ATHENS — Have you ever played golf? I have, most of my life. Played for money, too. Generally, a buck to $5 a hole, with “carryovers and trash.” If you’re a golfer, you know what that last part means. If not, let’s just say it’s basically a bunch of silly side bets.
Anything more than that, and golf is an anxious exercise for me. It is anyway.
Of course, all that is chump change compared to what the PGA Tour pros and golf professionals play for. The pool for the Masters tournament in Augusta last weekend was $11 million, with Masters champion Patrick Reed taking home the top prize of $1.98 million. What’s the value of earning the coveted green jacket and the lifetime tournament invitation that comes with it? Priceless, I’d think.
I say all this to offer Patrick Reed the heartiest of congratulations on winning the 2018 Masters. I may be the only member of the Dawg Nation saying that. Judging from my Twitter feed, most of what’s being said about Reed by UGA fans is not fit to print.
Suffice it to say, Reed is not fondly embraced in Bulldogs country. This might seem odd, considering he once played for Georgia. But there’s good reason for the derision.
At this point, it’s pretty well documented why. Reed’s one year as a freshman golfer at Georgia was a disaster.
I first wrote about the Bulldogs experience with Reed when I was covering the Masters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2014. In that account, I kind of glossed over a lot of the things I’d been told about Reed’s time Athens then simply because I couldn’t get anybody to corroborate them on the record.
Since his Masters victory, there has been a lot more said and written about Reed’s tumultuous period at UGA, most of it coming from Shane Ryan’s New York Times best-selling book, Slaying the Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes of the PGA Tour. Therein, Jason Payne, a former assistant coach and fundraiser for Georgia’s men’s golf program, confirms many of those accusations to be true.
On Monday, I reached out to Payne, now golf coach at Charleston Southern, about his accounts in the book. He stands by them.
“I have no problem telling the truth,” Payne said.
In the interest of clarity, let’s review what those allegations are:
- Cheating on the golf course;
- Stealing from the locker room;
- Ditching a tournament;
- Two alcohol-related arrests.
There are unconfirmed reports Reed also kicked Uga, the team mascot.
I’m kidding about that last allegation, but not about the rest. Suffice it to say, Reed, who came to UGA as a junior golfer of international renown, didn’t exactly distinguish himself after signing with the Bulldogs in 2008.
But he certainly has since. After being dismissed from Georgia’s team in 2009, Reed went on to lead Augusta State to back-to-back national championships — including beating Georgia in a head-to-head matchup in the finals in 2011. As a pro, he has won six professional tournaments and has continually climbed the world rankings.
And now Reed has won his first major championship. He shot a blistering 15 under par in four days on Augusta National’s treacherous hills and valleys, better than anybody else in the field.
You know who was happy about that?
Georgia golf coach Chris Haack.
“He played some phenomenal golf,” Haack said Monday. “He really did. I’m happy for Patrick.”
Here it’s important to share one more fact about Reed and his brief matriculation at Georgia. He was 17 when he enrolled UGA. A home-schooled kid, he actually graduated from high school a year early to come to college. So he was young.
“A lot of kids do stupid things when they’re young,” Haack said. “They learn from it and they grow up. I don’t wish any ill will on Patrick. I hope he’s grown up and become a great man and a great player. That’s all I ever wanted out of him.”
Officially, Reed was kicked off Georgia’s team for alcohol-related offenses (both for underage consumption). Haack won’t confirm or deny anything else. In fact, a couple of years back, Haack signed a statement to that effect at the behest of Reed and his handlers.
“I was just really tired of talking about it, because people were always calling me about it,” Haack explained. “So, I just drafted a statement saying that his dismissal from Georgia was due to two alcohol-related incidents and that was it.”
It’s understandable that Georgia fans want to hate on Reed. He certainly did nothing to endear himself to the Bulldogs faithful, between bad behavior, beating them head-to-head, then showing up to the Notre Dame game last season with he and his wife dressed head to toe in Fighting Irish regalia (for the record, he grew up a Notre Dame fan).
But here’s the thing: There was no lying, stealing or cheating about what Reed did to that 7,500-yard-plus layout between the pines in Augusta. There was nothing controversial about rolling in all those putts from all over the place.
If Reed had been a little more mature when he donned the red and black, perhaps the Bulldogs could lay claim to another green jacket. But Georgia deserves at least a little credit for recognizing Reed’s talent as a teenager and convincing him to come all the way from Texas to play golf for them.
“It’s not a green jacket for us, even though a lot of people still try to tie him to us,” Haack said. “Credit for that one goes to Augusta State.”
I’d say forgive Reed for his past transgressions and try to embrace his tremendous athletic accomplishment for what it was this past week. But I’ve been covering sports a long time now and I know that won’t fly. These things are considered on the lines of allegiances. In the end, Reed may have started out as a Dawg, but he didn’t finish as one.
So hate on.