How Reed cracked the Masters code
Masters champion was 27 over par on Augusta National before this year
April 09, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Reed wins maiden major, Spieth & Rickie apply the pressure
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sure, Patrick Reed played Augusta National while starring at the college just miles down the road. Those rounds were on a shaggier, slower version of Alister Mackenzie’s masterpiece, though.
Reed and his teammates were playing a very different Augusta National on those occasions when they drove down Magnolia Lane instead of the cleverly-named Magnolia Drive (so close, but so far!) that leads into Forest Hills, the public course that the Augusta State Jaguars called their home.
The Augusta National that players face during Masters week is almost unrecognizable from the one that’s seen any other week. Conditions change so dramatically on the tournament’s eve that players talk about the Green Jackets “flipping the switch” that makes the course exponentially firmer and faster overnight.
That’s why Reed’s experience from his amateur days was little help, if any, when it came to the first major of the year. It showed in the high scores he kept shooting at what could be considered a hometown major. Nine of his 12 rounds at Augusta National were over par and none were lower than 70. His scoring average in his first four Masters was 74.3, and he was 21 over par in his previous six rounds. Last year, he shot 76-77 to miss his second cut in four Masters starts.
Not exactly a record that portended future success. It didn’t look like Reed would be adding green to the red, white and blue that already filled his closet.
For a player with majors on his mind, the repeated failures at the only annual site of a Grand Slam event was unacceptable. This year, Team Reed embarked on a “deep dive” to try to solve the riddle that is Augusta National.
That meant back-to-back, eight-hour days in the week heading into the 2018 Masters. On the first day, they only played four holes – Nos. 1, 2, 12 and 13 – while walking the golf course with a local caddie to look for the ideal lines off the tees and flat putts on the undulating greens.
Reed's swing coach, Kevin Kirk, estimates they hit 20 shots in those eight hours. “Maybe 30,” he said.
“And about 5,000 putts.”
The next day, they played 18 holes in eight hours, a pace that makes Saturday at your local muni look like a two-ball with Brandt Snedeker and Usain Bolt. Reed hit multiple tee shots on each hole, searching for the optimal target for all the potential combinations of wind direction and hole location. They took their time around the greens, as well.
“To play well on this golf course, you have to operate on such a non-linear plane,” Kirk said. “If you try to just go point-to-point (in a straight line), you’re going to get killed out here.”
On Monday of Masters week, while most eyes were trained on the threesome of Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Justin Thomas, Reed played alone behind them. It took him three hours to play nine holes.
The long hours were worthwhile. Team Reed cracked the code, resulting in the first major championship for its 27-year-old CEO. Reed used his exhaustive education of Augusta National to shoot 15-under 273, just three shots off the tournament’s scoring record. His first three sub-70 rounds at the home of the Masters (69-66-67) gave him a three-shot lead after 54 holes. The final round wasn’t as good, but it was good enough. He hung tough through the trials and travails that can be expected on a player’s maiden voyage into major contention.
He finished one shot ahead of Rickie Fowler and two ahead of a surging Jordan Spieth, who shot a final-round 64 despite a bogey at the final hole. Reed also held off Rory McIlroy, with whom he played in the final group. McIlroy shot a final-round 74 to extend his quest for the Career Grand Slam another year.
Reed couldn't help but notice that the fans and media were pulling for those other players. He thrives on slights, both real and perceived. It's why his best play is in international Cup competition.
“No one expects me to go out and win,” said Reed, who admits that the lack of support “fueled my fire.”
Most of his peers will avoid listening to TV commentators in the hours before the final round, but Reed was watching when all but one of Golf Channel’s commentators picked him to lose his three-shot lead. Reed also noticed the tepid response he received on the first tee, compared to the enthusiastic roars for “Rors."
Combine Sunday’s lack of support with his copious course notes, and it created a winning combination. Late on Sunday afternoon, one of Augusta National’s club professionals congratulated Kirk on his student’s victory. “No one worked harder,” he said.
Reed now has six PGA TOUR victories, including a major, World Golf Championship and FedExCup Playoffs event. He’s fifth in this season’s FedExCup standings.
Like many of his peers, Reed uses a collective noun when discussing his on-course efforts. Team Reed includes his wife and former caddie, Justine; her brother, Kessler, who now carries Patrick’s bag; Kirk, the swing coach, and Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach at Augusta State who now serves as his performance coach.
They spent the past few months trying to find Patrick the right clubs after he struggled last year with his equipment. He started the year without an equipment deal, giving himself the freedom to tinker but also the burden of experimenting with the endless options available.
“It was a big distraction,” Kirk said. “Instead of spending time on skill training and doing things to help his golf game, we were testing shafts and heads and balls.”
The setup he used to win the Masters wasn’t finalized until last month. He settled on a Ping G400 driver at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and put a Titleist Pro V1 into play at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. He also put an old set of Callaway irons in his bag earlier this year. The new clubs helped him have three consecutive top-10 finishes entering the Masters, including a runner-up at the Valspar Championship.
Justine is more than just the mother of their two children, three-year-old Windsor Wells and four-month-old Barrett Benjamin. She’s involved in all his decisions, even poring through the data to find the holes at Augusta National that gave her husband trouble. Patrick credited her for convincing him to hit 3-wood off the first tee instead of driver, which helped him play one of the course’s hardest holes in even par. He’d averaged 4.7 strokes on the hole in his previous Masters. He birdied the hole for the first time in this year's second round.
A change in trajectories also helped. The standard scouting report on Reed notes his strong preference for a draw. He worked to add a fade before the Masters to help him hit some of the fairways he’d consistently struggled to find. When Reed had trouble producing that shot shape during a practice session, Kirk told him to “scrap all the rules” and do whatever it took to move the ball left-to-right.
It required an exaggerated swing, with an Arnold Palmer-esque follow-through, for Reed to go against his natural ball flight. He had hesitations about unveiling the unorthodox swing on TOUR, but the shot was crucial to his victory. Finding more fairways is important for Reed, who isn’t one of these 20-somethings who gets it done with prodigious distance off the tee. He ranks 52nd on TOUR in driving distance (299.4 yards).
“When he can be in the fairway, he’s tough to beat,” Gregory said. “He’s as good as anybody in the world from 150 yards and in.”
Augusta National famously favors a draw, the trajectory played by its co-founder Bobby Jones, but there are several holes where it helps to hit the tee shot left-to-right, including the par-5 eighth and 15th holes, as well as the finishing hole. The new shot shape was one reason Reed was on record-setting pace on the par-5s, playing his first 12 in 13 under par. He eagled both of the second nine's par-5s on Saturday to take control of the tournament.
He parred all four on Sunday, but still was just two shots off the tournament’s par-5 scoring record. Clinging to a one-shot lead, he played the 18th hole perfectly to clinch his first major.
“He’s a throwback. He’s a shotmaker. He loves to move the ball,” said Gregory, who celebrated his 43rd birthday Sunday by watching his student's victory. “Augusta rewards a creative mind, not someone who only sees only one shot, especially around the greens.”
But it also takes local knowledge. That was the added ingredient this year.
“It takes time to learn this golf course,” Gregory said. “Jordan Spieth is the exception.”
And, for this year, Patrick Reed rules.