MELBOURNE, Australia – Patrick Reed's ride on Thursday morning on the first par-4 hole at Royal Melbourne Golf Club hit the course-hard fairway and began sliding into a bunker.
The bundled fans sat behind the tee-box, followed the progress of the ball on a giant video screen and insisted on the sand. When it did, the Presidents Cup lived with the sound of harm fraud.
Reed, 29, was nicknamed Captain America because of his success in team-play events such as the Ryder Cup and this week's biennial competition, a typically brilliant affair pitting the top American players against those from outside Europe. But he arrived here this week under an unusually hard magnifying glass, and had to respond to accusations from Cameron Smith, including that he is a cheat.
There is no worse blemish in professional golf, a sport where kindness is next to divinity. With a game arena too large and variable for perfect monitoring, the integrity of the game is based on the confidence that its players will adhere faithfully to its rules, and the belief that honorable losses are better than winning by even the slightest bows to the rules. .
So when Smith recently said about Reed, "I have no sympathy for someone who cheats," it was like injecting poison into an event that has traditionally been more exhibition than competition. For Reed, Smith's brands were the equivalent of a slap on his face with his golf glove.
"The point is to beat those guys to become personal now," Reed said. "So it will be a nice week."
Smith & # 39; s excavation came in response to an incident with Reed during last week's Hero World Challenge on the Bahamas & # 39; s. While he made some practice swings in a bunker, Reed created sparks by sweeping the sand behind the ball before taking his shot.
He was judged to be a two-stroke sentence by a rule officer who had pointed out the violation – the exact margin by which he would eventually lose to the winner, Henrik Stenson – but defended his actions again and again this week by saying that he did not intend to break rules.
"At the end of the day, when you are out there, if you unintentionally do something that breaks the rules, it is not considered cheating," he said.
Already a lack of repentance confused many people in the wave, some of whom wanted him to commit a kind of double danger: accepting his two-shot penalty and also apologizing. His refusal to fall on his sword – or his wedge, as it were – only extended the story.
"I think it's a matter of what is right and what is wrong," said Smith, a 26-year-old Australian. "I think that, you know, I have to say something about that."
Rory McIlroy, a four-fold champion from Northern Ireland, came to defend this week in an interview with Golf Channel Reed. He said that the live recording of Reed & # 39; s sand is "not so stressful for the slow-mo" replay.
"It's almost like, many people in the game, it's almost like a hobby to kind of kick him when he's down," said McIlroy from Reed.
It was much easier for golf to polish up its pristine image in the days before high-definition television. On the final hole of the British Open in 1974 at Royal Lytham, South African Gary Player seemed to improve his lie by sweeping dirt on his pickup. His actions looked eerily similar to Reed & # 39; s own offense last week, but nobody – especially not his colleague & – called Player.
Instead, his brush avoided sand detection and went on to win by four strokes, collecting the eighth of his nine major titles.
Thirty-five years later, the consequences were considerably faster. Slugger White, vice-president of the PGA tour of rules and competitions, imposed the two-stroke penalty after a discussion with Reed that lasted less than five minutes. Reed accepted the decision and White expressed his satisfaction with the outcome.
"I don't know if he could have seen it as clearly as we, but he couldn't have been a better gentleman," White told reporters afterwards.
Yet decorum comes before the competition in the unwritten rules of golf, if not the dictionary. On Thursday, Reed's manners were flawless; he took off his billed cap before shaking the hands of officials at the first tee, and he did not respond to the fan who shouted: "Are you going to club your caddy 14 and get a shovel to wear?"
The fans who cheered when Reed & # 39; s opening ride landed in the bunker deviated from the etiquette of golf, but they would not be fined.
By the end of the day, the international team, a decidedly underdog, had taken a 4-1 lead over Reed and the Americans. And the scene was ready for more fireworks when Tiger Woods, the captain of the United States, announced that he would pair Simpson and Reed in the third four-match game on Friday. Would Ernie Els, the international captain, compete with Smith and the confrontation the fans wanted?
Els, one of the real gentlemen of the game, refrained from throwing chum into the water. He placed Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer against Reed and Simpson and saved Smith for the fifth game. The first day had produced enough drama for Els & # 39; There was no reason to produce anymore.