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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The last time Patrick Reed barreled into the hometown of the Masters and created a new-sheriff-in-Dodge kind of stir, the welcoming committee was not so welcoming. In the weeks after his arrival nearly five years ago, his teammates at Augusta State could hardly stand him, and his coach could not fathom a day when this transfer from the University of Georgia would be worth the trouble he was causing, times 10.
Josh Gregory suspended Reed for the first two events of the 2009-10 season for violations of team rules he'd prefer to remain unspecified. The Georgia coach, Chris Haack, had warned his Augusta State counterpart that Reed was something of a wild colt that needed to be tamed, this after a series of issues -- including an arrest for underage drinking and possession of a fake ID -- made Reed a one-and-done Bulldog following a few tournaments in the fall.
"Chris was very candid," said Gregory, now the coach at SMU. "He told me, 'You're going to have your hands full. Patrick can really play, but he needs constant monitoring.'"
In his mind, Gregory had to take the gamble. Haack already had won two national titles at Georgia, and he had the requisite talent in his program (in future PGA Tour winners Harris English and Russell Henley) to seriously challenge for a third. He didn't need Reed, and Gregory did. The Augusta State coach needed one of the nation's best amateurs to transform his Division I program at a Division II commuter school into something the guardians of college golf would talk about forever.
But first, Gregory had to assure Reed he would never realize his lifelong dream of playing next door in the Masters unless he grew up, and grew up fast. The former All-American junior golfer from San Antonio and state high school champion from Baton Rouge wore out Georgia with his high-maintenance act, and he was on the verge of going 0-for-2 at Augusta State.
Long before he announced to the planet last month that he is among its top five golfers, inspiring a scaled-down version of the storm Richard Sherman kicked up after the NFC Championship Game, Reed was known for projecting a vibe of superiority and for doing too much talking for his own good. "He shot his mouth off early on when he shouldn't have," said Henrik Norlander, Reed's teammate at Augusta State.
"All I asked him to do was keep his mouth shut and play golf and let his golf clubs do the talking for him," Gregory said. "It was the only way for him to earn the respect of his teammates.
"Patrick was on his final strike, and he knew that. If he didn't shape up, he couldn't go anywhere else. Even if he made the tour at that point, maturity-wise he would've gotten eaten up. I told him he was never going to make it if he didn't get things under control."
|In a nod to his idol, Tiger Woods, three-time PGA Tour winner Patrick Reed wears red and black on Sundays. It worked well at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, where he celebrated his victory with wife (and former caddie) Justine.|
Yes, Patrick Reed eventually got things under control. He showed up at Augusta National on Monday saying he'd wear red again in the final round in honor of his idol, Tiger Woods, whose absence here isn't the only reason the 23-year-old Reed might win the first major in which he's ever competed. His victory at Doral in the WGC-Cadillac Championship was his third in seven months, notarizing his staggering belief in himself (think Ian Poulter's ego on steroids) and encouraging him to see contention on Sunday's back nine as a realistic endgame.
Can this trash-talker with the young Tiger mentality and the young Jack Nicklaus body actually win the Masters on his first try? Win, lose or withdraw, this much is already clear:
What a long, strange, turbulent trip to Augusta National it's been.
Patrick's first gift after he was born was a plastic set of golf clubs waiting for him on the kitchen table, but his father, Bill, didn't have designs on the PGA Tour. A manager in the health care industry, Bill said he saw how sales reps were paired with executives during corporate outings, and figured he'd start working early on his son's business career-to-be.
When Reed was 9, Peter Murphy, a coach under Hank Haney, started working with him on Haney's ranch in McKinney, Tex., and he never felt he was dealing with some uncoachable phenom. From day one, all the teacher saw was a respectful student, one who was kind to Murphy's younger son and who had never met a shot under pressure he was afraid to try.
"Patrick never worried about finishing second or third if it meant blowing up on the last hole," Murphy said. "He tried to win at all costs."
Reed would stay at Murphy's place in Dallas on weekends, hit hundreds upon hundreds of practice balls over nine hours, eat dinner, putt on the backyard green under the lights and then rise early the next morning to do it all over again.
Reed worked with Murphy at the ranch at the same time Woods was tweaking his swing with Haney. "Patrick took a lot away from Tiger's demeanor, and his intimidation, the way Tiger had an air about him," Murphy said. "Patrick tried to portray a little of that when playing himself. He wanted to show people that he wouldn't back down."
The kid took on every dog-leg in sight, and over time Reed became a dominant player locally, regionally, even nationally, taking his game places his family never imagined.
Patrick kept winning tournaments despite "playing up" against older boys, and when his family moved to Louisiana, he landed at University Lab High School in Baton Rouge. "He was kind of the talk of the school for sure," said one of his University teammates, Craig Chandler.
"He'd competed all over the country, and everyone was saying this is the guy who will help us win a state championship. He was almost kind of a mercenary, a ringer for our team. He was fiercely competitive and always so sure of himself on and off the course, and very unapologetic about it, too. There were times I was taken aback by it."
Another University teammate, Darren Bahnsen, was taken aback by Reed's fearless approach to an impossibly cruel game. The first time they played together, Bahnsen watched Reed cut a 300-yard drive around the corner of a par 4 that stopped seven feet from the hole before he sank the eagle putt.
"If you ever challenged him at something, he answered it every single time," Bahnsen said. "In one practice round I hit a drive down the middle, about 275 yards, and felt good about it. Patrick said, 'Man, that's a good drive,' and then he got down on two knees and hit his ball 10 yards past me. From his knees."
Though he was two years older, Bahnsen drew confidence from Reed. In fact, he said the whole team did. Reed would help University win a state championship as a mere freshman in 2006, the same year he'd win the Junior British Open. The following season, he outdueled his older rival, future PGA Tour player Andrew Loupe, by blowing away the field with an opening 7-under 65 in winning the individual state title along with a second title for his team.
Even back then, the University coach, Paul Crespo, said Reed thought he would win every time he stepped on the first tee. "And gosh," Crespo said, "it seemed 99.9 percent of the time he did."
Reed's relentless focus on his career goals might've made him unique among the teenage golfers, but neither Chandler nor Bahnsen recalled any problems with Reed, or resentment of him. "Patrick was the nicest kid in the world," Crespo said. "I'm not just saying that. I've got nothing bad to say about the kid. He was polite, mature, and he ... got along with everybody."
This was the blue-chipper everyone wanted, the one who enrolled in online courses to graduate a year early after a move to Augusta, where his father had taken a new job. The Georgia Bulldogs won the recruiting war, like they'd won so many others. But the signing of Patrick Reed would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory.
At 2:33 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2008, University of Georgia police officer Jason Vogt was summoned to the East Campus Village by housing security to meet with a freshman that the officer would describe as "intoxicated." In his incident report, Vogt said he could smell alcohol on Reed's breath. "His speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet," the officer wrote, before stating the student presented him with a driver's license that appeared to be altered and showed a false date of birth.
|University of Georgia golf coach Chris Haack admitted that Reed's departure from the school "worked out best for the both of us."|
Vogt arrested Reed for underage possession of alcohol and possession of a fraudulent ID. According to the Athens-Clarke County Superior Court case docket, Reed pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and was put on probation, fined and sentenced to 60 hours of community service before he was discharged as a first offender.
In and of itself, the arrest didn't spell doom for Reed at Georgia. (How many underage college kids across America drink with the help of a bogus ID?) But the case spoke to the disconnect between a seemingly immature Reed and his obligations as a representative of a highly successful athletics program.
"I went out, had a drink, got arrested, but I learned a lot from it," Reed told ESPN.com on Monday. "It was a blessing in disguise. I grew as a person, and it taught me to stay focused on my goals to be successful and take me where I am today."
Haack didn't want to lose Reed if he could help it. He remembered his prize recruit as a gifted ball striker who won over the Bulldogs' assistant, Ryan Hybl, while playing in a tournament in Colorado. "I'll never forget Ryan calling me and going, 'This guy hits it close all day long but never makes anything," Haack said. "If he ever figures out the putter, he's going to be dangerous.'"
But ultimately, Reed made it clear he couldn't figure out what was required of him to remain at Georgia. Though Reed's father, Bill, confirmed the arrest "was one of the main reasons why Patrick left Georgia," Haack wouldn't elaborate on additional issues he had with his player.
"It wasn't a good fit for him here," the coach said. "He needed a change of scenery, and it worked out best for the both of us."
A number of Reed's teammates at Georgia either didn't return messages seeking comment or, when contacted, declined to speak publicly about the circumstances surrounding his transfer. English was one former Bulldog willing to talk about Reed's prodigious talent.
"I always knew he was a heck of a player," English said. "I played with him when I was 13, 14, 15. He was a world-beater growing up. When he came to Georgia, we were really excited because he was one of the best players in the country. Unfortunately things didn't work out, because we really could have used him on our team."
That would never be more apparent than it was two years later, when English came face-to-face with Reed with nothing less than an NCAA championship on the line.
Gregory had to beat out Florida and Wake Forest in the free-agent chase for the suddenly available Patrick Reed, and his pitch was simple: The big school experience didn't work for you. Time to give the small school back home a shot.
Gregory had actually played in the same field with the teenage Reed at the Terra Cotta Invitational, and he knew this was a prospect out of Augusta State's league. From 150 yards and in, Gregory thought Reed was as good a player as he'd ever seen.
"We could've won 10 national championships in a row," Gregory said, "and we're not getting that type of kid."
But on the rebound after Georgia, Gregory said, "Patrick needed a mentor figure around him all the time. He needed structure. He needed discipline. He needed someone to take care of him, quite honestly."
The tough love came early in the form of that suspension. One source close to the situation said players voted among themselves to have Reed removed from the team. "I don't think we had a vote," said Norlander, the No. 2 player behind Reed at Augusta State, now known as Georgia Regents University. "We had talked of having a vote."
Either way, Reed made the cut. "Golf is an individual sport until you get to college, and then it's a team sport," he said. "I was focused on me and my golf game and that wasn't helping the team. After sitting down with Josh, it helped me realize that it's not all me, me, me."
Reed made a renewed effort to connect with his teammates. "The first few months he was there, it was bad," Norlander recalled. "It got better."
Funny how it worked out, too. Gregory had teams with ideal chemistry, players who got along across the board, and they never won the big one. And yet there he stood in 2011, preparing his Jaguars to do something no team had done in more than a quarter-century -- repeat as national champs -- while coaching a superstar and a supporting cast that still hated losing to him in practice rounds.
Reed led the Jaguars to the 2010 title by beating Peter Uihlein and the powerhouse Oklahoma State Cowboys, and Reed dusted Uihlein again in the 2011 semis to reach the final against ... the Georgia Bulldogs. Gregory didn't have to worry about Reed's confidence entering this duel with the program that had cut him loose.
"My goal is to get my players to think they are twice as good as they really are," the coach said. "Patrick already thought he was twice as good as he really was."
|Henrik Norlander, who currently plays on the Web.com Tour and was a teammate of Patrick Reed's at Augusta State, admitted the players at least considered trying to vote Reed off the team.|
Haack's worst nightmare would come to be. Reed would close out English, one of the nicest, most respectful players Haack had ever coached, after English hit into the water on the 17th hole, giving Augusta State a 3-2 victory and the first two-peat since the University of Houston in 1985.
One person close to the Georgia program called the Reed-over-English result "the death of karma." If some on the Augusta State side privately agreed, the Jaguars understood they never would've made history had Reed never walked into their lives.
"He was unstoppable when he was on," Norlander said, "and he did eventually realize that just because you shoot a great score doesn't mean you're a great guy ... He realized there was more to life than golf."
"Did his teammates ever love him? Probably not," Gregory said. "But slowly Patrick earned their respect back. And they knew there would've been no national championships without him."
Assuming he makes the Masters cut, Patrick Reed will give the viewing audience at least one red shirt to behold on Sunday.
"Yes, sir," he said. "Always. It's worked for Mr. Woods, and it's working for me."
Last August, at Wyndham, Reed claimed his first PGA Tour victory by beating Jordan Spieth in a playoff on a positively absurd baseball swing from under a tree and out of a tangle of grass, twigs and mulch. Reed shot three consecutive 63s on three different courses to win the Humana Challenge in January. He wore his red-and-black ensemble to beat the living legend in red and black, Woods, and the rest of a loaded lineup at Doral last month.
Of course, a sport overrun by say-nothing automatons went to Defcon 1 on Twitter and elsewhere after Reed said what he said about being among the world's five best players, naming names of his conquests along the way. It was Reed being Reed, and when asked in his pre-tournament news conferences about his chances to win the Masters, he wasn't backing down.
"I'm very confident," he said. "I try to treat it like it's just another event."
Just another event? The one he'd called "a dream come true" to play in?
Not quite. Reed just completed a 10-day minicamp with his coach, Kevin Kirk, at the Woodlands in Houston to prepare for the Masters, working on shaping the ball right-to-left off the tees, hitting off tight lies around the greens and controlling trajectory and spin on approach shots.
Before his practice rounds over the weekend, Reed had only played Augusta National three times, and in cold, wet conditions. Kirk likes his man's chances at Augusta anyway, and knows Reed won't cower under the magnitude of the stakes.
"He's not afraid to crash and burn," Kirk said.
Perhaps a few opponents wouldn't mind seeing a meltdown at Amen Corner, a humbling of Reed on the biggest stage in golf. If so, the brash newbie isn't about to sweat it.
Reed is quite pleased with where he is and what he's become. He said his college experiences taught him how to put a team's interests ahead of his own (at least some of the time), and inspired him to call his pregnant wife (and former caddie) Justine, brother-in-law (and current caddie) Kessler Karain, coach Kirk, and his agent (Kevin Canning of Legacy) "Team Reed."
The captain of that team, Reed himself, maintained that he does have friends on the tour, and that he does prefer to be liked rather than loathed by his peers. But he also understands why arguably the three greatest players of all time -- Nicklaus, Woods, and Ben Hogan -- were not exactly loved by those they vanquished.
"It's not a popularity contest out there," Reed said.
He's far more interested in winning something else. Can he pull it off in his first major? Who knows?
His high school teammate, Chandler, made a safer Masters prediction.
"When he arrives, you'll know he's there," Chandler said.
"Patrick Reed's never been the kind of player who's going to go anywhere quietly."
ESPN.com's Bob Harig contributed to this report.