Patrick, What Were You Thinking?
“Paddy, what were you thinking?” I groaned, when news broke that Patrick Reed – a golfer whose alleged past is already as chequered as a Battenberg cake – had been docked two shots for improving his lie in the Bahamas. The venue: the Hero World Challenge. The crime: as above. On the 11th hole of the third round of the tournament, Reed found himself squatting over a plugged lie in a bunker. He squared up to the ball, blasted out and went on his way, seemingly without any problems. But then a slow-motion clip of Reed’s pre-shot routine caught something. More specifically, a plume of sand. When the camera zoomed in yet further, it was discovered that, with each supposed practice swing, Reed was chiselling away at a barrier of sand behind his ball, appearing to remove, with each languid swipe, another cloud of sand between him and a clear lie. The PGA Tour called it “improving his line of play”. Though there have been voices of dissent, many people have called it by a balder term: cheating.
Two obvious points stand out. First, that unless we can transcend the laws of physics and peer directly into Reed's skull, we cannot 100% know if the swipes were deliberate. Second, that, though it pains me to admit it, much of the evidence we have to hand suggests that they were. I’ve copied the clip below so you can watch it. I would now invite you to stop reading this article and to do so.
A closer look at Patrick Reed’s two-stroke penalty during Round 3 of the Hero World Challenge. pic.twitter.com/z2aqkajnYq— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 7, 2019
Have you finished? So, what did you think? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be shocked, angry, incredulous, probably a bit of all three. Again, I stress that there’s no way to tell with 100% certainty that Reed was pushing away that sand mound deliberately, but, for anyone with eyes and a grasp of probability, well, let’s just say the 2018 Masters champion (lest we forget) has explaining to do.
For one thing, he did it not once but twice. Possibly, if just one cloud of sand had gone up, his defence – that it was totally an accident – would be maybe credible – but to swipe a significant plume of sand away from the ball two times in a row? That’s pushing it, man, that’s really pushing it. And then there’s the matter of contact – I’ve been in a bunker, been in many, in fact, and not once, on the rare occasion that I graze a bit of sand with my wedge, have I failed to notice it. Even when the sand is pretty fine, I’ve still clocked it. And dutifully called a penalty upon myself whenever I have. P Reed? Well, his account of the incident is pretty confusing: “It was obviously hitting a bit of sand, though I didn’t feel any drag. But when they brought it up for me [on the TV] I definitely saw it drag and, because of that, it is a two-shot penalty even though I didn’t feel like it would have affected my lie.” So he saw the sand, but didn’t feel any drag? Maybe, fair enough, I guess. But if he saw that he was kicking up sand, why didn’t he put his hand up? Surely Reed must have at least suspected he could have broken a rule?
Weighing in on the incident a few days ago, Rory McIlroy – not, it should be noted, historically a Reed fan – defended the American golfer. If anybody other than Patrick Reed had done it, McIlroy said, “I don’t think it would be a big deal”. He probably has a point. Let’s be honest, if Jack Nicklaus or some other kindly vet had been seen doing this, the Twitterati probably wouldn’t be hounding them so hard. But then again, does either Jack Nicklaus or, say, I don’t know, Bernard Langer, have Reed’s alleged murky history, which includes an accusation of cheating, and theft, from his time on the University of Georgia golf team? And then there was that other video that starting circuiting, which shows Reed doing the sand thing AGAIN. And this is four years ago, in 2015.
Good find here, Patrick Reed at this event in 2015. Again, only one camera angle tho ... pic.twitter.com/iRJwLVot0x— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) December 7, 2019
Whether the sand scoops were intended or not, the ripple effects of Reed’s actions will span out beyond the Bahamas. Most immediately, they will almost certainly impact his reception at this week’s Presidents Cup, held deep in the International territory at Royal Melbourne, and which can be expected to be frosty, especially if Aussie pro Cameron Smith’s frank comments about Reed’s antics – “I don’t have any sympathy for anyone that cheats” – serve as any indication. However, there may also be other casualties, many of them longer reaching and more significant. Rumours of Reed cheating in college, for instance, cannot help but be reignited, and may now have more sticking power. And the incident may also throw a retrospectively suspicious light on Reed’s other, professional performances. Reed won the 2018 Masters by a single shot. For some, this win may now be tainted with suspicions of foul play.
Reed’s response to being caught out – to claim ignorance and realign his sights on the Presidents Cup – suggests that this latest scandal has rolled off him like all the others. For the rest of the golfing world, though, this incident is unlikely to wash off so easily. Whether it was an honest mistake or deliberate subterfuge, Reed’s actions have thrown his character into disrepute and only provide more ammo for his increasingly vociferous critics, in the professional game and beyond. Paddy. Oh Paddy. To channel Eddie Pepperell: “What the **** were you thinking?!”
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