Tour Confidential: Is Patrick Reed a top-five player in the world?

February 24, 2020

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Patrick Reed’s victory amid a controversial week, Rory McIlroy’s comments about the Premier Golf League, the life of LPGA legend Mickey Wright and more.

1. After a week during which scathing remarks from both Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis put Patrick Reed back under the white-hot spotlight, Reed fired back with his clubs, shooting a final-round 67 at the WGC-Mexico to win by one. The victory was Reed’s eighth PGA Tour title and second WGC, and on Sunday he outplayed three of the top four players in the world. The victory doesn’t quite bump Reed into the top five in the World Ranking (he’s now 8th) but if you were compiling your own ranking of the top five players in the world, would Reed make your list?

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Sigh. Allow me to kick things off in support of Team Reed: He’s finished in the top six in four of his last six PGA Tour starts. He’s finished in the top 25 in 17 of his last 21 Tour starts (10 top 10s in that span). He’s on a heater AND he’s consistent AND he plays a lot. I’d put Reed somewhere behind Misters McIlroy, Rahm, Koepka and Thomas. Who comes fifth? It’s not necessarily Dustin Johnson. You could make a strong case that Tiger Woods belongs in there, though he’s almost a category of his own. But throw Johnson in a pool with Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Reed and I’d listen to an argument for fifth-best in the world. Reed’s probably playing the best golf of his life.

Luke Kerr-Dineen, instruction editor (@LukeKerrDineen): No, because he’s not in the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking. Reed is quite streaky, which gives me pause, but credit where it’s due: eight Tour wins including a Masters speaks to his immense quality. And when he’s got something to prove, he only rises to the challenge even more.

Jonathan Wall, equipment editor (@jonathanrwall): If we’re talking at the present moment? Sure. He won during the playoffs and has been fairly consistent since then. Winning in Mexico makes it difficult to keep him out of the discussion at this point. I’m in agreement that Reed can be streaky, but when he’s groovin’, I think he’s a worthy No. 5 behind Rory, Brooks, Rahmbo and JT.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Is it really a thing to be a top-five player? I don’t think so, but Reed does, going back to his win at Doral in 2014, when he said he considered himself a top-five player, even if the official lists showed otherwise. The question itself is a triumph of marketing, that we even care to debate it. It feeds into FedEx Cup points fever, I suppose. I’ll say this: if you were going to make a five-man team and play for something meaningful, like your mortgage, it would be hard to leave Reed off the squad, even though you might want to.

Patrick Reed made three straight birdies late to jump ahead of Bryson DeChambeau.
Patrick Reed made three straight birdies late to jump ahead of Bryson DeChambeau.
Getty Images

2. Seemingly every time Reed’s character comes under fire — Koepka told SiriusXM that Reed built “sand castles” at the Hero World Challenge, while Kostis alleged on the No Laying Up podcast that he witnessed Reed improve his lie at least four times at Tour events — he seems to thrive between the ropes. Is there another golfer in modern Tour history who has more effectively turned negative energy into positive results? (Bonus points if you can also explain how Reed does it.)

Dethier: No, nobody’s close. Nobody else on Tour experiences the same level of vitriol, and most guys tend to struggle under criticism. Rory McIlroy responded with strong play when his personal life was in turmoil after calling off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, but that felt like compartmentalization — Reed truly feels like he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. I have no idea how he does it, but it’s very real.

Kerr-Dineen: It’s not quite the same, because there was never as much negative energy his way, but I’d agree Rory tends to play his best golf when he’s in alpha dog, something-to-prove mode. It’s not a coincidence he won his last majors the year he called off his engagement and played his best golf since at the 2016 Ryder Cup, when he seemingly took on the entire crowd himself. Honorable mention to Brooks, who seems to need to have a chip on his shoulder in order to play well.

Wall: Luke stole my thunder. I think Brooks does a damn good job at channeling negative chatter into silverware on the course. But it’s still nowhere close to the heat Reed takes. No clue how he manages to raise his game when so many are in the other corner, hoping he stumbles down the stretch. Credit where credit is due. To be able to block out the negativity and still perform is a rare trait few possess.

Bamberger: Tiger, by miles. He turned his father’s hurt — the racism his father lived with — and turned it into I’ll-show-you. That’s turning a negative into a positive. What Reed seems to do comes from a totally different place, but the basic concept is the same. That we-we-we thing is in act, one Tiger didn’t even pretend to play in his prime. They are both effective by saying, from some deep place, it’s me against the world.

3. Kostis covered plenty of other ground on the podcast beyond Reed, including the reasons why he says CBS didn’t renew his contract and the many factors that he says hinder CBS when it’s broadcasting a golf tournament. Which part of the interview most surprised you?

Dethier: I thought it was extremely interesting when Kostis said Harold Varner III’s infamous chunk off No. 10 at Riviera wasn’t shown because they didn’t have enough cameras there and likely had to borrow from the Tour’s feed when they eventually played it back. I should know better, because I was literally walking with those groups, but in my mind Big Brother is literally always watching. Not the case.

Kerr-Dineen: Honestly, just his willingness to throw everybody at CBS under the bus. I understand that he’s angry, but to write-off so many good, hard-working people at CBS who are trying to put out a good product every week, with a blanket “they don’t care” jibe isn’t fair.

Wall: The fact that he basically poured an entire can of gasoline on the bridge and let it burn. I knew he was frustrated with the way things ended with CBS, but I didn’t expect him to go scorched earth and let it rip on a major golf podcast.

Bamberger: Well said, Jonathan. It was like he had decades’ worth of frustration coming out in one interview.

4. Bryson DeChambeau said months ago he was planning to bulk up and start hitting the ball much farther. His plan is starting to come to fruition. DeChambeau led the field in driving distance at the WGC-Mexico Championship (314.5 yards) and closed with a 65, momentarily leading until Reed caught him. Still, his solo second is his best finish since he won in November 2018. Is this evidence that a beefed-up Bryson is a better Bryson, or are you still not sold?

Dethier: Yeah, he’s been really good the last two weeks. Gaining significant distance in a matter of months is legitimately impressive, especially because he’s hitting it pretty straight, too (fourth in strokes gained off the tee this week). If he keeps putting like he did this week, I expect he’ll find his way back inside the top 10. Things still short-circuit around the greens from time to time, though.

Kerr-Dineen: People love to rag on Bryson’s methods for being different. What they conveniently forget is that, unconventional as they may be, they almost always work. He crafted a set of single-length irons and won the U.S. Am and NCAAs. He switched his putting style and he became a Tour winner and jumped from 145th in strokes gained putting to 32nd. Now he’s bulked up. Laugh all you want, but I reckon there’s a major on its way to Bryson very soon. There’s always a method behind his madness.

Wall: Literally everyone was bombing it in Mexico. I’m not going to disagree that more length could be beneficial, but I’m more concerned with the way he finished. That was a nervy few holes for someone who already has five Tour wins. It’s natural to stumble down the stretch at times, but I kind of figured he had things figured out on Sunday. What changed? That’s what I want to know.

Bamberger: Not sold because bigger-yet Bryson hasn’t won yet but itty-bitty Bryson did. I admire that he’s thinking for himself. I do think people pretty much have a natural healthy weight and for Bryson to add 20-ish pounds as he has seems unnatural, but it’s his life, his career, his bank account, his wins list.

5. Rory McIlroy said last week that he’s out on the idea of the proposed Premier Golf League. “The more I’ve thought about it, the more I don’t like it,” he said. “The one thing as a professional golfer in my position that I value is the fact that I have autonomy and freedom over everything that I do.” He added that he wants to be “on the right side of history.” In response, the league’s CEO, Andy Gardiner, said on Rick Sheils’ podcast, “We all want to be on the right side of history, and that’s what we spent the last six years hoping we might become.” How much does not having McIlroy’s buy-in damage the PGL’s prospects?

Dethier: It damages the league’s prospects big time. When Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka went to play in the Saudi International, it’s not like that event suddenly became a massive draw. We were still dialed in on the Waste Management that same week, despite fewer big-ticket stars. Point being, they need a LOT to overpower the current Tour infrastructure, including its most popular non-Tiger superstar. I don’t see this happening, but it’ll continue to be interesting to watch it play out.

Kerr-Dineen: Damage it? Undoubtedly. Kill it? No chance. It’s unreasonable to expect the PGL — if it ever happens — to run the table on luring golf’s best players over to its side. All they need is a few big fish to pique people’s interest.

Wall: I think it’s a massive blow. This league doesn’t work without the megastars. If Rory is cold to the idea, I can’t imagine others are going to be jumping at the chance. There are far too many question marks at the moment.

Bamberger: Absolutely agree with Jonathan again. Rory’s young, he’s international, he’ll be playing with house money for the rest of his life, his logic is impeccable: he doesn’t want to be told when and where to play.

Mickey lived her life on her own terms and got to 85, likely without a regret, or not many.

6. LPGA legend Mickey Wright died on Monday. She was 85. What’s the most impressive thing you learned about the 82-time LPGA winner in the last week that you didn’t know before?

Dethier: I wrote about this last week, but Wright played Hogan Park a few days after some of the best male amateurs in Texas, whose low scores were 69. The course record was 66. From the same tees, she shot 62, then birdied the first two holes of a playoff to win after starting the day 10 shots back. That’s tough to top.

Kerr-Dineen: How ahead of her time, technically, her golf swing was. It’s a beautiful move; complete with power and poetry. It’s an aspirational move in any era. RIP.

Wall: That she has maybe the most technically sound swing I’ve seen. I don’t think I’d ever seen footage of Wright striping it before this week. Now I know why Ben Hogan called it the best swing he’s ever seen. No way I’m disagreeing with the Hawk.

Bamberger: She smoked, didn’t like doctors, would drive from Florida to Texas to see a dentist. Exercise for her was getting that Wall Street Journal off the driveway. She cooked big meals, enjoyed wine with dinner, had a thousand jokes in her joke file. Mickey lived her life on her own terms and got to 85, likely without a regret, or not many. I had lost track of her age until I read her AP obit. Eighty-five — that’s pretty damn good. Arnold was 87. Hogan was 84. She about split the difference. There’s your ultimate threesome of 20th-century American pros, in the RIP Pro-Am.

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