Why golf’s most polarising figures master Augusta
The Masters is never short on storylines.
Yet as quickly as the game’s most coveted tournament comes around, another “unpopular” winner like Patrick Reed walks away with the prized green jacket to add to the narrative.
Augusta National’s penchant for pantomime villains reigning supreme dates as far back as 1951 when the sweet-swinging Ben Hogan won the first of his two jackets.
Hogan was a freak with club in hand but frosty by nature – a perception only enhanced later in his career when it overlapped the arrival of golf’s undisputed king of the people, Arnold Palmer. Many excused Hogan for his introverted ways because of life’s challenges thrown at him, including his father’s suicide, the Second World War and a near-fatal car accident in 1949. Many dubbed his triple-crown season of 1953 the greatest comeback in sport. Yet Hogan was never celebrated in the same way as Jack and Arnie were.
Three-time champion Nick Faldo enjoyed a turbulent relationship with his fellow players and press. Scottish newspaper The Scotsman once wrote: “Nick Faldo doesn’t have friends, he has admirers. For much of his career his fellow players, the media and his growing band of ex-wives have qualified on neither count.”
“Playing with Nick Faldo is like playing by yourself – only slower,” adds 1989 British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia. But, boy, could the man once labelled a “prick” by Paul Azinger handle the heat at Augusta.
Such vitriol can also be pointed at 2017 champion Sergio Garcia, who spent years gracing us with on-course tantrums and utter petulance, not to mention racist “fried chicken” remarks. Even Garcia didn’t believe he was good enough to win at Augusta, until one day he learned to harness his inner bad boy for the better.
Two-time winner Bubba Watson is no cleanskin, either. When 103 US PGA Tour players were asked who, from their peers, they wouldn’t help in hypothetical fisticuffs in the carpark, Bubba was the resounding winner. But Bubba was eventually able to make the transition from A-grade arse to Amen Corner specialist.
And who can forget old-school offender Vijay Singh, whose hate rating soared after he was cited for cheating early in his career, allegedly altering his scorecard and eventually suspended by the Asian Tour.
Singh also didn’t win over many fans of the fairer sex when he opposed Annika Sorenstam’s entry into a men’s event by telling USA Today: “I hope she misses the cut. Why? Because she doesn’t belong out here.”
There was also the deer-antler spray controversy, where he pleaded ignorance to the advantages of taking the steroid alternative and has since been locked in a legal stoush with the US PGA Tour to clear his name.
Seve Ballesteros could be abrasive at times, while Gary Player had a knack for rubbing people the wrong way … the list goes on.
While the Masters has had its fair share of matinee idols like Fred Couples, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, Reed is the latest winner who won’t have a queue of past players rushing to sit next to him at next year’s annual Champions Dinner.
From cheating allegations during his college golf days to his arrogant, “I’m a top-five player in the world” comment as a plucky 23-year-old winner of the 2014 WGC–Cadillac Championship, Reed’s reputation has taken a dive despite his obvious talents. He was once caught making a homophobic slur during a live broadcast of the 2014 WGC–HSBC Champions in China. Throw in his estranged relationship with his family, and Reed has quickly become the game’s most polarising figure.
So what is it about golf’s hallowed turf that allows the bad boys to shine? While they’ve all proved to be impervious to outside opinion, it’s clear to excel at Augusta you must be incredibly resilient over four days. Increasingly, it seems those who possess a narcissistic streak tend to handle the spotlight better than most. Reed’s mental fortitude is what got him over the line when nobody expected it or, sadly, wanted it. For that, he must be praised.
It’s precisely why Tiger Woods’ jacket size should be kept on file for a few more years.