Captain America is back: Patrick Reed embraces fun Ryder Cup villain role in Europe
PARIS – Being the Masters champion for five months has made for an awfully nice ride for Patrick Reed, who broke through at Augusta National to capture his first major championship. But that’s not the identity he’ll wear this week when he steps out of a phone booth early Friday morning at the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National.
There's little Masters' green about him for the next five days.
“This week,” said Reed, flashing that wry and mischievous grin, “I’m definitely Captain America.”
Ah, yes, Captain America. Even the actual Captain America, Jim Furyk, who will guide the U.S. this week outside Paris, hoping to lead it to its first victory on foreign soil in 25 years, calls Reed by that name.
On the PGA Tour, there are many weeks when Reed blends in with the pack and leaves the stage to other 20-somethings such as Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. But the Ryder Cup? Reed loves it. Lives for it. If there were a Ryder Cup Hall of Fame, Reed might have his own wing.
Since showing up at Gleneagles four years ago, playing in the brisk Scottish afternoons with short sleeves and rosy-red cheeks, Reed has forged a deep connection with this event. It’s still early, yes, but this is the perfect event for him. He loves match play, and is very good at it, making that discovery while in college at Augusta State as he went 6-0 over two springs to lead his team to a pair of NCAA titles.
Reed loves playing for his country. He has played in nine matches in the last two Ryder Cups, delivering his captains a record of 6-2-1.
Two years ago at Hazeltine, Reed, 28, and Rory McIlroy got tangled up in an intense singles match that should rank among the top Ryder Cup matches ever played. McIlroy made a long bomb from the front of the green at the par-3 eighth hole for an otherwordly birdie putt. McIlroy cupped his ear and mouthed to the partisan American crowd, “I can’t hear you!”
The setting was electric. There was a palpable buzz. But one player had yet to putt.
Reed answered McIlroy's call. He stepped over his 25-footer and sent it careening into the back of the hole to match McIlroy’s birdie. Europe 2, U.S. 2. Match all-square. It was Reed's third consecutive birdie after making an eagle at the par-4 fifth. McIlroy stood on the back of the green, clearly amused, as Reed, like a sage old grade-school teacher scolding a wise schoolboy, wagged his index finger back and forth. As in, not today.
In a great snapshot of sportsmanship, the two fist-bumped on the back of the eighth green and moved to the next tee. There was so much emotion, the two were gassed. Reed would win the match, 1 up.
There are players who cannot stand the bright lights and don’t perform all that well under them. When a crowd digs in against them, they retreat. Reed sees that as a cue to beat his chest more. Europe has had plenty of Ryder Cup heroes in the past two decades, competitors whose best event, arguably, was the Ryder Cup. Colin Montgomerie. Sergio Garcia. Ian Poulter.
Reed kind of sees himself as America's version of Poulter. He identifies himself as a villain this week in his road game at Le Golf National, even if he chose to wear a white hat on Tuesday, not a black one. But the manner in which Reed has performed has made him a well-liked and highly respected villain, if that makes sense. The fans at Gleneagles in Scotland had fun bantering with him, and loved it when he jabbed them right back. This week at Le Golf, it likely will be much of the same, with Reed relishing every second of it.
“You expect to hear the fans kind of go back and forth with you,” Reed said. “If it's not happening, it probably means you're not playing very well, and they are just like, all right, we've got him in check. I love it when we can interact with the fans and get going, because there's no other event that you can do that at.”
U.S. Ryder Cup rookie Bryson DeChambeau was in the gallery at Hazeltine two years ago when Reed, playing alongside partner Jordan Spieth, spun back an approach with a wedge at the par-5 sixth into the hole for eagle. The crowd went nuts. Spieth threw his putter in the air and ran toward his partner. He later said that Captain America high-fived him so hard he thought he might have broken his thumb.
What was the impression that scene left on young DeChambeau?
“It was inspirational,” he said. “It was motivating. It was fun to see. Personally, from a selfish standpoint, on that end, I made it a point that I wanted to be a part of a team like that and have that fire, as well.”
Furyk was a teammate of Reed’s at Gleneagles in 2014 and served as vice-captain to Davis Love III at Hazeltine two years ago. He has had a great view to watch Reed work some of his magic.
“He's fierce. When you talk about going into a crowd that is going to be loud and boisterous, I feel like the bigger the challenge, the louder the crowd, the more attention you need to pay to Patrick Reed,” Furyk said. “He loves that atmosphere. I guess I'm proud to be the United States captain, but Patrick Reed has been Captain America for the last two Ryder Cups.”
The Masters represents Reed’s lone victory in his last 58 PGA Tour starts. And though Reed’s game hasn’t very sharp of late — his last top-10 finish in the U.S. was a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open in June — there exists this aura in the air that, because of where he is playing this week, he’ll somehow find it. Reed talks about Ryder Cup matches as if they were MMA fights. (“It's throwing two guys in the ring … and whoever plays the best is the one walking out of it,” he said.) All the variables of a 72-hole stroke-play tournament are tossed aside, and a match comes down to two players, same conditions, one-on-one. What do you have today?
Come Sunday, Reed said that it’s just his nature that he wants Europe’s top guy in singles, to see if he is up for the challenge. Four years ago, he took down Henrik Stenson; two years ago, it was McIlroy.
“I love that,” he said.
Yes, Captain America loves a challenge, and he’s back in his favorite arena of all. As for that “other” U.S. Captain? He is happy to have him on his side.