Friday, 22 July 2016

1989 US PGA: Mike Reid

The 1989 US PGA Championship was going so well for Mike Reid, but with just three holes to go things started to go downhill fast.

Golf, perhaps more than any other sport, has seen its fair share of famous collapses. Indeed, if sport is often played in the head, then it can come as no surprise that many a golfer has succumbed to the pressures of trying to close out a major during the inward half of the final round. The list is long and exhaustive: Adam Scott (2012 Open); Jordan Spieth (2016 US Masters); Rory McIlroy (2011 US Masters); Jean van de Velde (1999 Open); Arnold Palmer (1966 US Open); T.C. Chen (1985 US Open). These are just a few examples of someone getting a severe case of the final round heebie-jeebies.

To suffer one such aberration in a career is unfortunate. So try coping with two in the same season. 1989 might have been an extremely successful album for Taylor Swift, yet for Mike Reid, the mere mention of that year probably brings on the cold sweats. Leading the US Masters with five holes to go, the American three-putted the 14th, before finding water at the next, his hopes of winning a first major sinking as fast as his ball. The baton at Augusta was then passed on to Scott Hoch, and we all know how that panned out.

Yet come the final major of the year - the US PGA at Kemper Lakes - there was worse to come for Reid. This time the 35-year-old would find himself firmly in the media spotlight, unable to escape the probing questions, the accusations, his capitulation laid bare for all to see, as Reid joined that long list of players who seemingly had one hand on the trophy (or an arm in the jacket), only to perform the human version of Devon Loch.

The tournament had gone so well for the man nicknamed Radar (due to his accuracy). A 66 in the opening round (six-under-par) saw Reid miss one fairway and green in regulation, and although most of the press decided to focus on the efforts of Tom Watson (67) and Arnold Palmer (68), Reid's bogey free round saw him sitting at the top of the leader board, along with Leonard Thompson.

Payne Stewart's 74 matched his final round at Royal Troon on the final day of the Open Championship, when he had started the day in contention for the Claret Jug, and although it was too early to predict anything, Stewart needed a strong Friday to boost his chances of a first major.

On a weather-interrupted second day, Stewart would shoot the round he needed, his 66 edging him up the leader board, although he was still seven behind Reid who shot a 67. Despite play being held up for nearly two hours, come the end of the day, Reid held a two-shot lead over Craig Stadler and Thompson, with Watson, Andy Bean, Curtis Strange, and Ian Woosnam within touching distance. The pack may have been breathing down his neck, but Reid had so far shown that he could handle the heat. Would it be a different matter over the weekend?

Thunder and lightning would play a significant role on the Saturday, play suspended and called off for the day with players still out on the course. Leader Reid had continued on his merry way, two-under-par for his round, and thirteen-under-par for the tournament, when he was forced to leave the course after nine holes. Increasing his lead to three shots over Stadler, Reid would need to complete his back nine early on Sunday, before starting the nerve wracking fourth round later.

Reid's third round of 70 gave him a three-shot cushion over Dave Rummells going into the final round, and as the holes ticked by on the Sunday, it appeared as if the man who had thrown away the chance of a lifetime at Augusta was about to right that wrong, and win his first major, going wire-to-wire to boot. Stewart, who had shot a 69 in the third round, trailed Reid by six as he began the final eighteen, and a level par front nine of 36 hardly suggested that the man wearing his usual plus fours, and Chicago Bears colours, was about to make a decisive sprint for the line.

Reaching the 10th tee, Stewart spotted ABC analyst Jerry Pate, and offered this piece of foresight: "I can shoot 31 on this back nine and I might win this golf tournament". A birdie at 11 got the ball rolling, but Stewart's fifteen foot putt to save par on the 13th would prove to be just as important. A chip-in at the next was followed by birdies at 15, and 16, leaving Stewart requiring another at the last to fulfil his ambition of an inward 31. When Stewart clinched this with a twelve foot putt on the 18th, the American pumped his fist in jubilation, but it remained to be seen if his late surge would be enough.

Stewart had heard the first rumblings of trouble for Reid as he made his way down the 18th, yet before this point, it had looked as if the leader was going to stroll to the PGA Championship, and a spot in the American Ryder Cup team too. Two-under-par on the first six holes of the back nine, Reid held a three-shot lead with just three holes left, but a combination of a shaky 16th hole and Stewart's last hole birdie put the cat firmly amongst the pigeons.

Reid's problems started at 16, with a pushed tee shot into the lake. "I guess the Russians must have been transmitting, because my radar got zapped," Reid joked in the press conference, his pain clear for all to see as he tried to somehow limp through his grilling. In fact, Reid did well to sink a twelve foot putt to restrict the damage to just a bogey, and although his lead was down to just one shot after Stewart's birdie, Reid stood on the par three 17th tee with one hand still on the Wanamaker Trophy.

The penultimate hole at Kemper Lakes is hardly ideal when you are nervously trying to see out a tournament. A 172-yard hole played over a lake, Reid's heart would have been thumping as he addressed his ball, but nevertheless he managed to hit the green with his four-iron. Sadly, the ball did not stay on the putting surface, resting in the rough at the fringe of the green. Reid fluffed his chip on to the green, admitting that he "didn't follow through" - I'll let you fill in your own jokes there - but with a fifteen foot putt for par, not all was lost.

The next few minutes gave a clear indication of Mike Reid's mental state. His par putt drifted two feet by, yet it would be Reid's rushed bogey effort that was the killer. Normally so methodical and deliberate over his putting routine, Reid's caddie Chuck Mohr was shocked to see his man rushing the short bogey putt. When this putt horseshoed, Reid tapped in for a double bogey, and now walked to the 72nd hole trailing for the first time since he started his round on Thursday. Reid somehow needed to pick himself up off the floor, requiring a birdie down the last to tie Stewart's total of 276.

Maybe it was due to a more attacking mindset, but Reid played the last superbly, splitting the fairway with his drive, and putting his approach shot seven feet from the pin to keep hope alive. But Reid's agony was complete when his birdie putt slipped past, bowing his head in disappointment, and looking every inch the man who had led the US PGA for 70 holes and squandered a healthy lead with three holes to go. "Aw, shucks," Reid would mutter in the press conference. "Life goes on." True. But from a golfing perspective, Mike Reid had committed suicide.

"Man, this is unbelievable," bellowed Stewart after his victory that not only guaranteed him a place in Raymond Floyd's Ryder Cup team, it also gave his skipper an extra pick due to Stewart finishing in the top eleven places. With the American team already containing five rookies - Ken Green, Mark McCumber, Fred Couples, Chip Beck, and Paul Azinger - Floyd hinted that his two picks would be experienced players. When Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins were announced as the captain's selections, it completed a terrible couple of days for Reid.

The sympathy came thick and fast for the unfortunate Reid. Jack Nicklaus, as classy as ever, found the distraught Reid after the tournament, to convey his feelings: "I just want to say that I've never felt so bad for anyone in my life. You played too well not to win." Stewart also expressed his views on the man who had helped him claim the US PGA title: "I feel sorry for Mike Reid. But his misfortune is my gain."

Reid tried to be philosophical about the events of Sunday August 13, yet he understandably shed tears after his implosion, and was visibly distressed in his press conference, struggling to complete his responses. "Sports is like life with the volume turned up. The friendships are a little tighter and the nights are a little longer like this one will be while I try to figure out what happened." After missing out on two major titles, and a spot in the Ryder Cup team, Reid must have been happier than most to see the back of 1989.

"There are always butterflies," Reid had declared, earlier in the week. "Sometimes they are playing hockey." During those last three holes of the 1989 US PGA, Reid's butterflies must have been doing somersaults, dashing around like a child after too much Haribo, and sending a postcard to his brain, informing him there may be trouble ahead. Sport might be like life with the volume turned up, but for Mike Reid, the 70th, 71st and 72nd holes at Kemper Lakes were like a horror movie, a nightmare that unfortunately you cannot wake up from.

Reid deserves great credit for getting into winning positions in both the Masters and PGA. Alas, sport, like life, can also be cruel, and most will remember Reid as a man who fell twice at the final hurdle. "I led through 14 at Augusta, and through 16 here. One of these days, I'll finish it and do it right," Reid stated. But he never did. 1989 turned out to be the best of times and the worst of times for Reid, the season of light, and the season of darkness. A year of major disappointment, and one from which he unsurprisingly struggled to recover from.

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