AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Call him The Imperfect Champion.
Warts and all, Patrick Reed enters the Masters as the reigning holder of the green jacket.
He's an anomaly at staid, ol' Augusta National, which has always preferred bland and homogenized winners, who'll always say the right things without saying much of anything.
Patrick Reed, that's not.
His family life is messy. His attitude is brash. His college days are pock-marked with allegations of cheating and teammates wronged.
Villains are more fun anyway.
"Everyone has their own different personalities," Reed said in the lead-up to the Masters, which begins Thursday. "The biggest thing is to be true to yourself and go out and do what it is that you feel like is best for you, best for your team and also helps you perform the best."
For Reed, that means surrounding himself with a small but tight-knit group. That means working harder than anyone on the course. That means saying what's on his mind, even if that rubs some people the wrong way.
"He's not going to put on a comedy show. That's not his cup of tea," said Jason Alexander, the pro at Reed's home course, The Club at Carlton Woods near Houston.
"I know there are guys on tour who are very concerned what the media thinks of them," Alexander continued during a phone interview Wednesday. "I think they play to that. You'll hear people say, 'They're the nicest guys, they sign all this stuff for the fans,' but when you see them behind closed doors, they're totally different. Patrick Reed is the same guy, whether he's on the range (at his home course) or at the Masters. He's himself. I think he's proud of himself. I think he's proud of the way he handles himself. He's true to himself. He's not fake."
A year ago, when Reed was on the way to his first major championship, much was made of the fact that his parents and little sister were only 15 minutes away, watching on television at the home where Reed lived while leading Augusta State to a pair of national titles. The family has been estranged since 2012. Reed has cut off all contact, apparently rebuffing any attempt at reconciliation.
Shortly after his one-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler, Reed was asked if he regretted that his parents and sibling weren't at Augusta National for the most triumphant moment of his career. The reply was cold and distant.
"I mean, I'm just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments," Reed said.
He has never discussed the fractured relationship, leaving others to speculate — thanks in part to comments from his family — that his wife, Justine, is the root of the problem. But no one beyond the parties involved really knows what happened. Wading into a broken family is a perilous misadventure.
Of course, Reed has never been frugal with his words — or his ego — when it comes to sizing up things with a club in his hands.
In 2014, after becoming the youngest winner of a World Golf Championship event at Doral, he declared himself one of the planet's top five players. After a crushing U.S. loss to Europe in last year's Ryder Cup, the golfer who had embraced the role of "Captain America" griped to The New York Times about Jordan Spieth being responsible for breaking up a pairing that had worked so well at previous team events, as well as Jim Furyk's decision to bench Reed for both foursome sessions.
"For somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don't think it's smart to sit me twice," Reed said, conveniently overlooking that he lost both fourball matches playing alongside Tiger Woods.
When Reed first began playing at Carlton Woods, Alexander was a bit wary.
He'd heard the same stories about the kid who was supposedly caught cheating — and even suspected of stealing in the locker room — during his first college stop at the University of Georgia, a guy who was apparently such an obnoxious brat that Georgia alum Kevin Kisner (who played for the Bulldogs before Reed's arrival) said bluntly that he was reviled by all his teammates at both schools.
"I don't know that they'd p--- on him if he was on fire," Kisner told GolfDigest.com for a story published last December.
That folded quite neatly into Alexander's initial impression.
"When he first came out, he lived up the billing," the club pro said. "He said, 'I want to go practice. Make sure no one bothers me.' He was very regimented about his work."
But as Alexander got to know Reed, the walls began to come down. He discovered a tireless worker, a guy who relished the grind of countless hours on the practice range.
"If anything, I probably hit too many golf balls," Reed conceded this week.
Beyond the course, Alexander found a person who's generous with his time, who works tirelessly behind the scenes to promote junior golf, who's devoted to his wife and their two children, who craves acceptance and longs to be respected but isn't about to change who he is.
Shortly after his Masters victory, Reed returned to Carlton Woods for a celebration. The club put on a big dinner, and Reed hung around to sign some 250 autographs for members and their families.
"As we're walking out, he gave me a hug," Alexander recalled. "He told me, 'Thanks for tonight.' He even got a little emotional. Here's this big-time guy, but he's telling me, 'I just haven't felt this sort of genuine support before. Ever.' As much as he acts like it doesn't bother him, I think it does."
Even though Reed is the defending champion, he won't get the biggest cheers at Augusta National this week. Those will go to players such as Woods and Spieth and Rory McIlroy. You know, the popular ones.
Villains are always more fun.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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