SAN DIEGO – On a bright Saturday by the sea, Patrick Reed suddenly found himself in the epicenter of a storm of controversy.
After torching the front nine of the South Course in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Reed took to the 10th tee with a four-shot lead. His tee shot, however, found a bunker left of the fairway. From an awkward lie, Reed hit a 132-yard, 8-iron that landed left of the cart path left of the green.
And that’s when things got interesting.
As he neared the ball, Reed asked volunteers if the ball had bounced. They said they had not seen the ball bounce – although replay showed the ball did bounce before settling deep into the rough. Reed’s playing partners, Robby Shelton and Will Gordon, also said they had not seen the ball bounce.
Nor did the three caddies in the group.
Thus, Reed alerted his playing partners that he was going to check if the ball was embedded. He picked up the ball, put his finger into a hole in the ground, and decided the ball was embedded. Then he called for a rules official to make sure the ball had been embedded and the official, Brad Fabel, declared it was.
Reed was allowed to take a free drop due to the embedded ball and made par.
Many others took to social media to say Reed, who was involved in a rules controversy in the 2019 Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, took liberty with the rules. Some were moved to use the “C” word that ends in heater.
Reed met with rules official John Mutch after the round to review the incident.
“When we got up there, first thing you do is you obviously ask, did you see the ball bounce, and if they say no, at that point I marked it to check to see if it was embedded,” Reed said during his media interview. “It definitely broke the plane. So from that point, called the rules official over and the rules official comes over and he checks to make sure it’s broken the plane and he agreed.
“When you have three players, three caddies and the volunteer’s really close to the golf ball not seeing the ball bounce, then you have to go by what everyone sees and what everyone saw. When no one has seen that, then the rules official basically say whether it’s free relief or not, and the rules official agreed that the ball has broken the plane and it was relief.
“It’s an unfortunate situation obviously, but at the end of the day when you finish a round and the head rules official comes up to you and has the video and shows everything that went down to the whole group and says that you’ve done this perfectly, you did this the exact right way, the protocols you did were spot on, at that point, you know, I feel great about it.”
Mutch said Reed did nothing improper.
“I wanted to know if he saw the ball bounce and neither he nor his fellow competitors saw the ball bounce. It’s pretty clear watching the video that he got to within 10 yards of the ball and asked the volunteer who was standing right there, ‘Did it bounce?’ and the volunteer said it did not bounce. So it was reasonable for him to conclude that that was his ball, it did not bounce and he was then entitled to see if it was embedded.
“He operated the way the rules permit him to operate.”
Reed said he would not have done anything differently.
“It is an unfortunate thing that happened today, but at the same time it’s exactly what I would have done every time, exactly what every player should do,” Reed said. “You should ask your playing opponents if they’ve seen whether it’s a ball bounce or whether it crosses a hazard line, you always ask them first and then you ask the volunteer, and then from there you check to see and at that point you call a rules official.
“When you have the rules officials and everybody come up and say that you did it textbook and did it exactly how you’re supposed to do, then that’s all you can do. I mean, when we’re out there and we’re playing, we can’t see everything. That’s why you rely on the other players, other opponents, you rely on the volunteers as well as rely on the rules officials. When they all say what we’ve done is the right thing, then you move on and you go on.”
Reed didn’t go on very well. He made four bogeys on his next six holes, horseshoed a short putt for birdie on the 17th but finished with a birdie to shoot 70 and grab a share of the 54-hole lead with Carlos Ortiz.
“Great thing is I still have a chance to win a golf tournament,” Reed said. “Now have to go out tomorrow and put the foot down and try to make as many birdies as possible.”
Reed has been a lightning rod on the PGA Tour, a polarizing figure that some people love to hate; a villain if you will. In the 2019 Hero World Challenge, Reed took two practice swings that scraped the sand and improved his lie on both occasions. Cameras caught the infraction. After the round, Reed pleaded his case, bringing up the angle of the cameras, but was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
The following week in Australia in the Presidents Cup, Reed got an earful from the fans throughout the tournament. On the third day of action, Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law, Kessler Karain, was involved in an altercation with a fan and was not allowed to caddie in Sunday’s singles matches.