“That was last week, and we're glad that we've moved on and hopefully continue playing some good golf with these guys this week and bring home the Cup.”
It would surprise no one with any prior knowledge of Patrick Reed, quoted above, that he almost brushed aside the enormous controversy he caused with his waste bunker incident in The Bahamas in the days prior to the Presidents Cup. However, teammate Justin Thomas poking fun of the Masters winner while practicing at Royal Melbourne, captured on video and shared via Twitter, did catch many off guard.
The varied ways of handling the incident by the two teams set to go head-to-head this week – Cameron Smith even using the unusable word (cheat) on Sunday at the Australian Open to describe Reed’s actions – has added some spice to the event long dominated by the American team, while also shinning a light on a potential issue with today’s professionals.
To think Reed would have faced the media at Royal Melbourne – as he did on Tuesday after separated from teammates Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau with nearly all and sundry in front of the his microphone – and atone for his sand-moving exploits would have been extremely foolish. But Reed’s Cheshire cat-like grin as he approached the podium to take questions and shut down any suggestion that he broke the Rules of Golf intentionally, suggested he was revelling in the attention – and he certainly embraced his not unfamiliar role as the villain.
“It's not the right word to use. At the end of the day, if you do something unintentionally that breaks the rules, it's not considered cheating and at the end of the day that's what it is. If you're intentionally trying to do something, that would be considered cheating, but I wasn't intentionally trying to improve a lie or anything like that, because if it was, it would have been a really good lie and I would have hit it really close,” Reed said when asked of Smith’s comments last week.
Famous for shushing the European crowds at the Ryder Cup, Reed will unquestionably be inspired to perform well for his playing Captain Tiger Woods, who earlier in the day did his best to largely ignore the rules controversy as an ongoing issue.
“It goes from wanting to beat those guys to it now turning personal, so it's going to be a fun week,” said Reed when asked if the words of the opposition team were hurtful.
Woods’ defence of Reed was brief and almost dismissive of the issue being in any way a focus this week, the 15-time major winner even shooting a stern and extended glare at a local television reporter who admirably chased the story looking for inflammatory remarks all day.
“It was not a lengthy conversation. Pat and I are very good friends. We kept it short and brief, to the point, and as I answered your question yesterday, the rules official gave him two shots. He finished at 16-under, two back of Henrik, and now we're on to this week,” Woods said of discussing the situation with Reed on the 26-hour charter flight to Australia.
While the Americans appear to be doing their best to sweep the incident under the carpet, the Internationals didn’t add further comment on what unfolded during the third round of the Hero World Challenge, although it is clear their opinions lie in a different camp to their counterparts this week.
“I only saw what everyone else saw. I guess we've all made up our own minds about it. Yeah, I think we're just going to let that one go and try and beat him on the course. I think we've said enough or I've said enough about it. I don't need to add any fuel to the fire,” said Marc Leishman when quizzed by the assembled media on Tuesday.
For his part, Australian Open runner-up was more direct than his teammate and expanded on how things would play out if the shoe was on the other foot.
“He brought that on himself,” Oosthuizen said. “I think he's going to have a tough time with the media, anyway. I'm not really going to get into it. I mean, it looked like a very stupid thing he did.
“It doesn't look great for him, I can say that. It's going to be a tough one to get rid of.
“I think it would be something that everyone will address, the team would probably want to sit with him and talk it out if it was one of us.”
RIGHT: Leishman didn't add to the opinions he voiced during last week, but certainly didn't ignore the Reed issue. PHOTO: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.
Beyond its impact on this week, which will largely come down to the International Team-biased crowd’s input, the Reed incident – and particularly the American team’s reaction to it – unveils what is a more concerning narrative.
Thomas’ mimicking of Reed on the course and question to the culprit as to whether he was making the move correctly was no doubt humorous. But it is a slightly concerning reaction to one of the most serious rules infractions in golf in recent memory from one of the game’s unquestioned big names. And a difficult one to imagine taking place if Reed’s actions had directly affected Thomas individually in a tournament, or at any point in the past from the likes of say Greg Norman, a known stickler for the rules had he witnessed a Presidents Cup teammate breaking a rule in an individual event.
The rules of the game and the onus placed on players to self-police is one of golf’s great unquestionable tenants. And a player at the top of the game making a joke of something the public has clearly taken such a dislike to, suggests a serious disconnect between the top players – mainly from the American side – and the average players and fans whose passion and patronage allow them to play for the eye-watering sums of money they do each and every week.
“It's all in good fun. We needle each other all the time but it's never anything personal,” Thomas said of pranking his teammate during their practice round.
“That's something that's great about Patrick is he's obviously, you know, he's been a great team player and he's always wanted to win points for the team. So I think the only way it could become a distraction is what the headlines are and how much we read into it. We're not here to read articles and get into this or that. We are here to try to win points for the US team in the Presidents Cup. And I'm sure we could make it a distraction if we wanted to, but I would hope that all of us, and I would think that all of us would focus enough, and we're not too worried about it. It's in the past. And I understand it's going to be something that continues to get brought up, but none of us worry about it.”
Again, not worrying about the incident or the significant attention it has received, is an admirable way to deal with the rules incident as a team attempting to deny the Internationals its second ever win in the event. And this week is perhaps not the time to address personal feelings about Reed’s intentions, which can only be taken at his word, however the greater golf community has certainly proven itself worried about it.
The American team will continue to publicly defend its man this week, and while the Internationals will likely publicly stay mum on the issue despite some like Smith and Leishman having previously voiced strong opinions on the matter, it is hard to imagine Reed is not considered a marked man from a competitive standpoint in Ernie Els’ team room.
One thing is for sure, the crowds that will descend on Royal Melbourne in their thousands this week certainly will worry about it. And hopefully once unencumbered by the constraints of towing the team line at the end of the week, neither will the game’s best players.