The Ryder Cup is the most perfect sporting event on the planet for many reasons. It happens every two years, which is a enough of a gap to build anticipation without saturation. National pride is at stake. Guys who compete with each other week in and week out are now on the same team playing together. The format guarantees drama. And most of all, MOST of all, it lets fans see inside the heads of their favorite athletes like never before.
Whether it’s someone completely wilting in the moment (looking at you, Lee Westwood) or exposing themselves as fragile, delicate glass (that’s for you, Danny Willett), you get to see what athletes think play out right before your eyes. In the case of Rory McIlroy, we see a guy fueled by adversity. On the “run from it or run to it” scale, Rory is off-the-charts on the “run to it” side. Normally that plays out internally with a simple “okay let’s do this”, but this week at the Ryder Cup, it manifested itself in fist pumps and bows to the crowd, and it was awesome.
That’s pretty normal, though. You see that in a lot of sports. Sack celebrations. Emphatic first down signals. Flexing after an and-one in basketball. That’s typical stuff. But what we saw from Patrick Reed on the 8th hole yesterday is something that’s been completely eradicated from sports. It wasn’t his patented shush to the crowd or a “COME ON” directed at no one in particular. He put his long birdie right on top of Rory’s, and without hesitation, turned right to his opponent and gave an emphatic finger-wag.
What was so great about it, aside from it being incredible golf, was that it was a true, honest look at how elite competitors think. No fist pump. No yelling. Just a straight, honest message to his opponent to say “F*ck you, motherf*cker. Not today.” And the best part? There were no flags. No technical fouls. No yellow cards. Golf, the most tight-assed sport on the planet, just let it happen. And it was beautiful.
It made me realize how much I miss taunting. By cracking down on that kind of behavior across all sports, it takes the mental side of competition out of the equation and honestly makes sports a little bland and boring in that sense. In no way do I want to see a run of brawls and dirty play, I’m not with that at all. But Patrick Reed buried Rory in that moment. It was more than getting dunked on, or getting knocked on your ass by a blindside hit. Reed made Rory submit, and that “fueled by adversity” motor that Rory has was smashed to pieces with one finger wag.
Did Rory react with a head nod and an angry walk to the next hole? No. He stood and smiled, and met Reed with a fist bump. The exact behavior that he saw in Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson at the 2014 PGA Championship that he said annoyed him to victory. As told to the Golf Channel’s David Feherty:
Oh really, Rors. Because that’s what Patrick Reed made you do. That’s the power of taunting. And I want more of it. Please, NFL. Please college basketball. Bring back taunting.