It was a victory march to a drumbeat of disdain.
When Patrick Reed strode down the 18th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club late Sunday afternoon, leading the Masters by one stroke and moments from victory, the strangest thing happened.
Nothing happened. There was no roar. There was no rooting. There were mostly blank stares from a thickly packed gallery that was so quiet, you could hear Reed’s black shoes squishing on the soft grass.
Well, that, and some whispered muttering.
“He needs to bogey.”
“Everybody here is hoping he’s in the bunker.”
“Patrick Reed a major champion? Don’t say that!”
This same crowd had spent all day screaming through the shadows for three of golf’s most popular players as they each made their charge on the big guy in the black cap.
They roared for Rory McIlroy, then they roared for Jordan Spieth, and finally they roared for Rickie Fowler, the largest cheer of the day, when he sank a birdie putt on the 18th hole to apply one final hammerlock of pressure.
Then Reed showed up, and, crickets. When he reached the 18th green, he was given the customary standing ovation offered final-day leaders, but it sounded more polite than passionate. When he sank a three-foot par putt to claim his first major victory at age 27, the applause was as restrained as his brief fist-pumping celebration.
I was standing at the back of a large group clustered behind the green, unable to actually see the clinching putt but figuring I could discern the outcome by the noise. Yet, the cheering was so muted, I had to actually ask someone from the front of the pack if he had made it.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” said the fan, one of many who turned and walked away without clapping.
It was a day that Reed, nicknamed “Captain America” for his toughness in the Ryder Cup, outfought golf’s cool kids with that same sort of dueling spirit. Yet, he was no match for the pervasive dislike that stared him down on every hole.
Meet the first Masters champion who needed that green jacket to just ward off the chill.
“That’s another thing that just kind of played into my hand,” Reed said with a grin.
He heard it from the first tee, when he and playing partner McIlroy stepped out into vastly different climates, a scene that later caused him to wince and shake his head.
“I walked up to the first tee and had a really welcoming cheer from the fans, but then when Rory walked up to the tee, his cheer was a little louder,” Reed said. “Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but also, it just takes the pressure off of me and adds it back to him.’’
“I definitely feel that way, but that’s OK, that’s motivating too,” he said.
Asked why it seemed fans don’t like his golfer, who is also his brother-in-law, Karain shrugged.
“I don’t know, I can’t answer that question,” he said.
There are several theories, beginning with Reed’s aura on the course. He scowls. He curses. He doesn’t interact well with galleries.
There is also the theory that fans don’t like him because other golfers don’t like him. A 2015 ESPN poll of golfers ranked him as golf’s second-most disliked pro behind Bubba Watson. This dislike stems from a history of brash statements, like when he declared himself one of the top five players in the world after only his third PGA Tour victory.
There are also issues in the Texas-born Reed’s past, as he left a trail of golfing bad will at his college stops in Georgia and Augusta State. He has been accused by college teammates of stealing and cheating, and his behavior led him to be dismissed from Georgia and suspended for two tournaments at Augusta State. Then there is his confirmed estrangement from his parents, who live near Augusta yet were not part of his Masters celebration.
Asked about the pain of not sharing his Masters victory with his local family, Reed didn’t deny their absence, saying only, “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”
It sounds complicated. It also sounds very sad. This is a guy whose ability deserved to be cheered Sunday as he fought off the constant slings and arrows from the favored sons. This is the everyman that golf needs, a guy who looks like a weekend hacker and talks like the dude who hangs out at the clubhouse bar.
“A lot of people, for a long time, maybe don’t say his name as often as they should,” his wife Justine said. “I’ve always thought he was a great player. That’s what he did today. He showed his true colors.”
Those colors were in danger of fading when he found himself tied with Spieth in the middle of the round after the former Masters champion made up an amazing nine strokes. But Reed made birdie putts on No. 12 and No. 14, then parred the last four holes to weather the storm.
“He didn’t let it get to him,” Karain said. “He didn’t let the roars and the crowd get to him. He didn’t let it slip.”
His round was epitomized by how it finished, when he parred No. 18 shortly after hearing Fowler sink a putt for a birdie.
“We were on the 18th tee box, and the crowd was like, ‘ohhhh,’ ” Karain said. “If it were me, that ball would have went into the bushes somewhere.”
Instead, it went on the fairway, whether or not the fans liked it. From there, he knocked it to 25 feet from the hole, then managed to putt it downhill within three feet, from where he finished the job and, given the alley brawl circumstances, received an appropriate congratulations from his caddie.
“Great … job,” Karain said with an expletive included.
It was that kind of day, a hardscrabble victory by a disliked competitor who doesn’t care what anyone thinks. At least it’s clear what Reed will serve at next year’s champions’ dinner, to golfing’s establishment that doesn’t like him, in an arena that didn’t cheer for him.