MELBOURNE, Australia – Patrick Reed's ride on Thursday morning on the first hole of the Par-4 at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club hit the runway-hard fairway and started scurrying towards a green bunker.
The bundled fans, who were sitting behind the tee and watching the ball's progress on a giant video screen, urged him to find the sand. The Presidents Cup was filled with the sounds of Schadenfreude.
Reed, 29, was nicknamed Captain America for his success at team play events like the Ryder Cup and this week's biweekly competition, a typically brilliant affair where the best players in the United States compete against those from outside Europe. But he came here this week under an unusually tough magnifying glass and had to answer, among other things, the allegations by international team member Cameron Smith that he was a scam.
There is no worse arc in professional golf, a sport in which gentlemaniness stands next to godliness. With a game arena that is too large and variable to monitor the rules perfectly, the integrity of the game relies on the trust that the players abide by the rules and the belief that it is better to lose honorably, to break even the slightest rules.
When then Smith recently said to Reed, "I have no understanding for someone who is cheating." It was like giving poison to an event that was traditionally more exhibition than competition. For Reed, Smith's notes were like a slap in the face with his golf glove.
"It is a desire to defeat these guys until it becomes personal," said Reed. "So it's going to be an entertaining week."
Smith's dig was in response to an incident with Reed at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last week. As he did a couple of practice swings in a bunker, Reed created sparks by wiping the sand behind the ball before striking out.
He was given a two-stroke sentence by an official who was made aware of the violation – the precise scope he would eventually go for Defeat against winner Henrik Stenson – but kept defending his actions this week by saying he didn't want to break any rules.
"At the end of the day, if you are out there doing something contrary to the rules unintentionally, this is not considered a scam," he said.
Reed's lack of remorse has irritated many golfers, some of whom wanted him to do some kind of double danger: he accepts his two-shot penalty and apologizes as well. His refusal to fall on his sword or wedge only lengthened the story.
"I think it's a case of right and wrong," said Smith, a 26-year-old Australian. "I think there is something to be said."
Rory McIlroy, a four-time great master from Northern Ireland, came across Reed's defense in an interview with Golf Channel this week. He said that the live recording of Reed's brushes of the sand "is not so burdensome in slow motion playback".
"It's almost like there are a lot of people in the game, it's almost a hobby to kick him when he's down," McIlroy said of Reed.
In the days leading up to high-definition television, it was much easier for golfers to improve their flawless image. At the last hole in the 1974 British Open at Royal Lytham, South African Gary Player seemed to improve his lie by wiping dirt on his snack bar. His actions looked incredibly similar to Reed's last week, but nobody – especially not his colleagues – called Player out at the time.
Instead, he avoided being discovered and won the eight of his nine main titles with four strokes.
The consequences were much faster 45 years later. Slugger White, the vice president of rules and contests for the PGA tour, imposed the two-stroke penalty after a conversation with Reed that lasted less than five minutes. Reed accepted the decision and White was satisfied with the result.
"I don't know if he could have seen it as clearly as we did, but he couldn't have been a better gentleman," White said afterwards to reporters.
Nevertheless, decency before the competition is in the unwritten rules of golf, if not in the dictionary. On Thursday, Reed's manners were impeccable; He took off his hat before shaking hands with officials on the first tee and didn't respond to the fan shouting, "Are you getting your caddy to carry 14 clubs and a shovel?"
The fans who cheered when Reed's opening trip landed in the bunker deviate from golf etiquette, but would not receive a penalty.
At the end of the day the international team, a decided outsider, had a 4: 1 lead over Reed and the Americans. And the stage was ready for more fireworks when Tiger Woods, the United States captain, announced that he would bring Simpson and Reed together in the third four match on Friday. Would Ernie Els, the international captain, counter Smith and the confrontation fans wanted?
Els, one of the game's true gentlemen, refrained from throwing buddies into the water. He put Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer against Reed and Simpson and saved Smith for the fifth match. The first day had produced enough drama for Els’s squad. There was no longer any reason to manufacture.