CHASKA, Minn. — Patrick Reed wasn’t part of the task force put together by U.S. Ryder Cup officials to reverse Europe’s two decade-long domination.
But in the span of a few hours Sunday, he proved that grit on the greens and smarts off the tee can close that gap faster than all the committee meetings and long-term planning in the world.
Playing in only his second Ryder Cup, Reed drew Rory McIlroy in the critical opening match. McIlroy is Europe’s unquestioned leader, a three-time major winner who is ranked third in the world and one of the best drivers of the ball in golf. Reed, who is ranked No. 8 but isn’t nearly as long off the tee, was featured on the front of this month’s Golf Digest under the title “How to Dominate With Your Driver.”
And on this day he was every bit as good as his press. The two traded birdies and stares all afternoon, with McIlroy turning to the crowd after rolling in a tough 40-footer at No. 8, pumping both fists and practically daring the gallery to boo.
When Reed responded by sinking his own birdie from 20 feet, he pulled the ball out of the cup and turned to face McIlroy, then wagged his index finger in a show of defiance. But to prove that sportsmanship was as much a part of the bargain as gamesmanship, the two exchanged fist bumps before they resumed the battle on the next tee.
“I consider everybody, whether it’s the European side, captains, vice captains … a big Ryder Cup family,” Reed said, said just moments after his 1-up victory set the tone for the Americans’ 17-11 win, their first since 2008 and only their third dating to 1993.
“We want to beat them at their best,” he added, “and they want to beat us at our best.”
Reed came to Hazeltine after posting a 3-0-1 mark in his only previous appearance, at Gleneagles in 2014, and forged a partnership with Jordan Spieth that was something to see. They played all four sessions in the first two days, taking on Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson — the Olympic gold and silver medalist, respectively — in three of those matches and winning twice.
But they were almost denied that fourth match, when Reed made seven birdies and an eagle on his own ball — arguably his finest moment amid a handful of great ones here. Days earlier, Tiger Woods, serving as a U.S. vice captain in these matches, had told Reed he’d likely have to sit out one of the foursomes or four-ball sessions. Reed listened dutifully, then simply told Woods, “You are not sitting me on any matches.”
That bit of defiance hinted at why Reed’s teammates dubbed him “Captain America.” It also put Woods squarely in his corner. So when captain Davis Love thought about sitting Reed and Spieth for the second session Saturday, it was Woods who went to bat for the pair.
“We all kind of had a little bit different idea,” Love recalled. “Even my son threw a lineup out. He’s my cart driver, and he says, ‘Here’s a lineup.’ I finally just said to Tiger, ‘Are we playing them or are we sitting them?’ He said, ‘No, you have to send them back out there.”
Good thing, too.
“I knew today was going to be tough, going against a guy like Rory, especially how he was playing earlier this week,” Reed said. “To come out and play as well as we both did, especially on that front nine, was definitely something fun to be part of.
“Pretty sure,” he added a moment later, “it was fun to watch, too.”
And for members of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force, it was must-see TV.