Lighter Reed lugs baggage into Masters defense

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Patrick Reed arrived at Augusta National Golf Club this week a little lighter, with seemingly a little less game and a much heavier burden as the defending Masters champion.

Reed, who held off Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm in the final round last year to win his first major championship, will attempt to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters tournaments and the first since Tiger Woods in 2001-02.

“I would always feel like it would be harder to win the first because every guy out here believes that they can win a major, and you know, you feel like you have the game to do it,” Reed said Tuesday. “But until you actually do it, there’s always that kind of self-doubt in the back of your mind that’s always like, ‘Well, you know, even though I believe I can do it, well, I haven’t done it yet, and am I going to be able to do it?’

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“So once you get over that hurdle and you do it once, then all of a sudden now your confidence goes even higher because you start believing; not only do you believe that you can win but you’ve also already done it, as well. To me, I was always thinking that the first one would be the hardest.”

Given the current state of Reed’s game, it might be much harder for him to win a second Masters title this year. Since sliding on a green jacket a year ago, he hasn’t won a PGA Tour event and has slipped to No. 18 in the official world golf rankings. He finished fourth at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in June, but didn’t finish higher than a tie for 19th in his final eight events in 2018.

This season, Reed has one top-10 finish in 10 tour events; he tied for 24th or worse in the past four tournaments. He ranks 91st in driving distance (294.5 yards) and 194th in driving accuracy (54.3 percent).

“I feel like the game now is where it needs to be,” Reed said. “You know, we’ve put in a lot of hard work throughout the entire year. When you come here, you need to be mentally as well as physically ready to go out and play. I’ve been really close. I’ve put myself in position in some events. It’s just one round here or there that has kind of hurt me. I just need to go out and put four solid rounds together.”

Before Reed attempts to do that, he’ll host the storied champions dinner on Tuesday night, which has been a Masters staple since Ben Hogan started the tradition in 1952. Reed selected a menu of bone-in ribeye steaks, mac and cheese, creamed corn, steamed broccoli and creamed spinach.

It’s quite a buffet for a player who has lost to 10 to 12 pounds since last year.

“It’s going to be a very fun night,” said Reed, who is sharing a locker in the champions locker room with 1946 winner Herman Keiser. “Honestly, I just can’t wait to go out and spend time with the past champions and hear different stories and be able to talk to the guys about, you know, how their experience was winning their first, whether it was a couple years ago, last year, whether it was a long time ago.”

Few Masters champions have been as complex and vilified as Reed. He grew up in Houston, but played golf at the University of Georgia before leaving under controversy and leading Augusta State (now Augusta University) to back-to-back NCAA team titles. His parents live only 3 miles from the gates of Augusta National Golf Club, but he hasn’t been to their home since 2012 because of a family rift.

Reed’s father, Bill; mother, Jeannette; and younger sister, Hannah, watched on TV with friends as their son and brother fulfilled his boyhood dream last year. His father told ESPN’s Ian O’Connor last year that Reed’s estranged family members embraced and wept when he sank the winning putt.

“As we were all hugging as a family,” Bill Reed said, “we said, ‘This is for Patrick, too. We are all hugging him, too.'”

Reed’s parents have never met his two young children, their grandchildren.

“We will pray every day like we have that we will get to see Patrick and those two kids,” Bill Reed said last year. “We pray every day that our families will be together.”

By all accounts, they’re still apart as Reed returns to Augusta National as the defending Masters champion. He told The New York Times in a story published Tuesday that he “wouldn’t at all be surprised” if his parents and sister showed up at the tournament this year, even against the wishes of Reed and his wife, Justine.

Reed’s complicated family history and brash demeanor — he publicly criticized Team USA captain Jim Furyk and his teammates after the Americans’ ugly loss to Team Europe in the Ryder Cup in Paris last year — has left many golf fans yearning for the day he puts a green jacket on someone else.

That might happen Sunday — or Reed might very well be slipping on a slimmer version of the one he wore last year.

“I feel like I have a lot of fans around here,” Reed said. “That’s one great thing about the sport we play is whether it’s here, whether it’s anywhere else we play or whether it’s around the world. A lot of the fans, they respect great golf and they want to see great golf.

“It all depends on how you handle yourself, and the more interactive you are with the fans, the more they are going to respect you. Because at the end of the day, the more the fans and the people get to know you, the more they realize that you’re just a normal guy out there playing golf and you’re just doing your profession.”

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