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Controversial Patrick Reed crowned champion at Augusta

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On Sunday, with the sun setting on the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club, The Masters Tournament crowned its newest champion. Over the course of four days, Patrick Reed, a controversial, brash, and cocky 27-year-old from Texas, proved the best of the elite 86-man field, finishing with a 1-under par 71 for a one-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler.

Reed is not a stranger to the big moment. Although his Masters win was the first major victory of his P.G.A. Tour career — the Masters is one of four majors on the Tour along with the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, and the P.G.A. Championship — Reed has now won six times on Tour.

He has also played a key role in the past two Ryder Cups, a biennial team competition between Europe and the United States, posting a 6-1-2 record in the two competitions. At the Ryder Cup, emotions run high, and Reed has not backed down from the action. In 2014, during his tournament debut at Gleneagles in Scotland, he put one finger to his mouth and shushed the home crowd after making a long putt in a victory over Henrik Stenson. His actions in Scotland prompted both a wave of support from those who admired his confidence and grit and one of criticism from those who found his actions disrespectful and over-the-top.

Reed’s Ryder Cup swagger and success carried over to the 2016 tournament at Hazeltine National in Minnesota. In his Sunday singles match, Reed went blow-for-blow against four-time major winner and reigning FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy in perhaps the most exciting, energetic, and emotional match in Ryder Cup history. Throughout the match, Reed and McIlroy exchanged long putts, fist pumps, and primal screams. Reed eventually beat McIlroy by one hole in the match play competition.

Due to his Ryder Cup record and fierce attitude on the course, Reed has been given the nickname Captain America by some of his fans.

Although Reed has received criticism for his Ryder Cup antics, his controversial figure does not end there. In fact, the backlash against Reed started during his college days at the University of Georgia.

In 2008, Reed enrolled at Georgia, joining a veteran golf team that included P.G.A. Tour winners Hudson Swafford, Brian Harman, Harris English, and Russell Henley. However, Reed’s stay in Athens was short-lived. During his one year at Georgia, Reed was accused of cheating during a qualifying round, blamed for the theft of personal items and 400 dollars in cash from the team locker room, and arrested twice for alcohol-related incidences.

Jason Payne, the assistant golf coach at Georgia during Reed’s tenure, described Reed’s short-lived stint as a Bulldog to blogger Stephanie Wei, “Once Patrick was on campus for a few months, it became clear that Patrick was not going to mesh with the makeup of the team at that time, and he was dismissed from the team. There is no doubting the ability of Patrick as a golfer, it was Patrick as a person that we chose not to associate with.”

Having lost the trust of his coach and teammates, Reed transferred to Augusta State University — located in the same town as Augusta National — where he moved in with his parents. At Augusta State, Reed found success on the course, leading the Jaguars to back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011. However, off the course, Reed’s abrasive behavior and alleged cheating again led to fall outs with his teammates, escalating to the point at that his teammates considered taking a vote to kick him off the team.

Although despised by his teammates, in 2011, Reed found solace at Augusta State in the form of his then-girlfriend, now-wife Justine. The couple’s relationship developed quickly and they planned to wed in December of 2012, less than two years after they started dating.

Patrick’s parents were concerned about Patrick marrying at only 22 years old. However, after they voiced their concerns, Patrick completely cut ties with his family, failing to even invite his parents or younger sister to his wedding. In fact, Patrick still hasn’t spoken to his family, who watched the final round of The Masters just a few miles away in their Augusta house.

For the Reeds, Patrick’s victory at Augusta National was bittersweet.

After watching her son win one of the most important golf tournaments in the world, an emotional Jeannette Reed, with tears streaming down her face, told Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck, “I can’t believe my son is the Masters champion. It’s surreal.”

Shipnuck, who was with the Reeds on Masters Sunday commented that Jeannette’s reaction,  “was a dizzying mix of pride and pain.”

However, Patrick did not express any desire to see his family when asked at the post round press conference if it hurt to not have his parents there to celebrate with.

He stated bluntly, “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”

Unfortunately, the criticism of Patrick has been compounded by the fact that he is not friendly towards his fellow PGA Tour competitors.

In fact, many of his peers barely know the insular Reed. Ryan Moore, a Ryder Cup teammate of Reed, told Golf.com, “I don’t really know him, even though we played on the Ryder Cup team together. He keeps to himself and does his own thing.”

Daniel Berger, another P.G.A. Tour member, echoed Moore’s sentiments. When asked who Reed’s friends are on Tour, Berger responded, “To be honest, he doesn’t really play with the guys during practice rounds. He’s always by himself.”

On top of his family drama, unfriendly personality, and cockiness, Reed was once caught yelling a homophobic slur at a 2014 tournament in China.

Given his often unpleasant personality and questionable antics, perhaps it is not surprising that the biggest cheers on Sunday at the Masters went to Reed’s nearest challengers, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler. Even after clinching the tournament with a four-foot putt on 18, the fans’ reaction was muted. In fact, the cheers for Reed were so quiet and awkward that it was hard to tell that he had won the tournament.

When asked at the post-round press conference why fans seem not to like him, Reed responded, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them? I mean, I have no idea, and honestly I don’t really care what people say on Twitter or what they say if they are cheering for me or not cheering for me. I’m out here to do my job, and that’s to play golf. I feel like if I’m doing it the right way, then that’s all that really matters.”

Although Patrick Reed is a controversial and unpopular figure on the P.G.A. Tour, he does not apologize for being himself. He is only concerned with being the best golfer he can be, and now, with a Masters title under his belt, the future looks bright for Reed.

Tiger Woods returns

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Tiger Woods made his official return to golf this past weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla. It’s been a year since Woods has played in an official PGA tournament and a couple years since any sort of consistent run of play, and the anticipation for his return was immense all over the sports world. He shot 72-71-70-72 throughout the tournament, earning him a final score of three under par and tied for 27th place. While this was nowhere near the dominance that Woods displayed on the course in past years, it was definitely a positive start for the world’s former no. 1 golfer.

“I’m very pleased, after not playing for a couple of years and then coming out here on the tour and really playing a solid four days,” Woods said in a post-tournament interview.

Woods has been plagued with back problems for the past few years and has had four procedural surgeries that aimed to alleviate some of these health concerns. The strength of one’s back muscles are vital for one’s golf swing, and as a result, Woods’ game suffered. During this period of time, he dropped from No. 1 in the world to No. 647. This most recent performance at Torrey Pines has already had a major impact on his PGA ranking, and rocketed him up 108 spots to No. 539. This is the highest Woods has been ranked since his peak, when he spent 653 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

Woods fall from No. 1 began in 2009 when he was at the center of one of the sports world’s most infamous scandals. “The National Enquirer” and other news outlets uncovered that Woods was having multiple extramarital affairs during the six years he had been married to former Swedish model Elin Nordegren. These were a very messy few years for Woods as he fell from the pinnacle of the golfing world. Rightfully so, the average American sports fan turned their back on Woods, who had once been heralded as the greatest golfer to ever live. He was dropped by nearly all his sponsors and slowly started to fade away from the sport of golf. Unfortunately, at the same time, Woods body started deteriorating with age, and the knee and back surgeries started to pile up. To add insult to injury, Woods received negative media attention again in May 2017 when he was arrested for a suspected DUI. He had been persistent in saying he would make a return to golf, but it seemed increasingly unlikely as Woods fell further into irrelevance. However, particularly following this tournament performance, there is definitely hope that Woods could return to No. 1.

On the contrary, though, many understandably want him to stay away from golf,  in light of his past actions. Many have cast a moral judgement on his actions and believe that his infidelity scandal and reckless driving charge should be enough to keep him away from the sport for life. This was evidenced by one fan yelling during Woods’ birdie putt on the par five 13th hole during the Farmers Insurance Open. Woods ended up missing the putt and the fan was swiftly escorted off the premises. Woods has always been an incredibly polarizing character on and off the course, and it seems like nothing has changed.

Yet, it cannot be denied though that Tiger Woods has a positive impact on the sport of golf. The majority of the tournament was so crowded by fans following his 18-hole days that you seldom could see him. Other PGA stars like Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama were experiencing much less attention. People love watching Woods not just because he is one of the most accomplished golfers ever, but because he is so daring and lively on the course. He brings energy and intensity to a sport that often lacks it. He attempts shots that his counterparts would never undertake, and can regularly be seen cursing, screaming, and cheering, all viewed by the older golf establishment as “unruly and unorthodox.” Tiger never cared. Woods has won 14 major championships and is one of only five players to ever win a Career Grand Slam, which includes the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. The golf world is buzzing with excitement to see if Woods, now 42, can stay healthy the rest of the year and try to regain his past stature. Woods next tournament will be at the Genesis Open at Riviera from Feb. 15 to 18 where he hopes to build on his comeback performance at Torrey Pines.

Thomas and Berger highlight new era

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Over the past five years, all eyes in the golf world have been on young stars such as Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Jason Day. Now, there is a new young star on the rise, and his name is Justin Thomas. Justin Thomas was a standout golfer at the University of Alabama, earning medals at both the SEC and NCAA Regional Championships. He also won the Haskins Award while still a freshman, which is given to the most outstanding collegiate golfer each season.  He continued to build on this success on the professional stage, graduating from the Web.Com Tour and immediately making his presence known on the PGA Tour. Thomas is a fan favorite, aweing spectators with long drives and creativity around the greens.  

       He has continued to build his resume, successfully defending his title at the CIMB Classic in late 2016. Since that win, he hasn’t looked back. The twenty-three year old just captured his fourth career win on the PGA Tour last week in Hawaii — already his third win of the season. Even more impressive, Thomas shot a 59 in the first round of last week’s Sony Open, making him the youngest player in PGA Tour history to break 60.  Thomas also broke the 72-hole scoring record on his way to a seven-shot victory over a strong field including Justin’s close friend and rival, Jordan Spieth.

       After sweeping the “Hawaiian swing.” Thomas is currently first in the season long FedEx Cup race and riding some major momentum. His next appearance will be at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February. With an entire season ahead of him, it’ll be interesting to see how Thomas’ already record-breaking year plays out.

       Another player garnering a lot of attention in today’s golf world is Daniel Berger. Like Thomas, Berger is also a product of the junior golf circuit who has had success on tours such as the American Junior Golf Association. Berger attributes much of his success to his father, who was the head coach of the Men’s United States Tennis Association. Berger learned tennis from his father and played in both tennis and golf competitions growing up. An early tennis background has allowed Berger to thrive as not just a golfer, but also as an athlete. Many young golfers have emphasized this point by following strict workout regimes and emulating other professional athletes. Because of his unique athletic upbringing, Berger has developed a unique backswing followed by a massive rotation of the hips to square up his club and deliver a pure strike. Berger’s swing has analysts and commentators scratching their heads, while he excites old time golf fans with his scrappy and efficient game.

       Berger had a successful collegiate career at Florida State University and turned pro by the age of twenty. Berger, like Thomas, quickly got through the Web.com Tour and rapidly rose through the ranks on his way to the PGA Tour. Berger’s eccentric swing and flawless short game has translated to major success on the world golf stage. He had a standout rookie season, qualifying for the Tour Championship, finishing eleventh in the FedEx Cup, and winning the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award for 2015. He followed up his rookie year with a strong sophomore campaign; Berger started the year by recording a tenth-place finish at The Masters, his first top ten finish at a major championship.  He then recorded his first professional victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, outlasting Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker.

       Contrary to the Tiger Woods era, young stars such as Spieth, Thomas, and Berger can be described best as “friendly rivals.”  This generation has grown up contending against each other and have emphasized maintaining camaraderie in their battle for the top spot in golf. While Woods often intimidated his competition with his long drives, stoic demeanor, and cold-blooded desire to win, these young players are truly redefining the professional athletic environment. With millions of dollars on the line each week and all the pressure in the world on them, the “young guns” still find time to jokingly gamble during practice rounds, hang out off the course, and most paradoxically, beat each other when they have to. The pedigree of the professional golf has never been higher and it is truly entertaining to watch these young stars carry the game on their backs their own way.     

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