By DOUG FERGUSON
The violation was so egregious that Rickie Fowler, glancing at the replay on television, quickly raised his eyebrows and said: “Whoa! What was THAT?”
It was Patrick Reed.
This was just over a year ago in the Bahamas, the day Reed infamously used the back of his wedge to scoop away sand — twice — from behind his golf ball in a waste bunker, improving his line of play. Only when he was shown video evidence did Reed accept the two-shot penalty, but not before suggesting the camera angle made it look worse than it was.
The penalty, as it turns out, was worth more than two shots.
There is no greater punishment in golf than being stuck with a reputation for cheating.
Reed was always going to have a hard time living down that incident.
It followed him to Australia, where the fans were so abusive his caddie got into it with a spectator and was replaced for the final day of the Presidents Cup. It stayed with him in the chill environment of Kapalua, where a spectator yelled “CHEATER!” after Reed hit a putt in a playoff. A few weeks later in San Diego, Reed asked police to remove hecklers.
The verbal abuse was silenced by golf not having fans because of the pandemic.
And then more outrage involving Reed, fueled mightily by social media, arrived during an otherwise idyllic Saturday afternoon at Torrey Pines.
Moving past this one will be almost impossible.
As far as the PGA Tour is concerned, Reed did nothing wrong on the 10th hole of the third round at the Farmers Insurance Open. And according to the Rules of Golf, which relies on facts over reputation, the tour was right.
“He operated the way the rules permit him to operate,” said John Mutch, the tour’s senior tournament director.
This was about optics. Mostly, it was about Reed.
He pulled his approach from a fairway bunker into thick grass left of the 10th green. Approaching where a volunteer had marked the spot with a tiny flag, Reed asked if the ball bounced. “No, I didn’t see it bounce,” the volunteered replied.
He turned to his playing partners, PGA Tour rookie Will Gordon and second-year player Robby Shelton, and told them, “They said it didn’t bounce,” and that he would check for an embedded lie. Crouching over, he marked the spot with a tee, put the ball in the palm of his hand and kept probing the turf for about 5 seconds when he called for an official. And then he poked around for another five seconds.
“I believe it broke ground, but I’m going to let you make that call,” Reed told Brad Fabel, the rules official.
Fabel didn’t immediately know what he was talking about because Reed had placed the ball about 8 feet away. Reed showed him where the ball was, Fabel poked around and agreed there was a “lip,” meaning the ball had broken the plane of the soil.
The procedure Reed followed wasn’t illegal. It wasn’t even necessary for him to call for an official. Rory McIlroy didn’t ask for a ruling when the same thing happened on the 18th hole that day. And according to McIlroy, Rory Sabbatini also took relief from an embedded ball on the 15th hole Saturday.
The rule (16-3) allows players to proceed as if the ball is embedded provided it is “reasonable to conclude” based on the information at hand.
Reed wasn’t careful, either. The lie was suspect enough to call for a ruling. Even the rules official working the broadcast, Ken Tackett, suggested the “best practice” would be to leave the ball where it was until the official arrived. That would eliminate anything questionable.
And with Reed, there are bound to be questions.
Adding to the firestorm was video that clearly showed the ball bounced forward. That doesn’t change anything. Players can act on only what they know at the time.
But with Reed, it changes everything, and his response after the round only raised another question.
“If we saw the ball bounce or if someone said the ball bounced, then I never would have marked the golf ball,” he said. “You know when the ball bounces, it’s almost impossible for it to break the plane.”
So if it bounced no more than a few feet — roughly the height from which players take a drop — how did it become embedded?
McIlroy unwittingly came to his rescue by having the same thing happen, which wasn’t discovered by CBS until after the third round. It appears his ball on the 18th hole went slightly forward, though video wasn’t quite as clear as it was for Reed.
“On my life, that ball of mine was plugged, it was in its own pitch mark, so I took relief,” McIlroy said.
By the book.
Except the names of the characters are different.
“We know who they are,” Tom Watson said long ago, without offering names, when asked about cheating on the PGA Tour. The list probably is longer than the people who run golf and preach its honor system would like to admit.
Winning doesn’t take care of everything. Otherwise, the talk out of Torrey Pines would be Reed’s phenomenal short game and his overall toughness that carried him to a five-shot victory.
Instead, he left with suspicion as his shadow.
Blame that on the Bahamas.