Just when it looks as if the drama surrounding Patrick Reed might finally quiet down, something else happens. On Thursday, it was revealed that Reed's lawyer sent a letter to Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee instructing him to "refrain from any further dissemination, publication or republication of false and defamatory statements concerning Mr. Reed, including any allegations that he 'cheated' at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas."
We gathered our experts to decide what all this means and what it might mean for Reed in 2020:
1. Is "cheater" too strong a word here?
Bob Harig: Yes. Because we really do not know intent. It is impossible to be sure what was in Reed's mind when he did what he did. Obviously, it looks bad. All should agree on that. But did he deliberately break a rule? While some might think so, he offered a defense that his ball was farther away from that clump of sand than replays indicated. To many, that is not a suitable answer, but it is hard to know for sure.
Michael Collins: Whatever happened to "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me?" Yes, the word "cheater" is extremely harsh, but getting a lawyer involved? I would not have used the word "cheater." If you believe Patrick Reed was intentionally trying to break the rules, then you can call him a liar. But if you don't know with 100 percent certainty what his true intentions were, then you cannot call him a cheater.
Ian O'Connor: I personally would not call him a cheater. I think it's too strong. But in a legal context, I don't think Reed has a legitimate claim of defamation here. As a public figure, if he ever went ahead and filed a claim, Reed would have to prove not only that Chamblee was wrong when he said it but also that Chamblee knew he was wrong when he said it. And it's hard to look at that tape and say Chamblee knew he was wrong when he publicly stated his belief about Reed.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: That word makes me queasy. There is no more offensive word in golf -- well, maybe "shank," but let's not go there -- than "cheater." Is it hard to defend Reed? Absolutely. What happened in the Bahamas was bad and pretty much indefensible, even though he tried with a lame excuse about camera angles. The big problem here is reputation. Reed doesn't have a good one. His history is bad. His antics haven't helped. And that's why this incident in the sand in the Bahamas is sticking to him perhaps more than it would stick if this had been a one-time thing that happened to another player.
2. What, if anything, can Reed do to make this all go away at this point?
Harig: It might be too late. I have said all along that his answer in the aftermath hurt him. He realized that a penalty was coming and that his explanation for space between the ball and the sand could not be verified. His best course of action was to say, "I understand it looks bad; I did not mean to break a rule, but I did. I'm sorry. I accept the penalty.'' And then move on. Obviously it has not played out anywhere near that.
Collins: This will never go away. Unfortunately, the perceptions of Patrick on the PGA Tour and in golf were never great to begin with. This ensures a continuous flow of fuel for people who despise him. Of course, in today's society, Reed could do a funny video a year from now that would make everyone forget.
O'Connor: I think Reed needs to follow the Tom Brady model. How did Brady respond after the 2014 regular season when his integrity and authenticity were questioned during Deflategate? He won his fourth Super Bowl ring and his first since he had won his third in four years in 2004, launching an entirely new Patriots dynasty. Reed should go win his second Masters title, fairly and squarely, or the U.S. Open. And then stare defiantly into the crowd with a look that says, "You really think I need to cheat to beat these guys?"
Pietruszkiewicz: Nothing. This is going to follow him pretty much everywhere he goes this year -- and perhaps beyond. Given he is such a lightning rod, one incident would have stuck to him, but now we've had the "cheating" question in the Bahamas, a Presidents Cup in which he brought more attention to the "cheating" question, and an altercation between his caddie and a fan, and now his lawyer going after a media member. That's just too much to forget about. And, let's be honest, fans at golf tournaments are already rowdy, thanks to all that sunshine and available adult beverages. So, no, this isn't going to go away.
3. The PGA Tour didn't come out forcefully when the incident happened in the Bahamas. Is the Tour partly to blame for all this?
Harig: Absolutely. Surely PGA Tour rules officials look at that incident and see what we all see, that at the very least it looks horrible for Reed. Some sort of public rebuke suggesting that Reed should know better, that he's been penalized and warned, would have done a lot of good. There is a perception out there that the tour is trying to sweep this away with the sand and hope it goes away. That has not worked. And there is some high-profile precedent on the European Tour, where action was taken after the fact -- see Colin Montgomerie in Jakarta as just one example -- for violations that were not penalized in the moment.
Collins: What was the tour supposed to do? I specifically asked the head rules official if intent mattered. His response was that intent had no bearing on this penalty. Which means even if Patrick Reed was trying to intentionally break the rules, he could only take a 2-stroke penalty. Those are the rules, like it or not.
O'Connor: Everyone knows professional golf is something of a joke when it comes to disciplining players. The other sports seem to understand that suspending players and publicly shaming them for misbehavior act as effective deterrents, while the tour forever hides behind the notion that its athletes are better off policing themselves. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan missed an opportunity here to make a forceful statement about Reed and to scare off anyone else who might be so reckless with the rules.
Pietruszkiewicz: The tour made this worse. Instead of coming down on Reed, chastising him publicly, reminding the public and the players how serious it is to even allow the possibility of cheating to enter a conversation, it didn't. Without a reprimand, all it did was embolden Reed to keep the controversy alive -- by making a shovel gesture during the Presidents Cup to mock the incident -- and to allow his lawyer to keep it alive by going after Chamblee.
4. Will all this attention impact his game -- for better or worse?
Harig: It might be uncomfortable, but Reed seems to thrive on this sort of negativity. He managed to put it aside during Sunday singles at the Presidents Cup. He had a great tournament in Maui last week. He'll be asked about it, deflect it and move on.
Collins: We are talking about golf now, aren't we? And it's the weekend of the College Football Playoff title game and NFL playoffs! Normally golf talk doesn't make news or sports headlines until The Players. Didn't someone once say there's no such thing as bad press?
O'Connor: An old and trusted source once told me this about a wildly successful college basketball coach who kept getting in trouble with the NCAA: "He thrives on chaos." To me, Patrick Reed thrives on chaos. It's why he beat Rory in that wild MMA fight of a Ryder Cup match at Hazeltine in 2016. I think the negativity will continue to fuel him in a positive way.
Pietruszkiewicz: Not one bit. If Reed has proved anything, it's that he doesn't care about not being liked. (If he did, maybe this stuff wouldn't keep happening.) He won the Masters when the patrons were clearly behind Rory McIlroy. After the mess on the second-to-last day of the Presidents Cup, he went out the next day and won his singles match -- which, by the way, was his only point of the week. In his first event after that, he got himself into a playoff at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. And as the letter from the lawyer became public on Thursday, he shot 69 in brutal wind at the Sony Open to put himself into a tie for 16th after the first round. None of this stuff bothers him.
5. What will Reed's 2020 season actually look like? Will he win? Will he win a major?
Harig: I expect him to have a good year. He's motivated to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team on his own, without needing a pick. After a substandard 2019, he won late in the year, had a solid fall and now has lost in a playoff. I expect him to contend often and win at least once.
Collins: It's pretty obvious that, if the letter was sent the week of the Presidents Cup, it didn't affect his on-course individual play very much. I don't expect Patrick Reed to win a major, but I truly and fully believe that he will win at least two tournaments in 2020.
O'Connor: I definitely see Reed winning, and perhaps winning a major, based on what I said above. His me-against-the-world mentality might be the most dangerous club in his bag. In the end, Reed is good for golf because golf needs a villainous figure. He's Gorgeous George blowing kisses to the crowd. But to stay relevant, he needs to win. I definitely see Mr. Reed staying relevant in 2020.
Pietruszkiewicz: He'll have a good year. And Bob's right, qualifying for the Ryder Cup will be a big motivation because it's hard to imagine any scenario in which Steve Stricker, the U.S. captain, would put him on this team unless Reed qualified on his own. Seriously, after all this, would you make Reed a captain's pick and invite this chaos if you had a choice? As for the majors, the interesting one will be the U.S. Open. The Masters is respectful. So is The Open. The PGA is at Harding Park in San Francisco, not necessarily a place known for loud and unruly fans. But the U.S. Open is at Winged Foot in New York. Those fans can get loud. And the conditions for that one promise to be treacherous, with the USGA likely out for revenge after Pebble Beach played rather tame a year ago. That's one where things could get dicey for Reed and caddie Kessler Karain. But, no, I don't think he'll win a major this year, but it has more to do with the depth of these fields than reaction to these incidents.