Patrick Reed helped lead little Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA championships in 2010-11 with a spotless match-play record against some of college golf’s leading giants.
So a sudden-death playoff against golf’s next wunderkind with the added pressure of a Masters Tournament invitation at stake was nothing unusual for Reed.
“It felt just like I was back at the NCAAs trying to secure a win for the team,” he said Sunday after his spectacular recovery won him the PGA Tour’s regular-season finale in Greensboro, N.C.
Reed won the Wyndham Championship on the second playoff hole at Sedgefield Country Club, beating rookie phenom Jordan Spieth with what an impressed Spieth called “one heckuva crazy-good shot.” From under a massive oak tree with a sidehill lie off of ivy vines and mulch, Reed delivered a laser to seven feet – inside of the 10 feet that Spieth had already hit to seemingly set up his second victory in a month.
But then, back-to-the-wall situations have always been Reed’s specialty.
“He plays golf with a football-like mentality,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s former coach at Augusta State. “He loves that stuff.”
There is a lot of Augusta State coursing through Reed’s golfing DNA – that little-school-that-could mentality. Augusta State always had to keep proving itself among the big boys in collegiate golf, and nobody knows that more than a guy who transferred there from Georgia.
So a year spent Monday qualifying his way into six PGA Tour events and finally earning his card (along with teammate Henrik Norlander) through Q-school in 2012 was no big deal when you’ve taken out golfing bluebloods in Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein and Georgia’s Harris English in pressure formats.
“Playing at Augusta State, always being the underdog, I had the mindset that you have nothing to lose,” Reed said of his rapidly ascending initiation into the pro ranks. “That’s basically how I played all year.”
Sunday’s situation harkened back to all of his collegiate and amateur
experience. Reed shared the 54-hole lead at Sedgefield and built a three-shot lead at the turn. But Spieth made four birdies in the last seven holes to claim a share of the lead and force the playoff.
On the first playoff hole, when Spieth scrambled out of deep trouble in the trees and made a 26-footer for par while Reed was sitting only 7 feet for birdie, Reed’s experience had him fully prepared to handle it.
“He’s usually the guy scrambling from impossible situations and making opponents upset,” Gregory said.
But when Reed’s downhill birdie putt dove below the cup, it looked like Spieth had all the momentum – especially when Reed’s drive on the next hole sailed right into the trees toward the out of bounds’ stakes.
“To get the signal out, my heart sank,” he said. “But then to get three other people saying it was in, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I can do this.’ I was thinking let’s just try to make par. To set up and hit the shot I did, it was the hardest shot I’ve ever hit in my life. Trying to hit a baseball swing because the ball was so far above my feet and hit it dead straight because I couldn’t start it out right. I had to start it out straight and it went straight. It was perfect.”
Spieth gave Reed a thumbs up from the fairway and a warm congratulations when it was over. Few expected Reed could pull it off against a guy poised to become the youngest golfer in history to win two PGA Tour events, but Reed is used to that.
“That’s how I was at college,” Reed said, “and that’s what Josh pushed really hard on us – we have nothing to lose, we’re expected to lose this match, we’re expected to play bad in this event. Y’all are better than everybody. You can do it.”
Now Reed gets to come back to Augusta – where he made his mark in college and where his parents and sister live in Columbia County.
“Aw man, it means everything,” he said. “I’ve dreamt ever since I was a little kid of winning and playing at Augusta. To be able to do it and play there and spend time playing the same golf course where legends play … I can’t wait. I’m so excited.”
Said Justine Reed, his wife and caddie: “It’s just unbelievable that he gets to play in the Masters. It’s a dream come true to get to play in any major but especially that one. It’s something very special and I know he’s worked hard for this and that’s just another reward for winning.”
Ironically, it was a rare match-play failure for Reed that started this trajectory towards Augusta. In 2008 – shortly after his family moved to Evans from Louisiana – Reed played another head-to-head match with a trip to the Masters on the line. In the U.S. Amateur semifinals at Pinehurst No. 2, Reed lost to the world’s top-ranked amateur, Danny Lee.
But the setback only inspired Reed.
“If I just stay more patient and believe more in my chipping and short game, I mean I have a great chance at it later in life,” the 18-year-old Reed said.
Now 23, he’ll get that Masters chance.
“I have butterflies thinking about it,” he said. “To come back and have all that support from college and all that, it’s going to be great. I can’t wait. That may be the one place where I might not be an underdog due to the fact that all the people from Augusta will be there. I’m speechless.”