Playing fast and loose with the rules of golf leaves a stain. It calls character into question and no-one should be more aware of that than Patrick Reed.
The talk in the wake of his win in Mexico was less about his brilliant play and more to do with the ongoing reaction to his rules infraction in the Bahamas late last year.
Indeed, the build-up to last week’s World Golf Championships event was dominated by the rumblings Reed started when he apparently improved his lie by twice brushing away sand behind his ball at December’s World Challenge.
Although he was penalised two shots on review there was no other censure from the PGA Tour. In fact they stated he had behaved “like a gentleman” throughout the penalty process.
But that did not quell disquiet among some of his peers prompting reigning PGA Champion, Brooks Koepka, to be asked only last week whether he thought Reed had cheated.
“Yeah. I think, yeah, yeah,” replied the recently deposed world number one.
And Koepka clearly did not want to miss the opportunity to call out his American Ryder Cup team-mate. “I mean, I don’t know what he was doing, building sand castles in the sand?
“But, you know where your club is. I mean, I took three months off and I can promise you I know if I touched sand.”
Soon after those quotes, former CBS commentator Peter Kostis added to the furore, telling the No Laying Up podcast:“I’ve seen Patrick Reed improve his lie, up close and personal, four times now.”
For most golfers these would be devastating assessments. Reed issues denials of intentional wrong doing and seems to use the barbs as a source of inspiration.
How else do you explain the way he prevailed last Sunday on the most stacked leaderboard of the year so far?
Three birdies in the last four holes with a composed bogey at the last completed a superb back nine. He overhauled leader Bryson DeChambeau and eclipsed the likes of world number one Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas.
It was classy golf from the player who stirs negative emotions more than any other in the game at the moment. The 29-year-old Texan has endured jeers ever since the incident at Tiger Woods’ Bahamian tournament at the end of last year.
The week after, his caddie and brother-in-law, Kessler Karain, became embroiled into a shoving match with a fan at the Presidents Cup and was thrown out at Royal Melbourne.
Reed’s reaction was to secure a vital win the very next day, going out third in the Sunday singles and beating CT Pan 4&2. Has there ever been a player better at blocking out hostile noise?
Every sport has its villain but those who run golf do their best to make it seem as though they do not exist. It is a game that loves to trade on its integrity.
Here’s what PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in the wake of the ruling by referee Slugger White when Reed had been shown to have brushed away that sand close to his ball in the Bahamas tournament.
“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to Patrick at length when he says that he did not intentionally improve his lie.
“As you go back to that moment, and the conversation that he had with Slugger, and the fact that a violation was applied and he agreed to it, and they signed his card and moved on. To me that was the end of the matter,” Monahan added.
Except it is not, as the reaction to Reed’s Mexico triumph proves. Every subsequent interview and news conference for the champion carried questions that related to the fallout from the rules controversy.
And Reed deflected them in expert fashion saying the only points he has to prove are to himself and stating how he always wants to be the best person he can be on and off the golf course.
Asked what it will be like the next time he tees it ups alongside Koepka, he stated simply: “I put the ball in the ground and hit the next shot.”
Were he to add a second Masters green jacket to the one he won in 2018, his chequered past will be again brought up.
The talk after that maiden major victory was about his estranged relationship with his parents and how he had been kicked off the University of Georgia team in his college days.
It is a shame because he is some golfer. Reed does not turn thirty until August but already has eight PGA Tour titles including the Masters and two WGCs.
He is also unrepentant. Never does he confess to wrongdoing. Instead he ploughs on working on his game and leaving the extraneous noise that surrounds him to “my team.”
There is stuff to like about him. He is a brave, committed and brilliant player, he likes to travel and is the one world class American to play the European Tour, which he embraces with great enthusiasm.
But whenever a golfer causes their integrity to be questioned they have a problem. It does not play well in the locker room and with the wider watching public, which is why his latest win will not be universally celebrated.
In many sports, gaining an edge regardless of the rules is accepted practice but not in golf. It was a fantastic victory in Mexico but it did not provide redemption.