Patrick Reed can play golf. That's not really up for debate. In his nine years on golf's premiere professional golf tour, he has seven wins, a Masters championship, an impeccable Ryder Cup record and has made nearly $30 million on tour. But while talented, successful and a bit misunderstood, he's also a cheater — and that's indisputable as well.
He was accused of cheating in college, as a pro a handful of years later and most recently at the Hero World Challenge, when he "conveniently" moved a pile of sand from behind his ball in a bunker in an effort to improve his lie. Sadly for him, his "inadvertent" rules infraction was caught on film, and since the incident more than a month ago, the nine-year tour veteran has and continues to face an army of haters at the event du jour.
It started at the President's Cup in Australia, where Reed repeatedly faced disparaging remarks from gallery members, to the point at which his caddy was forced to leave the event after confronting one of the golfer's more vocal — and likely inebriated — detractors.
And this past week, controversy followed him to Hawaii, where at the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui, a fan screamed "cheater" shortly following his putt attempt during a playoff with rival Justin Thomas.
In most sports, that'd be par for the course, no pun intended. After all, his track record speaks for itself, and heckling in the football stadium or basketball arena is part of the game.
But golf is different. It's a game that relies on concentration built on a foundation of respect for the game and your opponent. So while Reed certainly earned every bit of the vitriol he's now seeing on a weekly basis, my question is simply this: when is enough enough?
I'm all for a level of retribution. Cheating ain't cool. Whether you're doctoring a baseball, deflating a football, flopping on the basketball court or hitting below the belt as a boxer, stealing an edge is very different than earning one. So if an athletic fraud has to eat a little crow in the wake of a violation — so be it. But how much and for how long do they have to hear it from the court of public opinion before the punishment no longer fits the crime?
I don't know, but we do as a country have a history of forgiveness. I just don't know where Reed fits in.
Is he Alex Rodriguez — known performance-enhancing drug user, caught and convicted by Major League Baseball, but now seemingly back in the public's good graces, rehabilitating his image on the back of a (somewhat) likable stint on TV?
Is he Kobe Bryant — who famously was accused of rape after admittedly partaking in extramarital activity, but has since turned the tide to the extent of winning an Oscar at the 2018 Academy Awards?
How about Michael Vick, who went to prison for dog-fighting, but eventually got back in the NFL and is now a regular contributor to Fox Sports?
What about Tiger Woods? Same sport and inarguably lesser "crimes" than the former world No. 1, but Woods is again everyone's darling, both back on the course and in the world of high level endorsements.
Or is he Pete Rose? Lance Armstrong? Or "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, athletes who never have or have still yet to be let off the hook for lying and cheating the game or sport in which they participated?
In many ways, I think it's up to Reed.
Typically you have to own it to start the process. Tiger did. Vick and Kobe did, too, and even Rodriguez has, in his own way, copped to his crimes. But Reed is still kicking and screaming against history, and now the public looking for their pound of flesh from a habitual cheater — who's ultimately cheating himself.
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