Patrick Reed Comes Under the Microscope Again
PATRICK REED’S victory in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines was the most impressive of his career, but it left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of almost everybody who witnessed it as yet again his integrity and his relationship with the rules of the game are called into question.
During the third round Reed awarded himself a free drop after an approach to the 10th hole. He marked and picked up his ball, which he believed was embedded in the ground and therefore entitled him to a free drop. TV replays clearly showed that his ball had bounced before finding its final resting position. According to rule 16.3: “Your ball is embedded only if it is in its own pitch-mark made as a result of your previous stroke and part of your ball is below the ground.”
Here’s the thing. In the same round, Rory McIlroy did exactly the same thing at the 18th hole. And nobody batted an eyelid. Why?
Reed has previous form when it comes to rules transgressions. McIlroy does not. In fact, the Northern Irishman gave himself a worse lie than he needed to while replacing his ball during last year's US PGA Championship at Harding Park.
"I've never tried to get away with anything out here," McIlroy said after finishing eight shots behind Reed. "In golf you'd rather be on the wrong side of the rules than the right side of them because that's just what our game's about. Our game is about integrity and it's about doing the right thing.”
Under the rules, which were updated in 2019, players are expected to "make a reasonable judgment" when taking relief. Reed would argue that this is precisely what he did. He even asked a ball spotter if he had seen the ball bounce. The spotter said he had not. But still Reed finds himself at the centre of a storm.
The new rules allow players to take relief without notifying their playing partners. In defence of both Reed and McIlroy, they did tell their playing partners what they were about to do. McIlroy took his drop and played on. Reed took his drop and then called a rule official to tell him what he had done. When the rules changed there were many within the game who believed this would come back to bite them, and it finally has. There is every likelihood that this incident will lead to a further review. The simple solution would be for players to call a referee BEFORE doing anything. If the referee agrees that the ball is embedded then all well and good.
It is instructive that Reed’s fellow players were happy to speak out. One of those was Xander Schauffele, who is likely to be a Ryder Cup teammate of “Captain America” at Whistling Straits in September.
"I would not create a situation like that," said Schauffele, who believes the PGA Tour is protecting Reed. "If my ball's embedded, I usually will wait and call someone and kind of wait until everyone's on the same page."
Schauffele, who finished in a tie for second, added: "He did everything by the book according to the official and everyone stood there. The talk amongst the boys isn't great, I guess, but he's protected by the Tour and that's all that matters, I guess."
Brandel Chamblee was among those who joined the chorus of disapproval. "I texted or talked to 15 to 20 current or past tour players, some of them hall of fame members," Chamblee told the Golf Channel. "Not a single player defended what Patrick Reed did. This is in direct conflict with what PGA Tour and USGA rules officials are saying."
There will be some who will be wondering what the fuss is all about. In 2019 he received a two-shot penalty for improving his lie in a bunker during the Hero World Challenge. And there have been other alleged transgressions going all the way back to his days as a college golfer.
When he picked up his ball at Torrey Pines he quite clearly held it in the palm of his hand, not by finger and thumb to ensure everyone could see that he was not attempting to clean it. And he simply shrugged his shoulders when he was later informed that his ball had bounced.
"All I can really do is focus on today," he said after lifting the trophy. "And just listen to what the rules officials said and they said that I didn't do anything incorrect.”
No professional - or amateur - golfer wants to be branded a cheat. But the harsh reality is that Reed’s performance at Torrey Pines will not be remembered for the brilliance of his five-shot victory against a world-class field.
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