It’s almost awe-inspiring how Patrick Reed can slough off rules controversies with the unruffled disdain that one imagines Uday and Qusay greeted parking tickets in once-upon-a-time Baghdad.
Perhaps a man develops bulletproof confidence in the face of firing squads when he knows others are paid to throw themselves in front of the fusillade. How else to explain the scale of self-assurance that permits a professional golfer to palm his own ball, poke around in the ball mark, declare it was embedded, after it bounced, in 3-inch rough, with only cursory input from playing partners and none from rules officials, on live television, while leading a PGA Tour event.
The incident on the 10th hole at Torrey Pines during Saturday’s CBS broadcast lacked the clarity of Reed’s brazen bunker misadventure in the Bahamas in 2019. The video is inconclusive: viewers couldn’t see if Reed’s ball was in fact embedded, and the rules official wasn’t presented a fair opportunity to make that determination since Reed had already moved it. Less ambiguous is the growing sentiment that Patrick Reed’s relationship to the rules of golf mirrors that of a courtesan to her clothes—as something to occasionally be cloaked in for respectability, but otherwise an impediment to the conduct of business.
Reed comes under intense social media scrutiny every time he wanders off the short grass, and that’s a tough reputation to live with in golf. Just ask Vijay Singh, whose three major wins never quite erased the stigma of an alleged cheating incident in Asia in 1985. Reed’s reputation is both unsurprising and wholly deserved. More worrisome is the fact that in granting excessive latitude to players around the rules— in both wording and enforcement — the PGA Tour is creating a situation that is untenable with its new reality.
Like most majors sports leagues, the PGA Tour has announced several partnerships in the betting space, eager to secure its share of a lucrative revenue stream. It’s smart business. The scope for gambling on golf is almost limitless — on winners, on hole scores, on shot results. And the wealth of ShotLink performance data available on every player in every situation is a bettor’s dream.
But there are no ShotLink metrics for integrity, and just one seed of doubt can be corrosive in sports gambling. Folks who lose bets often cry foul, as an hour spent at any table in Vegas will illustrate, but the bedrock upon which betting in golf must stand is transparency, a firm belief among punters that everything is above board, that scores have standing, that rules are equitably applied. It’s difficult to reconcile that fundamental expectation with a longstanding rules culture that codifies generous out-clauses like “intent.”
The PGA Tour simply needs rules enforcement that is not considered overly deferential to players and not easily dismissed as too opaque to be squared with gambling. Patrick Reed is just a recurring symptom of a greater disease.
In his post-round interviews, Reed declared himself exonerated and said he acted appropriately. That’s a generous reading of the situation, and generosity isn’t often conferred on guys with a locker room reputation one notch above a card shark.
That’s really the crux of things: when the PGA Tour is perceived as bestowing the benefit of the doubt on a player manifestly undeserving of the privilege, the reputation ultimately bruised is that of the Tour, not the player.
In these early days of sports gambling, golf just can’t afford to have bettors turn away, convinced that the sport cannot be wagered on with complete confidence that the outcome will be fair. Acting decisively against players who seem indifferent to the rules is a pretty good strategy to avoid that.
Published at Golfweek.com, January 30, 2021.