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Oft-Abrasive Patrick Reed Winning over Brits with Newfound Charm

Steve Elling@@EllingYellingSpecial to Bleacher ReportJuly 14, 2016

TROON, SCOTLAND - JULY 12:  Patrick Reed of the United States looks on during previews ahead of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon on July 12, 2016 in Troon, Scotland.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Many of his more-decorated countrymen avoided the Olympics like the plague. Or, at minimum, like a certain oft-cited virus.

Other prominent golfers this week, leery about the lack of cuisine and first-world comforts in the United Kingdom, hired a private chef to handle the cooking chores.

But in a remarkable role reversal given his prickly reputation, the one-time villain of the PGA Tour, star-crossed Patrick Reed, has reinvented his abrasive public persona at the 145th Open Championship by embracing both issues with enthusiasm and aplomb.

He’s converting both fans and birdie chances, from A to Zika.

Reed, for those unfamiliar with his pock-marked pedigree, owns a personal resume that’s been scrutinized like few others. Reportedly kicked out of his first college program for a series of disciplinary issues and estranged from his parents for reasons that have never been never fully explained, he’s often been cast as the game’s black-hat persona.

As the Scots say, both sarcastically and somewhat redundantly, "Aye, right." There’s apparently more substance to Reed than many first believed.

On Thursday, Reed took advantage of perfect weather in the first round at Royal Troon, holing a shot from the fairway for an early eagle and finishing with a five-under 66 to take the lead among those in the morning wave—and was the story of the morning before Phil Mickelson threatened the lowest round ever in a major with a first-round 63.

Based on Reed's budding karma makeover, perhaps nobody should have been surprised.

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As the winds of controversy this week swirled around favorites such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and newly minted U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson—who all backed out of playing in the Olympic Games over the past week for varying reasons—Reed was figuratively standing in the back of the room with his hand raised, raring to play in Rio de Janiero. He moved on to the U.S. roster when Johnson announced last weekend that he’d elected to stay home.

Unlike some, the former Ryder Cupper has the mettle to medal. He did everything but break out in an a capella chorus of the national anthem. Considering the hits the Olympic golf movement has taken, it was a welcome reprieve.

"Just thinking about having a gold medal means a lot," he said. "I think the biggest thing is, I get to represent my country again. I get to wear the red, white and blue. Any time I get to wear those colors, it’s a huge day."

That commanded the attention of many American fans, to be sure. His charm offensive didn’t end there, either.

Once he moved down Scotland’s west coast and into Troon this week, he endeared himself to the locals by waxing lyrical about how much he enjoys the "simplicity" of things in the U.K. Meanwhile, countrymen Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and three others are holed up in a high-end rented home with a personal chef.

Reed is letting Scotland’s old-world, pastoral flavor wash over him.

TROON, SCOTLAND - JULY 14:  Patrick Reed of the United States celebrates with his caddie as he hits an eagle on the 3rd hole during the first round on day one of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon on July 14, 2016 in Troon, Scotland.  (Photo by St
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

"When we were driving from the golf course from the hotel, there's just a lot of farmland, a lot of sceneries, you see the water to the left, the farms to the right and it's just a two-lane road going in and out," he said. "So you literally just have that kind of relaxed feeling that you have golf and then relaxing time.

"Yet at home, it's golf, sit in traffic, traffic lights, a thousand cars, people honking at you, and then you get home and you're trying to go through a busy hotel, so it's still stressful off the golf course. Here it seems like it's just golf and then just kind of relax, have some fun.

"It's definitely a way different pace than back home. It's nice. It's a great change of pace."

So is the freshened aura emanating from Reed, a player largely known for hubris and bravado. After winning three years ago, Reed said he considered himself to be a top-five player, a position he hasn’t lately threatened to reach. At the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland, he put his finger to his lips after making a key putt, a gesture he intended to be playful, not provocative. Then there’s his personal backstory, which required an entire chapter in the 2015 book, Slaying the Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the PGA Tour.

Ask most fans to spit out the first adjective that springs to mind regarding Reed and cocky might the most printable choice. Yet perhaps he has earned the right to strut a bit.

Before Mickelson's birdie fest, Reed's opening 66 matched the lowest first-round score at Troon—which is hosting the event for the ninth time—alongside Wayne Stephens (1989), Paul Casey (2004) and Thomas Levet (2004). Ranked 13 in the world, Reed hasn’t managed a win since January 2015. But in 20 PGA Tour starts this season, Reed has nine top-10 finishes, second-most on the circuit to Dustin Johnson’s 10.

This week, the different skillset required for succeeding at links golf seemingly helped him elevate his game, not to mention his Q rating.

"I love to create shots and hit the funny things," he said after the round. "At home, we can't do that. I feel like my creative side has been able to come out."

Same for his cuddly side. He might have been dressed from head to toe in black, but he is wearing the mythical white hat this week, given the Olympic defections of many others.

He showed up at Troon with a red, white and blue American flag adorning the cover on his yardage book and an endorsement logo of U.S. tax firm stitched on his shirt. Nothing’s more 'Merican than taxes and Old Glory.

Whether he has the chops to hold off the assault of 155 other players is open to question, though it’s worth noting that Reed has had some luck in the neighborhood before. He won the Junior Open Championship in Scotland in 2006, shortly before Tiger Woods won the big-boy version a few miles away at Hoylake, and watched some of the tour stars play.

Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

Y'all forget Patrick Reed already conquered Great Britain. He won the 2006 Junior Open Championship. https://t.co/VjyhPmPKrT

Back in Scotland two years ago for the Ryder, the Yanks might have lost, but Reed was unbeaten and amassed the most points on the U.S. team.

While most players on Thursday were thoroughly enjoying the best weather conditions the world’s oldest major has enjoyed in several years—there were blue skies and only the slightest breeze—Reed endeared himself further to the hard-boiled locals by inviting the wetness and wind that is almost sure to smack the coastline over the rest of the week.

His sentiments couldn’t have been better received if he had donned a kilt and squeezed out an accompanying bagpipe ditty.

"I just need to keep going, and hopefully, the wind blows even more," said Reed, who finished 10th last week at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, near Inverness. "Because it would be more exciting to hit some lower shots and make it tough."

Steve Elling covers golf for Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @EllingYelling. All quotes are firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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