If the so-called patrons at the Masters taught us anything on Sunday evening as Patrick Reed tenaciously ground out his maiden major championship victory, it was that you can earn a sporting crowd’s respect with your performance but it will take a lot more than talent and application to win their hearts.
The 2018 Masters winner has a background that suggests he should have been a slam dunk to be the people’s champion at Augusta National Golf Club.
A Texan by birth, Reed is as redneck as the good ol’ boys over in Georgia and having starred on the NCAA title-winning golf team at Augusta State University he is one of the city’s own.
He should now be a hometown hero for earning the right to wear the famous Green Jacket and reserve his place in the golfing pantheon.
Yet right from their pre-round introductions at the first tee box, when playing partner Rory McIlroy from Holywood, Co Down received more noise and warmth from the spectators outside the ropes than true-blue American Reed, it was clear which golfer the Masters’ patrons were rooting for in the last round’s final pairing.
Reed was holding the three-shot overnight lead as he set out on his bid for a first major victory, much the same the position McIlroy had been in seven years earlier when he had been four strokes to the good only to fail with a final-round 80.
Yet McIlroy’s goal to become just the sixth male professional to win all four majors held way more gravitas for a golfing public fully aware of the historical significance of such a feat being secured at the youngest yet, perhaps most revered title of the quartet.
Even as McIlroy’s bid for a career grand slam began to fade around the turn, Reed was still not the chosen one, for as Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler made their charges through Amen Corner to pile the pressure on their USA Ryder Cup team-mate. It was then the leader’s bogeys that were cheered as much as the chaser’s birdies when leaderboards were updated in every corner of the property.
Reed has learned to expect nothing else and has come to embrace his pantomime villain role, using it as motivation on Sunday. Yet in so many ways he is responsible for his unloveable persona among the golfing elite.
Reed, you see, has history. He wound up at Augusta State because he was thrown off the University of Georgia golf team – Reed says for alcohol violations, the coaches have been reported as citing personality issues, team-mates allege less palatable reasons – and similarly failed to gel with his new colleagues despite helping them win two NCAA national titles.
That is all water under the bridge compared to the thing which sticks in the craw of many of Reed’s contemporaries, however.
Self-belief is one thing but broadcasting such confidence in a network television interview is usually interpreted as arrogance and the Texan’s statement in March 2014 after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship that he was a top-five player in the world has dogged him ever since.
Sure, Reed was on a high, a WGC winner at the age of 23 and his third PGA Tour win in seven months, but claiming your play was worthy of a top-five player when he had only just reached the top 20 was enough to ruffle his colleagues on tour and the perception of him as a cocky so-and-so has remained to this day.
That’s despite his startling Ryder Cup debut for Team USA at Gleneagles and his heroics in claiming an epic singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine National in 2016 as the Americans finally got their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2008.
That Reed held his nerve and bounced back from every setback during his final-round, one-under-par 71, holding off both Spieth and eventual runner-up Fowler to take the victory by one stroke at 15 under par makes him a true Masters champion and that was reflected in the warm reception he received around the 18th green as he negotiated a nerve-jangling two-putt to claim the green jacket.
The 27-year-old will parlay his $1.89m winner’s cheque into even greater financial rewards on the back of his valiant success on Sunday night.
The love, though, may be a little harder to come by…