I had completely lost my swing. At the end of the high school career that began with cheating in freshman tryouts, I had so thoroughly and completely forgotten how to swing a golf club that my coach threatened to replace me for the state playoffs. At one time or another, I’ve had the shanks, the hooks, the yips, and just a flat out bad golf swing.

I have cheated at golf. I cheated in a tournament in high school tryouts, when I said a whiff while in cabbage up to my thighs was actually a practice swing. I will likely cheat again, whether through taking a mulligan I shouldn’t, or taking a friendly drop, or one of the litany of other options golf provides to sell a bit of your soul to scrawl a number closer to the one you want on a piece of paper.

Unless you, the person reading this, are due to be canonized soon, you’ve been in both camps as well. Golf is a mean game that breaks you down while presenting ample opportunities to twist the edges of the game. It’s a game that is constantly putting a mirror to yourself and asking you whether you like what you see.

The last several weeks on the PGA Tour ask the same question.

A few tournaments ago, we were treated to a vintage Jordan Spieth round. Left for dead years ago as a golfer who has lost his swing and can’t find it again, Spieth set the golf world on fire by firing a cool 61 at the Waste Management Open. 

A Jordan Spieth heater doesn’t feel like anything else in golf. Even when Spieth has it all going on, when he’s draining putts from thirty feet, when he’s knocking down flagsticks with every club in the bag, and when any missed approach shot is followed up by a delectable recovery, he doesn’t feel like he’s one of the best players you’ve ever seen. Even his swing feels wrong. That hitch of a move that leaps out to bring back the shockingly quick hook is still there, it’s just tamed for the moment.

No one as good as Jordan Spieth feels as relatable as Jordan Spieth because disaster is lurking right around the corner. Anyone who finds a swing thought to cure their horror miss for a hole, a round, a week, knows the feeling that we all assume Spieth has when he’s standing over a tee ball on the PGA Tour. Everything will probably be fine if you just trust it. Of course, you can execute the swing you had in your mind and there’s your ball, whistling a fairway and a half off track.

The thrill ride of Saturday was replaced by a moribund slog of a Sunday, punctuated by sloppy ball striking and missed kick-ins. A final round 72 saw Spieth slip to a T-4. But that’s the fun of a Spieth run. The mountaintop is right next door to the bottom of the valley. It’s always hanging on a knife edge. That’s something any recreational golfer can relate to.

The story of the week prior was, of course, Spieth’s one-time Ryder Cup co-star and general enfant terrible of the PGA Tour, Patrick Reed.

By now, talking about Patrick Reed is too tiresome to spend much time going over the specifics. The short version is Reed took a drop he was or wasn’t entitled to take, perhaps improved his lie in doing so, and went on to win a tournament undeniably aided by a potential illegal drop. Apologists can point to the somewhat shady drop Rory McIlroy took the following day, a confusing account by a volunteer Reed asked for details, and whatever else you want to use to obfuscate the fact that for the 10,000,000th time since joining the tour, Patrick Reed found himself in a rules fracas.

Every golfer who has ever lived has cheated at one time or another. Whether that’s straight up saying you scored a 6 when you actually shot a 7 or a breakfast ball, or a well timed kick in a forest. You’ve also undoubtedly played with someone who cheats more than you do, which makes for a pretty lousy way to spend 4.5 hours. More often than not that cheating is explained away the same way: “well if this was a tournament I wouldn’t be doing this” or “it’s just a casual round with the boys” or some variant of this isn’t serious, I can change my behavior if I had to.

Watching Patrick Reed makes you think that well maybe I can’t. It’s disorienting to watch someone with all the cameras on the golf world trained on his back, waiting for him to make a mistake, to make that same mistake over and over again. Patrick Reed is not a wrestling heel, not a fun villain, and not making the sport any more interesting. He just exists as a wandering personification of every golfer’s id. It’s too mundane to be engaging. It’s familiar in a way that niggling back injury of yours is familiar. 

Sports work when you can relate with what you’re seeing in front of you. Watching players like Brooks Koepka or Bryson Dechambeau hit missiles 500 yards down the fairway is foreign. In Spieth and Reed, for better and for worse, golf has its two most relatable characters.

Here’s hoping at least one of them stays front and center in the weeks ahead.

Ben Goren

Ben Goren is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack and has been addicted to the game of golf for the past 15 years and isn’t interested in finding a cure. He’s also offering one kidney in exchange for a Cypress Point tee time (serious inquiries only).