Patrick Reed: On the ins and outs of Tour life

With as many good players on the PGA Tour — and even those who aren’t anymore and those that soon will be — Patrick Reed is learning what it takes to be successful out there. He is the defending champion at this week’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro and he went on to win two more this season, the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs and the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

And he almost had a third one back in June at Congressional in Tiger Woods’ Quicken Loans National. After shooting 68, 68, 71, if he’d just shot even par on Sunday, he would have won. But he shot 6-over, 77 and finished T11. That’s the kind of quantum movement that is one of golf’s great mysteries. As Albert Einstein used to say, “What the hell happened?”

We writhe when something like that happens, but in golf, failure is a great teacher and Reed has a pretty good idea what happened. 

“Yeah, when I was at Congressional we decided to come back a week early to play the week before the U.S. Open.  We were planning on the U.S. Open to be our first week back, but because of how smooth everything went with the delivery of the baby and how smooth everything went with Justine getting back and healthy, thought why not go play St. Jude?  So we went and played, and it was just one of those things that throughout that time period I just wasn’t — my endurance wasn’t up as much.”

“So coming down to Sunday, I was a little tired, a little loose and it showed my game.  Hit a couple of those shots that if I was not tired at all, it probably would have never happened.  I probably wouldn’t have fat-blocked sliced a 5‑iron or sliced a driver or completely chunked a 3‑wood.  Those are shots that guys out here, we just don’t do.  You know, it’s definitely something I learned that you have to be ready, and you have to be more healthy in endurance‑wise to play.  You know, I’ve changed a lot of that, and we’re ready to go.”

One of the things Tour players have is a keen sense of their bodies. And one of the things that Reed already knew is that it would be a mistake for him to hit the gym to gain that endurance. It’s more about building endurance by playing and practicing:

“Yeah, for sure.  Every time I go in the gym I just seem to bulk up and get stiffer.  I’m already stiff as it is, so if I get in the gym I probably won’t be able to swing around my body.”

“But for me it’s more eating healthy and making sure that I practice for a period of time where, if you have that long day where whether you have to play 27, 28 holes or whether you have a rain delay and you’re out there for nine, ten hours, you’re able to last that period of time.”

He had an opportunity to look back on his amazing accomplishment in 2012 of Monday qualifying 6 times and he was able to see how that helped to make him more comfortable once he got out on Tour in 2013:

“The first event I played after I Monday qualified was when I became very comfortable to the fact that one of the most stressful things I’ve ever played was our first Monday qualifier, and the second most stressful thing I’ve ever played was Q‑School.  So playing in both of those, once I got to the PGA Tour event, I was like well, I have two rounds, and if I make the cut, I have four total rounds.  To me that almost seemed like a breeze compared to 100‑something golfers, four spots, 18 holes and a golf course you really haven’t ever seen before and you have to go out and play.”

“And the guys that make it through Monday qualifiers, they’re making cuts, they’re top 10ing, they’re playing great golf.  They’re all golfers that can contend out here, so it’s just like you have a PGA Tour event in 18 holes.  So I think that’s where that comfort level out here on Tour really came from because you show up.”

“Our first one was Zurich [New Orleans]. We showed up out there after making the cut at San Antonio and had four hours of sleep and had to tee up, had never seen the golf course before, and shot 4‑under par.  We had a six‑man playoff for three spots, and luckily — well, luckily I birdied the second hole and I was able to get one of the spots.”

When I was Monday qualifying, the Champions Tour worked to help out the Monday qualifiers who were in the previous week. They knew the guys would be flying commercial through the night arriving who knows when? So they would give them the last tee time for that next day. Even still, what if the flight was delayed? What if your luggage got lost? Where are you staying, how close is it to the course and how much sleep will you get?

“But those are the kind of things that definitely helped get me more comfortable out here on Tour.”

Reed’s caddie is famously, his wife Justine. He relies on her a great deal. They are a team. Just back from having her first baby, she caddied in the Wednesday pro-am to see if she was ready to come back on the bag full time. PGA Tour Media tweeted that that decision would be made “overnight.” Here’s a sense of why she’s so important to him:

“While we’re at work, it’s work.  That is one thing that I think we’ve done extremely well is when we’re on the golf course we leave all the personal stuff behind, and it’s strictly business.  She’s a huge competitor.  She doesn’t want to talk about anything else besides winning and playing well.  I feel like it’s been harder for her being outside the ropes than it is for her being inside.”

“Inside the ropes we have game plans, we’re able to talk through things, and outside the ropes she’s just seeing the result.  We might have a great idea on what we’re going to do while we’re inside the ropes and it could be an error by me on a bad golf swing or something like that, and then she’s like why did you do that?  It’s like well, honey, if you listened to our conversation, this is what we’re doing.  She’s like, oh, okay.  Well, great golf swing.”

“She’s such a huge competitor and so am I, and I feel like that’s why I am where I am today.  She pushes me extremely hard, and I push her as well.  With that, I feel like that’s the reason why we’ve been successful, and that’s why we’ve had such a great career so far.”

And now that he’s qualified to play in the year’s majors, there’s whole string of considerations that go into how to approach them. And once again, it’s all about knowing yourself:

“The main thing I’ve noticed is since I’ve played four, I’ve missed two cuts and made two cuts.  The two I’ve made the cut I’ve played the week before, the two I missed the cut, I did not play the week before.”

“I feel like it’s just because the times I would go over to the event — like Augusta, I went over early and played the course I think like 30 times it felt like.  We went over Thursday of Houston [the tournament the week before the Masters].  I played every day 9 or 18 holes up until the event, and I almost overthought the golf course and almost just tried to plot my way around the golf course by overthinking it.  Did the same I think at British.”

“I just feel like I have to treat it like it’s another event.  I have to go out there, go in the normal time, play the normal nine holes one day, 9 holes next, 18 one day and find your game plan and go play.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that for two of them, but when I was talking to Dicky Pride who is a good friend of mine, he says you’re going to learn what the best strategy is for you going to those events, whether it’s to play the week before, whether it’s not and how you handle yourself.  I feel like now that we’ve played in four of them, I’ve really figured it out and hopefully we can make some noise next year.”

One of the things that three victories has done for him is that it has made life when they get home more comfortable and travel not so cumbersome:

“We did get a house.  It’s nice to get that behind us.  But at the same time, really not much has changed.”

“You know, the only other change would be flying with NetJets.  We’ve gone private plane for a little bit.  It’s just a thing that we felt like needed to get done due to the fact that you go to the airport you have to get there an hour, hour 15 before.  You never know how your bag’s being handled.  You usually have a connection, and then you’re waiting at baggage claim for 30 or 40 minutes and then you have to get your car and everything.”

“Rather than flying commercial, we can drive up to the plane, throw our stuff in the plane.  You know how your stuff is being handled, and you’re in the air in ten minutes and then you’re on the ground and your car is waiting for you.  It’s just an easier way of life, and especially how much we play and how much we travel, I felt like that was something we needed to get done.”

One of the other great things that has come out of his great year is that he has made the Ryder Cup. And one of the perks that goes with that is that you get to spend time with Tom Watson, the captain, even if it is infrequent:

“We talk periodically.  I talked to him a lot at Heritage [Hilton Head] when I played nine holes with him, and we didn’t really talk much about Ryder Cup at that point.  We were just talking and getting to know each other and having a good time.  Then I talked to him right before the final round.  He came up and talked to me for a split second of last week.”

“It’s one of those things that last week [at the PGA Championship] I definitely learned a lot as well.  I [no longer] worry about what everyone else is doing.  I was so focused on what Zach [Johnson] was doing and what all these other guys were doing on that final round that I wasn’t able to play golf.  You know, it’s definitely a learning experience, and I’ll definitely learn from that.”

Focusing on what he can control also came in handy in dealing with the media blowback after he won at Doral and proclaimed [I believe prospectively, but it didn’t come out that way] himself to be one of the top 5 players in the game. It’s all part of learning the ropes of PGA Tour life:

“All I can do is focus on what I do.  I can’t focus on what people write or anything like that.  I just focus on what I do and what I do on the golf course and how other people that I play with and people that know me, what they think of me.  They know who I really am and that’s all I can control.”

Having learned his lesson, this is the way he speaks about that top 5 assertion now:

“I believe that if I play well that I can reach my goal, which is to become a top 5 player in the world.  I know it’s going to take time.  It doesn’t happen overnight and it definitely doesn’t happen over a year or two.  You need some time to get there.  But that’s one of my goals and what I’m going to shoot for.  That’s probably everyone’s goal out here is to become the best player in the world.”

But he also learned that no man is an island and that the Tour’s veterans are more than willing to give advice when he needs it:

“I played with Jerry Kelly last week.  I’ve played with him a lot.  I always talk to him about things.  Stephen Ames, I’m sure I’ll be talking a lot with Tom Watson.  I’m going to be picking Steve Stricker’s brain a lot as well at the Ryder Cup.  I’ve played with him at Greenbrier and talked to him a little bit about not only golf but also how he handles everything.  That’s all I can do is keep on talking to the veterans and older guys and just try to find how not only to make my golf game better, but how to make life better out here on Tour.”

“The best thing out here is it’s a big family.  Everyone’s here to help everybody.  If you talk to somebody they’ll usually give you their best advice they have which is always nice.”

And finally, the competition level on the PGA Tour is impressive and keeps you on your toes. Reed was a first time winner at this tournament last year. Of the guys in the field who haven’t won yet, who would he pick to win this week?

“Wow, I mean, there are literally so many good golfers out here that haven’t won yet that I literally could not name just one player.  I could go through the whole list of players and the guys that haven’t won, I could probably pick almost all of them.  I mean, anyone out here if they have a good week and they’re on their game has a good chance of winning.”

When you get to the level of elite in anything, it’s nice to know that you’re in the fraternity.

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