BATON ROUGE, La. — In a sport where exclusive country clubs and pricey public courses provide the greatest challenges, the LSU Golf Course is a simple, affordable track for the common duffer to enjoy. And, as it turns out, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Reed’s victory at the most iconic course in American golf was the crowning achievement of his career. LSU’s campus course plays a surprisingly significant role in his ascent.
At first glance, you’d hardly guess LSU Golf Course is capable of preparing a future major champion.
There is no topography to speak of. It’s flat, even by the pancake-surface standards of south Louisiana. The greatest hazard is the train track that serves as the course’s eastern border. The 12th green abuts the rowdy Tigerland bar district, bringing to mind the wild 16th green at the Waste Management Phoenix Open as opposed to Augusta National’s dignified Amen Corner.
From the tips, the LSU Golf Course plays at 6,772 yards — a good 2-3 drives shorter than Augusta’s 7,435. But Reed still turned the unassuming course in the shadow of Alex Box Stadium into the canvas that would one day prepare him for the Masters. Though he played plenty of fancier courses competing in the American Junior Golf Association, LSU is where Reed could get his work in on the driving range and chipping area.
Retired course professional Mike Johnson has plentiful memories of Reed, who was putting in nearly as many hours at the course as he was.
“His family moved to Baton Rouge when he was about 12 years old,” Johnson said. “He’d come out there and practice 8 hours a day, taking one or two breaks. A lot of kids would hit balls an hour or two and maybe talk on their phone — as kids do. But Patrick was there all day. And he was focused.”
Johnson saw plenty of talented players in his 30 years working at the LSU course, including Tigers legend and 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms. But even among that caliber of player, Reed was already showing he was cut from a different cloth as a teen.
“The one thing you see in the players that are successful is a determination to be the best,” Johnson said. “But Patrick could have been the hardest worker I’ve ever seen.”
A week of skeletons
Putting on the green jacket should have been the first moment of a triumphant victory lap for Reed. Instead, it’s been more about exposing the warts that make Reed one of the more vilified players in the modern era, fair or not.
Reed attended University High on the LSU campus but chose to play college golf at Georgia, which was runner-up to Stanford at the NCAA Championships his senior year of high school. He only lasted a year in Athens before being tossed from the program after a pair of underage drinking arrests and allegations of cheating on the golf course from teammates.
Reed moved past the drinking-related issues that derailed him at Georgia but has not done much to endear himself among his fellow tour professionals. In a 2015 poll among PGA Tour players, he has the second-most votes behind Bubba Watson to the question: “Which player are you least likely to help in a parking lot fight?”
There’s also the well-publicized matter of Reed’s estrangement from his parents. For Johnson, who knows both parties in that cold war, it’s a tragic situation that he doesn’t necessarily think should play out in the public eye.
“That breaks my heart. I know both of them,” he said. “But that’s none of my business, and I don’t know what’s occurred.”
Patrick Reed ‘never a problem’
The Reed who has been crowned with the black hat as one of golf’s easiest players to root against since the notoriously noxious Colin Montgomerie does not jibe with the Reed that Johnson remembers.
“I never had any problems with him. He was always very respectful,” Johnson said. “It was a good relationship. There’s a lot of negative things being said. But that’s not how I know him.”
Indeed, Johnson is probably one of the only people who has seen a vulnerable side to the player who is perhaps the most brash in professional golf. The two had lunch prior to the 2012 season, which served as Reed’s first full year on the PGA Tour. Reed didn’t even have his card yet, eventually playing his way into six different events via Monday qualifying tournaments.
Needless to say, it took plenty of confidence for him to go that route, but Johnson could see Reed had his doubts in the beginning as a 22-year-old rookie.
“You could tell he was a little questionable about it,” Johnson said. “And I told him, ‘It will work out.'”
True to Johnson’s vision, it most certainly has worked out for Reed. And the modest golf course tucked between Tigerland and Alex Box played a part.