh. Probably more the Klayman connection than the LIV thing, it sounds like. Wait, but what about the tee?

Getting there! Reed actually did explain why he tossed a tee.

“Since my tees are ‘Team Aces LIV’ tees I flicked him one,” Reed said. “It was kind of a funny shot back. Funny how a small little flick has turned into basically me stabbing him and throwing a tee at him.”

In other words, both McIlroy and Reed agreed that the exchange had been blown out of proportion. Still, neither of them could resist adding fuel to the fire. Check this next quote out:

“But it is one of those things — if you’re going to act like an immature little child then you might as well be treated like one,” Reed said.

Immature little child!” Sheesh.

I know. Fighting words. Reed added that he thought McIlroy was “still bitter,” though that part wasn’t fully explained. And he welcomed the prospect of a grouping with McIlroy on the weekend — though he guessed there wouldn’t be much talking.

“Even if I said hello on the first he won’t say anything,” he said. “I can just be respectful and as much of a gentleman as I can be. His choice if he doesn’t respond.”

Wowee. I guess that’s something to root for. Anything else?!

I dunno. Isn’t that enough for now? I mean, we’re talking about a golf tee here. And a 12-second video. Kind of embarrassing we’ve made it this far.

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