I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for professional wrestling. As a child, I was drawn to the colourful characters, the costumes, and the aggression. Not realising that what I was watching was effectively a steroid-enhanced soap opera, I quickly fell into line and got behind the heroic characters, known in the industry as “baby face” characters. These wrestlers are given admirable personas, will never back down from a challenge, and always play fair.
On the other side of the coin are the “heel” characters. Sly, shifty, and more than happy to take cheap shots whenever possible, heels are the antithesis of the baby faces. The louder the boos, the better the job the heel is doing.
It didn’t take a genius to realise that there was something slightly off about the spectacle, and by the time I’d reached my teens, I was fully aware that what I was watching was scripted drama, albeit highly athletic. I still enjoyed the circus element of it, and while the feuds and the storylines might be artificial, the risk taking and neck-breaking stunts were often incredibly real.
And as my understanding developed, I grew to love the heel characters, and believed them to be the most integral part of the show. It is a lot easier to play the hero than the villain, and being the bad guy came with more than its fair share of danger. On many occasions in the 80s and 90s, irate – and evidently highly gullible – fans would wait around, hoping to enact revenge for whatever simulated heinous crimes they had witnessed in the ring.
Like professional wrestling, comic books, and fairy-tales, villains are an integral part of sports fandom. What soccer fan didn’t love booing John Terry whenever Chelsea came to town? Part of what made Floyd Mayweather the biggest box-office draw in history is that millions were tuning in hoping to see him knocked out. The same goes for Conor McGregor. Denis Rodman, Dylan Harltey, El Hadji Diouf, John McEnroe, the list goes on.
Golf, by its nature, has seen few proper villains. Generally respectful crowds – New York being the obvious exception – and few actual rivalries mean that its tougher for fans to identify true villains. Ian Poulter for his Ryder Cup exploits is one, but he was inciting an entire nation with his chest thumping, and realistically, his relevance fades as the team event ends. Sergio Garcia is another, but he made the mistake of going up against the sport’s alpha dog armed with little more than a whimper.
No, golf has been waiting a long time for a true villain to emerge, and in Patrick Reed, he’s finally here.
Part of being a proper villain is that you have to embrace it, to shamelessly feed off it, and to excel in the face of it. Reed’s reputation as a team golf specialist has taken a bit of a hit recently, but he still stormed to a 4-and-2 win in the singles in the most hostile environment he has faced to date.
Millwall football supporters famously chant “no one likes us, we don’t care” and there is an air of that about Reed. Estranged from his own family, despised by his original college golf team mates, less than popular with his PGA Tour peers, and now the number one target for abuse from the often well-oiled afternoon crowds at events, Reed is arguably in the arena that suits him best.
Decked head-to-toe in black – much like WWE legend The Undertaker – for his first Sunday appearance since causing major controversy at the Hero World Challenge last month, if Reed’s appearance was making a statement, then his golf was making another.
On a leaderboard stacked with big names, the self-proclaimed Captain America came desperately close to giving the entire golf world a metaphorical finger to the lips.
The greatest achievement a wrestling heel can manage is to have an entire theatre on its feet, collectively incensed by the result, as the victorious villain flaunts his way back to the locker room with hands held high.
We’re one event into 2020 and Reed almost had the three-count. Watch this space. The club now has a genuine heel.