How Patrick Reed's thrown tee previews the 2023 LIV-PGA Tour battle

How Patrick Reed’s thrown tee previews the 2023 LIV-PGA Tour battle

In golf alone, a quarter-ounce tee thrown at a driving range counts as an act of wanton aggression. But then again, in golf alone can someone make $35 million in a single year just for, well…playing golf.

The brief festive ceasefire between the warring families of golf (PGA Tour players on one side, LIV Golf players on the other) has apparently ended, and the first note on the newest verse of this strange song was struck on the driving range of the Emirates Club in Dubai. There, Patrick Reed (Team LIV, of course) approached Rory McIlroy, who has become the in fact face of the PGA Tour. McIlroy acted as if Reed didn’t even exist, and Reed, after an awkward moment, left the scene and teeed off in McIlroy’s direction as he left.

Here, see for yourself. Reed greets McIlroy’s caddy (in a blue shirt) while McIlroy himself takes a sudden and intense interest in his Trackman:

There’s plenty of backstory and head-on here, but first, a reminder of what these two once shared.

In 2016, Reed and McIlroy were their teams’ undisputed top predators for the Ryder Cup, and during some glory holes in their singles match, they put on a head-to-head show that was literally as good as golf. McIlroy birdied four holes in a row … and Reed was even better than that. They hit long putts on top of each other, reveled in cheers from the range, looked for all the world as if they’d own golf together for the next decade. Reed won the match by a single hole and helped the US beat Europe for the Cup.

So, well… things got tough. Reed won the Masters in 2018; McIlroy teeed off next to him in Sunday’s final matchup, but he almost immediately rocketed out of contention. Reed kept finishing in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, angering his Ryder Cup teammates and clashing with PGA Tour rules officials. McIlroy continued to play well enough to win tournaments in almost every season … but he’s still stuck at the same number of majors (four) that he had during that famous duel. And he’s still one Masters victory away from winning the coveted Grand Slam of his career.

When LIV Golf blossomed from dormant 19th-hole speculation to a full-blown PGA Tour threat last year, Reed was one of the first to jump on the breakaway tour. His lawyers have spent much of the ensuing months filing defamation suits against a wide range of targets, from the PGA Tour to television commentators, golf journalists and… Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy acknowledged that Reed served him with a subpoena on Christmas Eve, which, as you can imagine, could put a damper on the Christmas celebrations. And that brings us to this week, and the drama of the driving range.

Patrick Reed (left) and Rory McIlroy, seen here at a previous tournament, aren’t exactly close these days. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Golf Twitter has already subjected Reed’s Tee Toss to the full Zapruder movie treatment, and now both parties have weighed in.

“Patrick came to say hello to me and I really didn’t want him to,” McIlroy said at a later news conference. “That was it. I didn’t see a shirt. I didn’t feel a shirt. Obviously someone else saw that. I can’t believe it actually became a story. It’s nothing.”

Well, it is and it isn’t. More on that in a moment.

“He saw me and decided not to react,” Reed told the Daily Mail. “It’s unfortunate because we’ve always had a good relationship… But it’s one of those things: if you’re going to act like a small, immature child, you’d better be treat them as such.”

It’s unclear exactly what kind of reaction Reed thought he should get from a player he’s apparently actively litigating against. When asked if he could see the possibility of “mending things” with Reed, McIlroy didn’t even offer an answer, just a reaction of disbelief:

Reed and McIlroy are playing in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic only because the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) allows LIV players to compete. Otherwise, McIlroy and Reed, and every other player on the PGA Tour and LIV, will only cross paths at the majors. And it is there, starting in Augusta in April, that this ongoing dispute will enter its next phase.

The Champions Dinner at the Masters is highly unlikely to turn into fistfights, but with a number of LIV standouts in attendance, including Reed, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, along with some of the PGA Tour’s staunchest defenders , like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, the atmosphere could get tense. (If Reed had really wanted to prod McIlroy, he could have pointed out that McIlroy won’t be attending that particular dinner.)

The question going forward is whether the hostilities will continue, or whether the players on both tours will continue to, well… live and leave LIV. Most players on both tours would surely prefer not to deal with the headaches that accompany both litigation and confrontation. But as long as pushy guys on both sides continue to lob shots through the media, and as long as LIV’s critics continue to question the dissident tour’s Saudi finances, the two tours simply won’t coexist.

The LIV-PGA Tour battle is vast and complex, but it’s also about hurt feelings and perceived disrespect. How far will LIV go to keep pressing its points against the PGA Tour, and how far will the PGA Tour go to stem the flow of defections? The answers to those questions will determine whether TeeGate is a preview or an outlier. After all, it’s much easier to ignore a tee than a summons.

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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