#AskAlan: Is Patrick Reed the first true villain in golf history?

October 5, 2018

Once more unto the breach…

Why were Europeans so obsessed with your article from last year? Don’t you think it was kind of bizarre how angry people got? -@ShaneMason

Yes and no. Nobody likes a cocksure American and I spent a year and more stirring the pot on Twitter. Maybe it’s as simple as one tweet I received: “You have a very punchable face.”

How is it possible that players from a bunch of separate countries with their own distinct culture can come together every other year with infinitely more esprit de corps and team work than the Americans? #AskAlan -@RonVyse

In happens not in spite of but because of these disparate backgrounds. I’ve talked to Azinger about this — one of his inspirations for the ballyhooed pod system was the demographics of the European team, where the tight, small-group dynamics were organic. The Spaniards (think Seve and Ollie) come up together, share a common language and culture and have been playing practice rounds together forever, so they made for a natural Ryder Cup pairing. Same with the English, and the Irish, and the Swedes, etc. And all of the players were bonded together due to the chumminess of the European tour, in which guys tended to stay together in the same hotels and gather at the same watering holes, much more so than the misanthropes on the U.S. tour. Even as more of the top players have decamped for the U.S. the culture of the European teams has been well ingrained and preserved by the old-timers. Then you have the fact that for decades the European golf community has defined itself through the Ryder Cup. It has become more important to the self-identity of the players and the tour than major championships or World Ranking points, whereas the rugged individualists from the U.S. will always consider the trophies they’ve won on their own to be paramount. Bottom line, for the Americans it is a sporting event, for the Europeans it is a holy war.

Since the Ryder Cup obviously means less to the American players (especially overseas), wouldn’t it make sense for Tiger to choose fiery, but still accurate guys for his picks in Italy? Even if they’re 14th in points. -Chad (@KennyDaGambler)

I like how you’ve already given the 2022 captaincy to Signore Woods. It could certainly happen, paving the way for Phil to be the captain two years later at Bethpage. But to the question at hand — @Tyler_Domino asked something very similar — what this Cup laid bare was the passion deficit. The Euros played with their heart on their sleeves but, with the exception of JT, Spieth and Webb, the Americans looked like they were on the way to a missed cut at the Greater Hartford Open. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon: DJ is always somnolent, Koepka and Rickie and Big Tony are low-key personalities who seem determined to stay in character no matter what. Who knows where Reed’s head is going to be in future Ryder Cups? So I think from this point forward the number one criteria for captain’s picks has to be the player’s mental and emotional makeup. Give me spicy personalities like Pat Perez, Billy Horschel, Brian Harman, Kevin Kisner, Daniel Berger and Keegan Bradley, or fun characters like Harold Varner, Charley Hoffman, and James Hahn. You know, guys who would actually be fun to play with, and who will bring some emotion. More upsetting than the U.S.’s shoddy play in Paris was how detached they seemed. That has to change.

The idea that Europeans want it more is concerning and hard to explain.

Who gets Joey D. in the divorce? -@BeeWood

Coming out of Shinnecock I wrote something about how the Dustin-Brooks relationship could get complicated, given how incestuous their lives are with a shared a trainer (Joey Diovisalvi), management company and hometown. I was thinking back to the Rory-Westy dynamic from years earlier, when they were both in Chubby Chandler’s stable. Westwood was the older, more established star but as McIlroy began winning majors he got tired of still being treated like a junior partner. The ensuing breakup was not pretty. We’ll see where Brooks and Dustin go from here, but it’s worth noting that Koepka still has a chip on his shoulder — walking into the U.S. team press conference on Sunday night he was audibly grousing that no reporters were going to ask him a question, which turned out to be prophetic.

Furyk: pass or fail? #AskAlan -@GregFlat9

Poor Furyk. He devoted two years of his life for *this*? After the summer Tiger Woods had, any other captain would have picked him, too. How could Furyk have known Woods would be so exhausted/apathetic rolling into Paris straight from one of the most emotional victories of his career? (Of course, it was madness to send Tiger out for a second match on Saturday, guaranteeing another U.S. loss and that Tiger would have absolutely nothing left for singles.) Le National wasn’t a great fit for Phil Mickelson’s game but any other captain would have picked him, too; Lefty won a WGC this year and had a bunch of solid finishes throughout the summer. How could Furyk have known this Hall of Famer’s game would go in the toilet in the weeks before the Cup? (Of course, given how bad Phil was hitting it in the practice rounds it was insanity to send him out in alternate shot.)

Tony Finau was the most second-guessable captain’s pick but he came through with two big points. Webb-Bubba was an awful choice in Friday foursomes, helping Europe to flip the momentum of this entire Cup, but they came back with a strong victory the next day, so who knows? Breaking up some very successful Ryder Cup pairings seemed like folly but, given what we now know about the poisonous team chemistry, Furyk was in a really tough spot. Still, his handling of Reed deserves scrutiny. The man formerly known as Captain America is, quite frankly, a weird dude. I don’t blame Jordan Spieth for wanting a new partner, especially an old friend like Justin Thomas. But Reed could also have been one of the U.S.’s biggest weapons. Given the dysfunctional relationships that define his college career and family life, Reed needed special care, and Furyk should have gone to Spieth and insisted that their partnership remain intact. Given no other option, Spieth would have embraced the challenge. Thomas has the game and personality to partner with anyone and he could have carried Woods deeper into some of those matches, perhaps awakening Tiger’s dormant competitive spirit. But the captain didn’t make the tough call when it came to Reed-Spieth and it had a cascading effect that fractured the team. Poor Furyk was dealt a bad hand, but in the pass-fail duality, he gets the latter.

Is TommyLad now the BPWOM (best without a major)? Tough to still tout Rickie over him after this past year. -Ryan (@Leach24)

It’s a tough call — Fleetwood is clearly ascendant and has shown a flair for the dramatic, but he’s only been a world-class player for the last two seasons. Rickie has spent the better part of a decade as part of the conversation, going back to his T5 at the 2011 Open Championship, but it’s hard not to feel like he’s plateaued. Part of earning that dreaded title is having your heart broken in a handful of a majors. Tommy has knocked on the door at the last two U.S. Opens but still doesn’t carry any scar tissue. Rickie has three top-5s in the majors over the last two years, and five previous. Who is going to have a bigger career? I think Fleetwood is a pretty easy answer. Who carries a heavier burden right now? I’d say it’s still Rickie.

Did the course conditions suck the drama and excitement from the Ryder Cup? Too many shots from the rough, too many missed shots and too many layups translated into too many boring moments. Only seven matches made it to number 18 and most of those were well after the U.S. was cooked. -@GlenBleske

Reader @YCochenne asked what I didn’t like about Le National and this question cuts to the heart of it: the course led to a constrained, proscribed style of golf. That the Europeans were far more adroit in executing the shots is not in dispute; they won the Cup fair and square. But it really wasn’t that fun to watch from an artistic standpoint. Take the first hole. Part of the reason for the subdued atmosphere in the absurdly large grandstand was because off the tee every player mindlessly laid-up to the same spot with an iron or hybrid. It would’ve been a thrilling hole if there was more fairway up near the green, and players could have taken on the risk of trying to smash a driver near or onto the putting surface. But there was nowhere to hit it, so there was no decision to make. Number 15 was similar in design. That late in the match it would have been cool to present the players with a substantial risk-reward option, but again, the course design dictated only one play: layup, wedge, yawn. Add in the hack-out rough, which destroys shotmaking while eliminating exciting recovery shots, and the sad fact that many players were hitting iron off the tee on two of the par-5s, and the golf was quite monotonous. I will say that Le National was a fantastic spectating venue with great sightlines, and with well thought-out infrastructure it seamlessly accommodated the big crowds. It’s easy to imagine another Ryder Cup being played there in the future. Le sigh.

Is Patrick Reed the first true villain in golf? Tiger was equally loved and hated in his prime. Vijay had legal troubles. Has there ever been a more polarizing figure in the game? Sorry for the two-parter! #AskAlan -Josh (@J_Decker84)

The thing about most good villains is there is something likable and/or charismatic about them. I’m not sure that applies to Reed. For many fans his primary redeeming quality was Ryder Cup heroics and now that goodwill has been blown up in spectacular fashion. I did a big feature on Reed for SI a few years ago and he told me, “I don’t want to be the bad guy. I just want people to realize how passionate and how determined I am and how much love I have for the game of golf.”

It would be fascinating if he morphed into a true antihero who doesn’t care what people think but Reed still has that need to be liked and recognized, so I think that will always keep him from embracing true villainy and keep him in this strange place where golf fans still aren’t sure what to make of him. As for being the most polarizing player in golf, Tiger will always wear that crown, only moreso now that his stirring win was followed immediately by such a pathetic Ryder Cup performance.

Patrick Reed shushes the crowd at the Ryder Cup last week.

Hi Alan, do you think the accident with a Ryder Cup spectator will lead to any changes regarding to attending a match? -@PeteKnot

I hope not. There is really nothing that can be done other than push the ropes farther from the fairway, moving spectators away from play. But that wouldn’t protect them from Phil’s drives. And what makes golf such a great fan experience is the intimacy — it would be a shame to destroy that. People in the crowd regularly get injured from wayward baseballs and hockey pucks, but no one has proposed wholesale changes to those stadiums and arenas. Something about the exploding eyeball at the Ryder Cup has captured the public’s imagination. It was a horrible but freakish accident. Unfortunately, attending certain sporting events comes with a tiny bit of risk, and that’s the bargain we make to get to experience the excitement of being there.

Doesn’t all this infighting in the US team suggest your take on the togetherness of the US team going forward is completely wrong? -Steve (@C_Sscott)


Tell me what you saw. Was Tiger’s play as bad as it looked, or did he simply get no help from Reed & DeChambeau? #askalan -Steve (@simglass40)


Who do you think will win the next four #RyderCups and why? #AskAlan –David (@dadbegg)

The U.S. will have a stronger collection of players in 2020 and especially in 2022 and beyond, but as we just saw yet again, Europe has a special sauce that transcends everything else. So I’m getting out of the prediction game!

I just have one question: WTF happened? -David (@dmalament)

When you figure it out, please let me know.