In Protecting One—Patrick Reed—The Tour Risks Losing Respect of Many

By now, PGA Tour executives must feel a gloomy kinship with those anonymous White House officials who regularly insist the President is taking a mature approach on an issue, only to wake to another inflammatory tweet storm from the toilet. For no matter how meticulously the Tour has sought to douse the Patrick Reed conflagration, Reed himself only provides more kindling.

A number of truths became apparent when Golfweek revealed that Reed has engaged a lawyer in an effort to silence Brandel Chamblee, the most prominent critic of his alleged cheating at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last month.

First: If you’re willing to pay, you can always find an attorney who’ll dispatch a cease and desist letter on your behalf, regardless of how legally flimsy its claims are.

Second: This story owes its continued existence not to clickbait media but to Reed’s tone-deaf arrogance, from his brusque denial of wrongdoing to his taunting shoveling gesture during the Presidents Cup to this half-baked 1-800-LAWYER caper.

Third: Reed either ignores good advice or receives bad advice, and neither scenario recommends his inner circle, a group so small and lightweight it could fit comfortably on a golf cart and still leave room for his Tour bag.

Fourth: Others care more about Reed’s reputation than he seemingly does, specifically the PGA Tour. And that is where the deepest disconnect exists in this sorry episode — not between the Tour and Reed, or between Reed and fans, but between the Tour and a public that believes it has seen the evidence for itself.

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The Tour says Reed has been appropriately sanctioned under its guidelines. That’s true. Those guidelines give undue weight to the notion of intent, and without the ability to read Reed’s mind it’s impossible to conclude he intentionally broke the game’s cardinal rule: play it as it lies. As far as the jury convened at Tour HQ is concerned, justice has been served.

The issue the Tour faces is that the wider public is accustomed to an American judicial system designed to reach a fair conclusion from conflicting testimony.

Reed can hold to his version of events. But if a parade of guys who play for a living testify that professionals don’t typically begin practice takeaways right behind the ball in a waste area, and that people who can tell if there’s an extra wrap under the grip of their club certainly know if that club dislodges a scoop of sand (twice), then another jury might reach an altogether more damning verdict about Reed’s intent than the Tour process permits.

The Tour has acted in accordance with its own procedures, but that is not a winning argument in the court of public opinion. Commissioner Jay Monahan is a proud product of Irish-American Boston, so it’s reasonable to assume he knows what can happen to an institution that views its reputation as copper-fastened to that of its members, that prizes internal discipline over public accountability when handling allegations of troubling behavior. All too often, the institution remains tarnished long after the individual wrongdoer has been forgotten.

There are people in golf who for a variety of reasons — some noble, some not so — have sought to ring-fence Reed and rationalize his conduct, to protect him, the game and the PGA Tour from a stigma that is awfully hard to erase even in this land of short memories and second chances. Others who are personally ambivalent about Reed may still be uneasy about leaving him to a social media firing squad that loves nothing more than an incriminating video and an unsympathetic target.

It’s a defense that is fated to fail, not least because the accused is apparently incapable of aiding his own questionable cause. His continuing hubris and foolhardy missteps are forcing his protectors inexorably closer to a reckoning that may already be unavoidable: which is asking themselves if defending the integrity of Patrick Reed is really the hill they’re willing to die on.

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