HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Patrick Reed Masters his demons

Patrick Reed is a Masters champion. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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Surprised to see Patrick Reed slip on the Green Jacket last Sunday?

You shouldn’t be.

This one played right into Reed’s hands. Think Ryder Cup without the finger-to-his-lips shushing or the hand-cupped-to-his-ear, can’t-hear-you headshaking. Minus the red-white-and-blue vs. Europe trappings and rowdy crowd.

Yes, it was Reed in azalea pink vs. the crowd favorites. A baby-faced 27-year-old Houstonian taking dead aim on his first major in the wake of Jordan Spieth looking for his second jacket, Rory McIlroy looking to complete a Grand Slam and Rickie Fowler searching for major No. 1.

He knew going in it wasn’t going to be easy, but neither is the Ryder Cup.

He was leading through three rounds, but he was the underdog.

Most of the crowd wanted someone else to be the last man standing that day and he knew it. McIlroy tried to get into Reed’s mind Saturday night saying the pressure was all on the sometimes brash American.

It didn’t work. And he, above all others, should have known better.

Reed and McIlroy gave us an incredible hour-plus of high-drama and must-see theater in the leadoff singles match the final day of the 2016 Ryder Cup. They hit ridiculous shots and sank unbelievable putts in a four-hole stretch that mesmerized the crowds and a television audience. And at the end of the incredible take-this-no-you-take-this heavyweight bout, Reed won 1-up.

So when Reed spent Masters Sunday out-putting and outlasting Spieth, Fowler and McIlroy – to name a few – it was so easy to flash forward from the Butler Cabin ceremony to Paris this fall and the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Speith seems made for majors; Reed for Ryder Cups. Together they are America’s most formidable Ryder Cup team.

It has taken Reed just two Ryder Cups to become one of the most respected and feared players in the matches-. He’s 6-2-1 in those two matches with two singles wins and a 4-2-1 record alongside Spieth in foursomes and four-balls combined.

Reed heard the roars for Spieth and Fowler on the back nine. He felt the crowd pulling for McIlroy at the start of the round.

Like we said, it played right into his hands.

If you look close enough into that baby face, you’ll see the grit. He looks through people. He sets his jaw and flattens his lips and tells the field - or his match play opponent - to bring it on.

At Ryder Cups, he can play to the crowds with the shushing and ear-cupping. Playing to an Augusta crowd means a fist pump after a great putt or a smile as that helicopter finish of his off the tee sends the ball safely down the middle of a tight fairway.

Last fall, he finished runner-up to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship and just knew a major was somewhere in Reed’s future. A few years ago, he drew criticism for his thoughts that he should be in the top five, but here he is having jumped from 24th to 11th after winning that first major.

He has three more majors – and THE PLAYERS – between now and that trip to Paris and he has a dream that, one day, the Ryder Cup will come down to his singles match.

“I want it all on my shoulders. I want that pressure -- the whole country depending on me -- and everything that goes with it,’’ he told Golf Digest before the 2016 Ryder Cup. “I've wanted that my whole life.’’

He wanted a Green Jacket too.

One down. At least one more wish to go.

Coming into the week, Reed’s record at Augusta wasn’t the best. He missed the cut twice and his best finish had been a tie for 22nd in 2015. His lowest round had been 70 – twice; his scoring average was 74.5.

Yet he opened with rounds of 69-66-67 and was threatening to become the first player in Masters history to shoot four rounds in the 60s. He closed with 71, which was enough to beat Fowler by a shot and Spieth by two.

The record? It paled in comparison to the result, which, like in match play, was all that mattered.

“The biggest thing was I put too much pressure on myself (in previous Masters),’’ he said. “I went out there and I tried so hard to get the ball in the hole. I tried so hard to hit the perfect shots, that going into this week, I was just like, hey, it's golf. Go play. 

“I preached that to myself the entire week. I had my caddie remind me of that the entire week. Just be you. Play golf. If you get riled up, show it. If you aren't happy about something, it's all right. Just play golf.’’

It worked.

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Who is Houston's best? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The debate started even before we sat down for Christmas dinner. Now that J.J. Watt has announced his retirement from the NFL, his work nearly complete, is he the greatest athlete in Houston history?

Wait. What about Nolan Ryan, the strikeout king and officially named a “Texas hero” by state legislators? Roger Clemens, 7-time Cy Young winner? Brittney Griner, 8-time WNBA All-Star, 2-time scoring champion, two-time All-American, WNBA and NCAA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist? Carl Lewis, nine Olympic gold medals and one-time fastest human ever? A.J. Foyt, four-time Indy 500 winner? Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, played their entire careers with the Astros, both Hall of Famers? Jose Altuve did something that Biggio and Bagwell never did, and then did it twice?

As the debate wore on into dessert, two athletes stood head and shoulders, by height and accomplishments, over the rest: J.J. Watt and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Who you got? They both present a heck of a case.

Olajuwon spent four years at the University of Houston and 17 seasons with the Houston Rockets. His UH teams made two Final Fours, and he led the Rockets to consecutive NBA titles in 1994-95. He played more basketball games with the word “Houston” on his jersey than anybody ever.

Born in Nigeria, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1993 and helped the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal in 1996. The Dream is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was first-team NBA six times, Defensive Player of the Year two times and league MVP in 1994. He is the NBA’s all-time leader in blocked shots and now the Defensive Player of the Year award is named for him.

Put it this way, he was drafted No. 1 overall by Houston in 1984, ahead of Michael Jordan, and nobody thinks the Rockets made a bad choice. Foreign-born players seem to win the NBA’s MVP award routinely these days, but Olajuwon was the first.

J.J. Watt’s career stats are eye-popping, too. Drafted 11th overall by the Texans in 2011, Watt quickly developed into an unparalleled defensive force in the NFL. He was named first-team All-Pro five times and won Defensive Player of the Year three times. He led the league in sacks two times and forced fumbles once. He even caught three touchdown passes in 2014.

Watt never was named NFL MVP because, well, that award typically goes to an offensive player. The award has been handed out the past 65 years – only once to a defensive player, Alan Page in 1971.

Statistically, Olajuwon gets the nod as Houston’s best. But should popularity and accomplishments off the playing field enter the discussion? If yes, then we must do a recount.

While Olajuwon was a titan on the basketball court and beloved by fans for his talent, his connection and involvement in the community don’t compare to Watt.

Watt was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 2017, partly for his fundraising efforts after Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston. That same year he won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, the sport’s most prestigious honor, for representing “values of respect, integrity, resiliency and responsibility on and off the field.”

Before games, Watt walked around NRG Stadium playing catch with young fans. His commercials for H-E-B made him a celebrity. Watt hosted Saturday Night Live in 2020 and appeared in the films Bad Moms and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. He once played congas at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion while Jimmy Buffett sang Margaritaville. We don’t know if Watt is a Republican or Democrat, but he’s so admired that it’s difficult to imagine anybody beating him for mayor of Houston.

So who wins? Who is the greatest athlete ever in Houston? Olajuwon has the numbers, but Watt plays a more popular sport (OK, maybe not at the moment in Houston). The NFL is bigger and more important than the NBA, MLB, and NHL combined. That counts.

Here’s how revered Watt is. Two years ago the best player ever for the Texans made it known that he wanted off the team, get me outta here … and Houston fans took his side.

With 100-percent of precincts reporting, let’s call it a dead heat for greatest, while Watt doubles up as most popular.

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