The waves kept coming, trying to drown his quest, and Patrick Reed never let his head dip below the rising tide.
A man dubbed “Captain America” for his heroics in team events moonlights as golf’s greatest anti-hero on his own. On Sunday among the pines, just 3 miles from where he played golf in college, Reed beat back challenges from three of the game’s most popular players and lived to don a 44 large green jacket.
When the patrons cheered demonstrably louder for Rory McIlroy on the first tee, Reed played on.
When the roars echoed over and over as Jordan Spieth threatened the most historic final round in major history, Reed fought on.
When Augusta National erupted when Rickie Fowler’s birdie putt set the clubhouse lead a hole ahead of him, Reed held on.
And when his 4-foot par putt dropped to win the Masters, and the gallery applauded politely before picking up their chairs and turning to leave, Reed smiled on.
“That’s another thing that just kind of played into my hand,” Reed said. “Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but also, it just takes the pressure off of me.”
Kessler Karain, Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law, didn’t know the answer to why others drew louder cheers than Reed, but he certainly noticed it.
“I definitely feel that way, but that’s OK because sometimes that’s motivating too,” Karain said.
Whatever anyone’s opinion might be of the polarizing Reed, his mettle can never be questioned. Despite everything thrown at him, as he staggered at moments under the extreme pressure that a Sunday Masters lead provides, Reed never lost his composure. Or the lead.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Reed said. “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.’”
First came McIlroy, who faced a 4-footer for eagle on the second hole that would have erased the three-shot deficit he started the day with. McIlroy missed it, setting in motion a slow death spiral of frittered-away putts.
“Just wasn’t meant to be,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard to take any positives from it right now, but at least I put myself in the position.”
Then came Speith, who rattled the pines with a furious charge at history. The 2015 champion kept pouring in putts to wipe out all traces of the nine-shot deficit he started the day with. By the 16th hole, he gained a share of the lead at 14-under. But with a chance to match the greatest final-round score in major championship history, Spieth clipped a tree off the 18th tee and missed an 8-footer on 18 for his only bogey to shoot 64 and scuttle his bid.
“I almost pulled off the impossible,” Spieth said.
Finally came Fowler, who came alive with six birdies on his final 11 holes, including a 7-footer on 18, to set the clubhouse target at 14-under and put the pressure on Reed to make par at the last to win it all.
“Unfortunately one shot short, but we were able to keep P Reed honest out there, at least making him earn it,” Fowler said.
Reed wobbled at moments, but every time the heat got applied he had an answer.
“The way those guys played towards the end – when Jordan shoots a 64 today and Rickie goes and shoots 67 – having to go shoot under par on my final round of your first major to win, it was hard,” a relieved Reed said. “You know, it was awesome and satisfying to make the clutch putts I did on the back nine. After feeling like I wasn’t really making anything all day, to make that (22-footer) on 12 for birdie seemed to kind of give me that momentum and just really that belief going into the last couple that no matter what they throw at me, I can do this and have a chance.”
While plenty of experts expected Reed might wilt when some of the game’s brighter lights flashed at him, those who know him best never doubted.
“It’s beyond incredible,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s coach when he won two NCAA team championships at Augusta State who still works with him. “I can’t believe it, but at the same time I’m not surprised. He’s always wanted the moment – he’s never been afraid of the moment. That’s Patrick.”
This was the goal Reed dreamed of since taking up the game as a kid in Texas and pursuing his college career around the corner at Augusta State. Of course, there is a bittersweet tinge to Reed’s career-defining accomplishment, as his estranged family still lives four miles away from Augusta National in Martinez and celebrated their son’s victory from afar.
“I mean, I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments,” Reed deflected when asked about not sharing the moment with his parents and younger sister.
With Reed, it’s always a little complicated. Captain America’s alter ego may not have raised the most roars on Sunday, but he roared the loudest in the end.