Patrick Reed and the rules: What we can learn from it

We’ve discovered a new candidate for the saddest four words in golf.

Until now, it was always, “It’s still your turn.”

But now we have to consider these: “He cheats – watch him.”

And the next time you’re playing in a tournament, don’t forget this foursome from the scramble that is the English language: “Ask for help first.”

The Patrick Reed fiasco overshadowed the Farmers Insurance Open all weekend after Reed picked up his ball out of an embedded lie in the third round before consulting his playing partners. His actions seemed shaky because television cameras had picked up the fact that his ball bounced once before plopping in the high grass, which made it less likely to be embedded.

Rory McIlroy had a similar incident on the same day, but Reed got all the attention. PGA Tour officials quickly exonerated both of any wrongdoing even though they didn’t exactly do it by the (rule)book.

But you’d never know Reed was in the clear, considering the way CBS kicked off its television coverage Sunday with golf’s version of commenting on an impeachment trial. Clearly, he was guilty in the eyes of the network.

Host Jim Nantz, a day after calling it “a bad look,” began by recounting the mishap, and then we were introduced to a three-person screen with the huge visages of analysts Nick Faldo, Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo in the style you see on cable news.

The rhetoric wasn’t nearly as incendiary as cable news, but you could almost see the fire coming out of the trio’s ears. They took turns talking solemnly about what Reed did and reminding everyone of how easily any suspicion could have been avoided.

Consider this interesting fact, too: All three are from outside the United States. You don’t think Reed won’t be watched with an eagle eye the next time he plays for the U.S. team in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup?

Over and over, what they said could have been wrapped up in these four words:

“We’ve seen this before,” noting Reed’s previous rules transgressions.

And these aforementioned four:

“Ask for help first.”

It’s the kind of attention you never want on the golf course. Our great game is built on honesty, and that means following the rules to the letter. Not just kind of following them or doing what you think is OK in your mind – it is a strict adherence that, while open to interpretation, is not to be taken lightly lest you be labeled as someone loose with the rules.

We see it all the time in our own groups. I’ve played with a multitude of people who just pick up or move their ball when it’s in a bad lie because “it’s not the U.S. Open” or “I’ve had enough – I need to hit a good shot for a change and that won’t help.”

Just among us, that’s fine. If I’m playing a casual round, especially with someone I don’t know, I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. Sometimes, it’s the best solution to maintain pace of play.

But if you’re playing someone where it matters, such as in a tournament, that’s where it gets sticky.

If that kind of behavior is allowed to fester, it could have a long-term effect. We can’t let that whatever-you-want-to-do attitude turn our younger players into perceived cheaters or, worse, players who flout the rules and simply don’t care.

Along with teaching the finer points of the swing and of putting and chipping, it is incumbent upon us to teach them the rules – and that means following the rules ourselves. You play it as it lies, and that’s it.

When your ball might be embedded, the first thing you do is call over one of your playing partners. You don’t take it upon yourself to decide. The only place you ever touch your golf ball from tee to green is on the putting surface, and the only exception to that rule requires consultation with other members of the group or with a rules official.


Reed emphasized in his CBS interview after the round that he DID consult with a nearby volunteer who didn’t see the ball bounce, implying that it must be embedded.

He reminded viewers that he DID call over a rules official after he picked up the ball, and the official agreed with him.

He noted that he DID NOT clean off the mud on the ball until everyone agreed there was an indentation in the soft ground and he was entitled to relief.

PGA Tour officials weren’t upset and he certainly wasn’t penalized, which might have you asking this question after he won the tournament: What’s the big deal? That certainly is what Reed seemed to be saying when he went on Twitter and pointed out that McIlroy did essentially the same thing Saturday – and didn’t even call in a rules official.

It all comes down to this: McIlroy has a squeaky-clean reputation; Reed does not after his incident at the 2019 Hero World Challenge, when he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for improving his lie with practice swings in a waste area.

That’s just the way it is, and after the CBS coverage this weekend Reed will have to be a Boy Scout on the golf course for a long, long time to mend his reputation.

Maybe it can be done if he just follows those four words: “Ask for help first.”

Otherwise, he’ll continue to be labeled with those other four that contain a word you never want to be called.

It’s still his turn.

Leave a Reply