On Sunday, Patrick Reed entered golf immortality by winning the Masters Tournament.
Though it was his first time donning the Green Jacket, it gave golf fans should realize the important trait shared by Reed and Tiger Woods.
The differences are obvious. One is white; the other a self-proclaimed “Cablinasian.” One attended Stanford; the other Augusta University after being run off from the University of Georgia. One never won a major before Sunday; the other has 14. One is the most dominant golfer ever, and the other is still trying to establish himself.
To casual observers, the only similarity between Woods and Reed is that they won their first Green Jackets in their 20s. But there’s another similarity, one that holds great significance for the game of golf.
Last weekend, Reed did his best Tiger impression on his scorecard and in the narrative he brought to the tournament.
When Tiger broke into golf and started winning majors like they were going out of style, he brought controversy.
This was the first time someone who looked like him had dominated golf. Not only did he dominate the competition, he knew how dominant he was. And he didn’t apologize for it. He made it clear that he didn’t owe anything to anyone except himself, and a lot of people hated that. Mix in his high-profile infidelity scandal a few years later, and haters had all the ammunition they needed.
In a 2013 list of the Top 10 most arrogant golfers of all time, Richard Leivenberg named Woods as, “the most arrogant golfer and perhaps the most arrogant athlete ever.”
With Tiger, there was no middle ground. He was either a flawed hero or an outright villain.
He forced us to choose a side.
And that’s the beauty of Tiger.
Tiger’s absence deprived golf of a villain until Reed and his checkered backstory sat atop the leaderboard Sunday.
Among golf’s traditionalists, Reed already had enemies. He’s talked trash. In 2014, he declared himself a Top 5 player in the world. He’s been nicknamed Captain America for his spirited Ryder Cup performances. There, he once shushed a European crowd after winning a hole. His fist pumps after every clutch putt is frowned upon by many golfers.
Then, news broke that Reed and his family were estranged and hadn’t spoked six years. And the rumors about the circumstances that led to Reed’s dismissal from UGA’s golf team did him no favors either.
On the tournament’s final day, Reed officially ascended from being disliked to officially wearing the black hat of the villain
By literally and figuratively wearing the black hat, Reed gave the tournament’s final round the tension between good and evil that golf has lacked.
Going against the white-hat-wearing good guys like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, Reed made people choose between the spotless regulars or the slightly-flawed bad guy atop the leaderboard.
It’s what drew me to the tournament this weekend with Tiger’s return to Augusta, and it’s what kept me tuned in after Tiger fell out of contention.
No matter your opinion of Tiger Woods, we have to face the fact that his villain days may be nearing their end.
And if Tiger’s days are numbered, golf needs someone to step up and wear the black hat. Whether it’s Reed again, who could make a career of playing the villain, or someone else, the role must be filled. It molds each tournament’s narrative, and, most importantly, it forces us to get in someone’s corner instead of sitting on the fence.