Words by Cameron Higgins

To the chagrin of golf nerds everywhere, the 2018 Masters came to a close yesterday. The somewhat unpopular Patrick Reed pulled out victory over Rickie Fowler late on Sunday afternoon in Augusta, Georgia. Given the venue’s commitment to decorum, there was no active booing of Reed on Sunday. But the cheers for the rest of the field were about ten times louder. Even major news networks dubbed Reed “villainous.”

Reed’s status as the weekend’s spiritual punching bag is even stranger considering that Reed could be quite the hometown golden boy in Augusta. Despite the fact that he led the local college, Augusta State, to three national championships, Reed is more local anti-hero than hero. After being kicked off the University of Georgia golf team for underage drinking (eh), cheating (bad), and being a bad teammate (real bad), he transferred to Augusta State. While at Augusta State, his teammates voted to kick him off the golf team for being too self-centered. In what many Georgians dub an episode of mortal sin, Reed instagrammed himself pulling for the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish over the University of Georgia Bulldogs during football season. In TV interviews, Reed’s demeanor and vibes don’t come off as….overly likable. 

And yet. Speaking with SBNation about having the crowd pulling against him, Reed said, ‘Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but also, it just takes the pressure off of me.’ Which is a short way of saying: take that haters. Which is fair. Reed played damned excellent golf and bested his competitors fair and square. He also reminded sports fans everywhere of something we forget about top-level athletes: they’re not always nice people.

Michael Jordan was a serial philanderer, serious gambler, and generally legendary shit talker. An acquaintance of your CONVICTS writer, once played with Jordan in a celebrity golf tournament. According to this hearsay, Jordan said nothing to this acquaintance for 17 out of the 18 holes. On the 18th green, when said acquaintance drained an improbably long putt, Michael Jordan, everyone’s childhood hero, looked up and said “It’s about time you did something out here.” Or consider Lance Armstrong. Dude of unrelenting determination and sinister commitment to victory. A career cheater and blackmailing asshole, Lanced destroyed the careers of both himself and others in pursuit of victory. Even Tiger Woods, golf’s former unicorn, isn’t a super likable character. Aside from severe infidelities and driving while completely inebriated, Tiger is reportedly fairly icy on the course.

Then again, none of these athletes are competing in charm-offs. But consider the quote from former amateur golfer and member of Tame Impala, Cam Avery “You look at Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, any good swimmer, anyone who’s ever been a brilliant sportsman has that point where they cheat. Every coach I’ve had in my life has said, “If you’re not trying to cheat, then you don’t really wanna win.”

To function at the highest athletic level, one has to crave the win at all costs. It requires equal parts ego and self-focus. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of kind, likable, generous high achieving athletes. Negative: it just makes all of them more impressive. This is just to say that the relentless pursuit of self-actualization required for professional sporting doesn’t necessarily translate to interpersonal excellence.

 

So that begs the question: should an athletes character matter? Technically, given the numerical metrics and standardized rules of play, the answer should be no. But we are organic, not technical beings. Rickie Fowler, the flat-brim wearing Californian and Rory McIlroy, the smiling Irishman, caught way more love from the crowd but ultimately lost.

Ultimately, we pull for the characters we like. Sports are emotional narratives and we want to see our good guys win. That being said, the bad guys have to win once in awhile just to keep things interesting.

Congratulations on the green jacket, Patrick Reed.