Give Patrick Reed credit for his resiliency. He has refused to cower in the wake of all the clamor surrounding him, and he put himself right there again at the Sentry Tournament of Champions before losing in a playoff to Justin Thomas.
But make no mistake, the noise is not going away.
If Reed could be heckled with a “cheater” taunt a moment after hitting his putt on the third extra playoff hole at sleepy Kapalua, imagine the commotion in a few months at, say, the U.S. Open in New York.
If a former player, Chris DiMarco, is calling you out on Twitter (the now-deleted “Just say you cheated and got beat!”), you know things are going to be rough.
And if television analyst Paul Azinger makes a point to say while Reed is dealing with a rules issue during the third round at the Tournament of Champions that he’ll always have to be careful because “cameras will be on him like a hawk” … well, the “cheating” charge will continue to dog him.
Reed had a shaky Presidents Cup. He went 1-3 and his caddie, Kessler Karain, was not allowed carry the bag in final-day singles after an altercation a day earlier with a fan. And all this came after Reed’s Hero World Challenge rules fiasco during the third round in the Bahamas last month when he was penalized 2 shots for improving his line of play in a waste area. Television replays were not kind, and nor has been the reaction to the incident.
Not once, but twice, Reed appeared to swipe sand from behind his ball when he took practice swings in the waste area. Reed maintained in interviews afterward that replays did not show a big space between his club and the ball, and that the video was misleading.
At the very least, it looked bad for Reed. Even his biggest supporters would have to admit that regardless of intent, the appearance was awful. Reed doubling down on it and showing no contrition surely did not help.
Nor did the fact that no rebuke from the PGA Tour — at least not publicly — has been forthcoming.
In the aftermath of the rules violation, the tour’s rules official who handled the ruling, Slugger White, said Reed was “a gentleman” in discussing the situation. And on Sunday in Hawaii, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addressed a question in which he was asked if Reed should have faced further punishment.
“Golf is a game of honor and integrity, and you’ve heard from Patrick,” Monahan said in comments reported by Golf Digest. “I’ve had an opportunity to talk to Patrick at length when he says that [he] did not intentionally improve [his] lie. As you go back to that moment, and the conversation that he had with Slugger, and the fact that a violation was applied and he agreed to it, and they signed his card and moved on. To me that was the end of the matter.”
Of course, Monahan and the PGA Tour want it to end. The integrity of one of the tour’s members being questioned is not great for business. Cheating allegations in golf always come with a high price. But as we’ve seen, this is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
So what is Reed to do?
A public mea culpa would help. Acknowledge that a mistake was made, apologize, and do your best to move on.
So far, Reed has elected to try to steer clear of the issue. He shot a low final round to get into a playoff, had a great chance to win and ultimately fell short — then did an interview afterward that he could have easily declined — and is now ranked 11th in the world.
Playing well is great, but it appears that is not going to be enough.
The Olympic chase
The first tournament of the new year also offered an example of just how tight the fight will be for one of the four spots for Americans in the Olympic golf tournament this summer in Tokyo.
Thomas’ victory further solidified his spot among the top Americans along with Brooks Koepka. Patrick Cantlay‘s fourth-place finish pushed him ahead of Tiger Woods in the world ranking to sixth and to fourth among the Americans. And while runner-up Xander Schauffele remains behind Woods (seventh) in the world ranking at eighth, he has moved ahead of the reigning Masters champion in the Olympic projection.
The projection for the Olympics begins with the 2018 Quicken Loans National tournament and will conclude on June 22, following the U.S. Open. So it doesn’t exactly mirror the current ranking — tournaments prior to the 2018 Quicken Loans still carry weight in the Official World Golf Ranking but will gradually drop off.
In the current projection, Thomas, Koepka, Schauffele and Cantlay hold down the top four spots, with Woods eighth, but just barely behind fifth-place Dustin Johnson. The ranking formula is complicated and will also be impacted by the tournament minimum divisor of 40 — which Woods will not make. In the current OWGR, Woods is the fifth American.
The Olympic tournament will take 60 players, with two per country but up to four if players are ranked among the top 15. There are currently 10 Americans in the top 15, and with three major championships, the Players Championship and two World Golf Championship events still to be played, the situation can change frequently.
For Woods, it is going to require a high level of play through the U.S. Open. Not necessarily a win, but several top-5s at the very least.
Koepka, the top-ranked player in the world, has not played competitive golf since withdrawing at the CJ Cup in South Korea in October during the second round due to aggravating a knee injury. Koepka had stem cell treatment on the knee following the Tour Championship, and he pronounced himself good to go at the Shriners Hospital for Children tournament in Las Vegas, where he missed the cut.
He was scheduled to play the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and withdrew, then withdrew just weeks before the Presidents Cup. His agent said he will return next week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, a European Tour event.
How he fares will be interesting to see. The last time Koepka returned from a lengthy injury — two years ago following a wrist problem that kept him out for nearly four months — he went on an impressive run that saw him win two major championships, a total he has since increased to four.
It is unclear when Koepka will make his first 2020 start on the PGA Tour. He is also scheduled to play the Saudi International event on the European Tour at the end of the month.
The Thomas odyssey
Justin Thomas had the Sentry Tournament of Champions seemingly won. Then, with two bogeys in his final three holes, it seemed lost. And then in a playoff, Reed was poised to win before Thomas ultimately won.
It was a strange victory for Thomas, who would have rued letting that one get away and was still stunned in the aftermath that he didn’t lose.
But there was an eight-hole stretch on Sunday where Thomas made six birdies, showing just how much game he has in varying conditions. That he almost let it get away was odd but part of golf.
And how he has won three of his past seven starts.
Thomas, 26, has won 12 times on the PGA Tour and passed his buddy Jordan Spieth in victories. At the end of 2017, Spieth had 11 victories to seven for Thomas, who is now ranked fourth in the world.
“I feel like I’ll really be able to take a lot from this once I figure out whatever it might be,” a stunned Thomas said afterward.
His 12 victories are the most for any player in his 20s on the PGA Tour.
“Personally, it’s not an accomplishment getting to 12; it’s an accomplishment winning today,” Thomas said. “But I’ll have fun with my family and celebrate and [this] week we try to get to 13.”
Thomas is in the field for the first full-field event of 2020, the Sony Open.