Heading into the final round, The Northern Trust appeared to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. Headlines were being grabbed by developments off, and not on, the 7,370-yard pride of Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. Masters champion Tiger Woods, still golf’s biggest draw, had to withdraw from the tournament prior to the second round due to a “mild oblique strain that led to pain and stiffness;” never mind that, in negotiating his first 18 poorly, he appeared rusty and not injured. At the same time, social media habitues also focused on slow play, and particularly on egregious examples put forth by so-called mad scientist Bryson DeChambeau.
Fortunately, The Northern Trust finished with aplomb courtesy of a stellar performance by 2018 Masters titleholder Patrick Reed. It wasn’t just that he consistently displayed good form from Day One; more importantly, it was that he proved unflappable under pressure, coming up with clutch shots in the back nine to both reclaim the lead and ensure he didn’t lose it again. And, certainly, the irony wasn’t lost on avid followers of the sport; although the subject of many an article on his failings outside the ropes, he wound up distinguishing himself under the klieg lights.
For a while there, Reed didn’t look ready for prime time. Following his remarkable victory at August National last year, he seemed to stumble in the face of greater scrutiny. Even his beloved Captain America persona suffered from his poor Ryder Cup showing and subsequent attempts to pin the blame on skipper Jim Furyk and frequent playing partner Woods. To his credit, though, he moved to recover from his missteps; he made amends to those he slighted, and then aimed to fix his game by first clearing his mind.
As Reed explained yesterday, “I was pushing too hard and trying too hard, and all of a sudden, it was going in the wrong direction.” To this end, he took a three-week-long spring break in the Hamptons that included 10 straight days of golf-free stuff. “My team was smart enough to tell me to back off, shut it down, and reset and get clear — because we can finish the year right.” And, needless to say, his triumph at Liberty National gets him moving in the right direction; it ended a 16-month drought and catapulted him to 12th in Presidents Cup standings and second overall in his bid for the FedEx Cup.
Reed has never lacked confidence; in fact, he has such an abundance of it that it borders on cockiness. With the win, however, he gets validation as well. He locks in a Tour Championship berth, claims prime position for the $15-million pot, and puts himself back in the conversation as, at the very least, an at-large selection for the Presidents Cup. And, make no mistake, he wants to secure an outright spot in Team USA and, en route, repair his image as a stalwart for the red, white, and blue. Momentum is on his side, with his win preceded by Top 10 finishes at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the British Open. As he noted, “if you play good golf, that all takes care of itself.”
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.