Tuesday 28 January 2020

Eamonn Sweeney: Patrick Reed was treated in an unusually lousy manner....Family feuds should be out of bounds

It’s sad to see Patrick Reed’s private life being treated as though all the people involved are are soap opera characters rather than flesh and blood human beings. Photo: Reuters
It’s sad to see Patrick Reed’s private life being treated as though all the people involved are are soap opera characters rather than flesh and blood human beings. Photo: Reuters

Hold the Back Page: Eamonn Sweeney

Patrick Reed makes a perfect villain. Like one of those old-time Hollywood character actors who specialised in playing film noir heavies, he seems cut out to be a bad guy.

His default expression is a glower which makes him resemble a man fuming at the wheel in a traffic jam. There's a jowliness about him unusual for a young golfer in the game's new athletic age. His emotions are transparent. A bad shot seems to cast a shroud over his entire universe, a good one elicits a kind of fist-pumping joy unusual in golf's drawing-room world. The man doesn't do insouciance.

Reed is the spit of some cartoonist's caricature of The Ugly American, speaking too loud and complaining about the service in foreign restaurants. Next to the loose-limbed Corinthian sang-froid of Jordan Spieth or the beauty and elegance which can make Rickie Fowler resemble a walking Ralph Lauren ad, Reed cuts an unprepossessing figure. He looks like the rest of us.

People don't really take to Patrick Reed. I remember four years ago some tut-tutting by golf commentators on this side of the pond about the unseemly competitiveness shown by the young man as he failed to follow the lead of his team-mates and lie down against Europe in the Ryder Cup. At the same time they were hymning the traditional charm of Bubba Watson, who treated the event with all the seriousness due a Crazy Golf game at Leisureland. Yet it was Watson's rather than Reed's attitude which went against the spirit of the Ryder Cup. It is supposed to be a competitive event.

This day last week Reed enjoyed the biggest win of his career in what was one of the great US Masters tournaments. In a dramatic final round, he kept his nerve after being pegged back by Spieth and pushed to the limit by Fowler. His final-round partner Rory McIlroy had said that all the pressure would be on the young American seeking a first Major. The hint that this pressure might prove too much for Reed was not subtle. Yet every time Reed suffered a setback he bounced back almost immediately. It was McIlroy who wilted under the pressure.

The Green Jacket was hardly around Reed's stocky frame before the media decided to unload on him. Journalists are under no obligation to like any sportsman but Reed was treated in an unusually lousy manner at the post-tournament press conference, where the American golf writer Alan Shipnuck asked if it was "bittersweet not to be able to share the most triumphant moment of his life with his parents and baby sister?"

The question was of the nudge-nudge wink-wink variety and alluded to Reed's estrangement from his parents and his sister following his marriage six years ago. Shipnuck was giving advance publicity to his story on Reed, which followed shortly afterwards.

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The story purported to be an explanation of why Reed is unpopular on the tour. And there were unproven but innuendo-laden allegations from college team-mates that Reed had cheated on the golf course and done some petty pilfering before leaving the University of Georgia for Augusta State.

But the meat of the tale concerned the Reed family feud, told almost solely from the point of view of the Reed parents, who Shipnuck had obviously spent some time with. I couldn't for the life of me see what it had to do with sport. The feud has hit the headlines before and there have been some heated social media exchanges between the two sides. Seeing it used as a stick with which to beat a young man and his wife gave me a very queasy feeling indeed.

This was the kind of tawdry tabloid exposé famous people have had to get used to over the past few decades. The schmaltziness of Shipnuck's declaration about how he "reached out to" Reed's mother Jeanette and the way his story ended with, "Of course we're so happy for Patrick", Jeannette said. 'She started to add something else but had to stop to cry a little more,' gave me the gawks.

The eternal sleazy excuse for such trawls through someone's private life is that they 'let the readers know about the person'. In reality the picture presented is usually a partial one. The English novelist Anthony Powell once wrote that nothing is more impossible to understand than the workings of someone else's marriage. I'd extend that to family dynamics in general. Unless you're intimately involved, chances are you have no clue about what's really going on.

The poet John Montague's great line about the "Fomorian fierceness of family and local feud" reminds me of the amount of times over the years I've discovered that someone has utterly fallen out with a close relation. Sometimes both parties are very decent people. It's just that the well has somehow been poisoned. You stay out of it because you understand that you don't understand it.

So it's sad to see Patrick Reed's private life being treated as though all the people involved are soap opera characters rather than flesh and blood human beings. It's as if Reed's status as a loner with an abrasive personality makes him fair game.

By and large only one side of this story has emerged. I can't help wondering what Reed's wife Justine feels about the whole thing. If one subtext of the tale being told about the Reed feud is, 'look at that ungrateful bastard doing this to his parents,' the other is, 'it's the wife of course, the bitch'. It's pretty obvious that the Reed family blame her for driving a wedge between them and Patrick. And as they're the ones telling the story this may become the popular explanation.

Yet Justine Reed is a young woman who only three years ago Alan Shipnuck was describing as part of "the PGA Tour's dream team", in a piece which told how "it was frigid at home in Houston but Justine spent long days watching Patrick prepare, using a space heater in the golf cart to ward off hypothermia" and stressed what an enormous help she was to her husband, who she'd caddied for before their children were born. The piece also revealed how she had almost died after suffering a seizure while in the bath. Patrick saved her life by artificial resuscitation. Whatever the ins and outs of the family story, this woman surely deserves better than to be portrayed as a kind of pantomime baddie. Back then it was suggested the falling out happened because Patrick had been pushed too hard by his father.

Irish journalists tend to be pretty uneasy about venturing into this kind of territory. The sex lives and the chemical and financial misdemeanours of players are usually glossed over. I've been offered damning stories about the personal life of one leading Irish sporting figure and the business life of another and wanted nothing to do with either. I didn't see their relevance and I suspected an axe was being ground. Journalists let things go. We knew, for example, about Donal Óg Cusack's homosexuality a long time before he decided to come out. We accepted that the story was his to reveal, or not, as he judged fit.

This seems sensible to me. Revealing that some player's marriage is not as happy as it's publicly portrayed or that another owes a bundle to the bookies is not the same as exposing sporting wrongdoing. I suspect that the Reed story has been seized on with a certain glee in this part of the world because a lot of people were expecting Rory McIlroy to win the Masters. Instead our man had his butt kicked and his fans were encouraged to seek the consolation in the fact that, 'Oh yeah, Reed won but more of the Americans were cheering for Rory than for him'.

When Patrick Reed was asked that question about his family at the press conference he didn't lose the head, he simply said he was concentrating on his golf. His reward for this was to be described as "cold-blooded" by the man who asked it and "ruthless" elsewhere. Reed also showed exemplary manners when answering questions of the, 'why does everyone hate you?' variety.

There's always something of a media power trip going on with stories like this, an attempt to force the target into an apology, a temper tantrum or, best of all, tears. Personally, when I saw hacks praising the treatment of Reed it made me realise there's a reason the general public generally rates us beside bouncers, bailiffs and bank managers on the likeability scale. It's not because of our fearless appetite for truth.

I hope some day Patrick Reed makes up with his family. I also hope that if he does I never hear about it. Because it's none of my business. Or yours either.

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