A year is a long time.
A little over 12 months ago, Patrick Reed had just won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Fifty-two weeks ago, Reed was a motivated man, out to prove his two-win season in 2014 was merely the beginning.
Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days ago, there was a sentiment that Reed, not Jordan Spieth, was poised to be the breakout American star.
Two months later, Reed double-fist pumped after sinking a playoff-forcing putt at the Valspar Championship. Spieth wasn’t closing the door behind him. Reed was the closer. Spieth? Merely a one-time PGA Tour winner. In that moment, you felt Reed had the winning edge. Funny what can happen in a year.
Spieth would win that playoff, with his own fist-pump-inducing putt, and go on to have a season for the history books. Reed wouldn’t crack the top 10 in a tournament for 16 consecutive starts. In that same span, Spieth had nine top-four finishes, two majors and became No. 1 in the world.
Whether it was a simple defeat, a loss of feel, an over-reliance on a hook or the unflattering publishing of some details in Reed’s prep career, something happened to derail a player who seemed poised to be his generation’s golf alter-ego — brash, boastful and ballsy.
Reed finished second in his return to Maui this week. He made just one bogey, shot a 22-under score that would’ve won the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in most years — yet finished eight shots behind Spieth.
In defeat, Reed seemed a changed man. In this moment, Reed wasn’t defiant in a cocky way, he was encouraged in an assured manner.
“Right now, I feel like my game is the best it’s ever been,” Reed said. “I’m definitely trending in the right direction. A couple of my weaknesses I’m improving on and that’s all I can really control.”
Control seems to be the key word for a player who has corralled his inner circle to balance his play as a professional. On the 72nd hole Sunday, with the outcome already determined, Reed blocked a 3-wood well right of the 18th green. He wasn’t happy, but his exchange with caddie and brother-in-law Kessler Karain appeared different. It was resigned to the shot, not the week or scoreboard position.
Walking down that fairway, Team Reed seemed more centered.
“At the end of the day, as long as I improve in my game and I feel like I’m getting better and improving at the weaknesses that’s all can I ask for,” Reed said earlier in the week. “I can’t control what the other guys that are in the field do. All I can control is what I do. That’s the only thing I really focus on and at the end of the day that’s all for me that really matters is how I play.”
This is the same player who welcomed the bullseye he put on his own back with his ‘Top Five’ comment at Doral in 2014. The same player who tried to shush all of Europe as a Ryder Cup rookie. Has Reed softened his approach? More likely, his journey to regain confidence has him more focused.
Reed followed the disappointment of last year on the PGA Tour by heading overseas and playing a significant foreign schedule to maintain European Tour status. He never finished outside of the top 10 in six events to close 2015. He rose from 19th to become a top-10 player in the world.
Perhaps the top-five remark still motivates him, but it seems Reed, comfortable in his skin, is chasing being his best, believing that will make him the best.
“I had some things that my new coach and I were working on and it kept me going and kept me motivated and played some really solid golf and it seemed to carry over into the off season, which was only three weeks so not really an off season and then I was back here grinding away,” he said.
Reed has worked a cut into his repertoire, but the edge he has rediscovered from a stretch of solid golf may be more valuable than any two-way shotmaking. He won’t take the bait on questions about the new ‘Big 3,’ yet. It’s a sign of maturity as Reed evolves and takes aim at 2016.
A lot can happen in a year.