Patrick Reed is no stranger to conquering challenges

AUGUSTA, Ga. — One day, the University High golf team was practicing at the old driving range at LSU when someone challenged Patrick Reed to hit a driver off his knees.

“He hit the ball over 280 yards, maybe 300,” U-High golf coach Matt Picou said. “Somebody told him he couldn’t do it. I’d never seen that before.”

The uncommon has been a common theme in Reed’s golfing career.

He led U-High to a pair of state golf championships in 2006 and 2007, bookending those titles with a victory in the 2006 Junior British Open.

He led Augusta State to a pair of NCAA championships in 2010 and 2011. And he’s won three times in his past 15 starts on the PGA Tour, tying FedEx Cup points leader Jimmy Walker for the most wins over that span and ranking second in points this season.

“He’s very mature for his age. He’s probably one of the oldest 23-year-olds I know,” said his wife, Justine Reed, who nicknamed him “Sandman” for his propensity to end up in bunkers. “And he has a great work ethic. That’s the key to being successful at anything.”

Now Reed’s golfing career is about to ascend to a new, uncharted level of competition.

He’s one day away from competing in his first Masters tournament, his first career major.

It’s on a course he’s somewhat familiar with — Reed played Augusta National Golf Club three times while at Augusta State — but those were nothing like what he’s about to experience.

And he knows it.

“I’ve dreamed of playing in the Masters my whole life,” Reed said. “To finally have it be a reality, I just have to stay level-headed and focus on playing golf, not so much where I’m at or what I’m doing. Just try to treat it as another event, even though everyone knows it’s not another event.”

Born in San Antonio, Reed spent his formative years in Baton Rouge after his father Bill moved there because of his job in the healthcare industry.

Golf was a constant companion. At St. Aloyisus School, where he was in seventh and eighth grade from 2002-04, he went to school for career day dressed as a golfer, bouncing a golf ball off a wedge in midair.

He then moved on to U-High, where Picou said he quickly became overwhelmed by Reed’s determination.

“There was never a time he wasn’t working on some part of his game,” Picou said. “He would practice with us during the week, then on the weekends from eight to 10 hours on Saturday, and play on Sundays.

“Patrick had his own routine. By the time he got here, he was far more advanced than what I could help him with. He’d been swinging a club since he was a little kid.

“He could figure things out on his own on the driving range, correct what he was doing wrong.”

College golf took the highly recruited reed to the University of Georgia in 2008, a powerhouse program with four graduates (2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, Russell Henley, Harris English and Chris Kirk) in this week’s field.

“At the time the only thing he needed to work on was probably his putting,” Georgia men’s golf coach Chris Haack said. “I thought if he could ever figure out his putting, he’d make a lot of birdies because he hit it close a lot.”

But Reed’s stay at Georgia was cut short. He was dismissed from the team after an arrest for underage drinking and possession of a fake ID.

“It was a tough decision,” Haack said. “You knew he was a good player. It didn’t surprise me to see him have success at Augusta State or on the PGA Tour. He’s an incredibly talented golfer and has only gotten better as he got older.”

Reed told ESPN on Monday the incident was a blessing in disguise in terms of his personal growth. He wound up at Augusta State (now Georgia Regents University), only a handful of off-his-knees Reed drives from Augusta National, but initially ran into trouble there, too.

Then Augusta State coach Josh Gregory suspended him for the first two events of the 2009-10 season for unspecified team violations.

Eventually though, Reed straightened out his behavior like he used to straighten out his shots at U-High when he was on the practice range. He clinched the 2011 NCAA title for Augusta State by beating Georgia’s English in the decisive match.

Reed still occasionally ruffled his teammates feathers with his brash confidence — much the same way he did after winning the Cadillac Championship in March, declaring he believed he was one of the top five players in the world (Reed is currently No. 23).

“Yeah, there’s going to be no top five players in that group,” said world No. 9 Rory McIlroy of his Thursday-Friday pairing with Reed and fellow rising star Jordan Spieth (No. 13).

But there’s been little doubt from those who know him best that he could be this successful as a pro golfer.

“Obviously he had the skill to get there,” Picou said. “That was a goal he set, and I believed he’d be able to fulfill it.”

Reed is one of those “we” instead of “I” people, the we being him and wife, Justine.

They met in Baton Rouge where she was studying to become a nurse and earn a companion degree in health administration from Our Lady of the Lake College.

By 2012, she was his caddy, helping him through six Monday qualifiers on the PGA Tour as he tried to earn his playing privileges. By 2013, they had become the first husband-wife team to win a PGA Tour event since 1996 when he beat Spieth in a playoff in August in Greensboro, N.C.

She’s also close by to give Reed’s ego an occasional nudge. She started calling Patrick “Sandman” last season for the hundreds of bunkers he hit into that she had to rake.

These days, Justine is outside the ropes, nearly eight months pregnant with their first child, a daughter they plan to call Windsor Wells. Justine’s brother, Kessler, is filling in, though Justine shows some of her husband’s determination by asserting she’ll be back as his caddy in time for the PGA Championship.

“I find it more stressful outside the ropes than inside,” she said. “Inside the ropes, you’re in game mode.”

It’s the mode Reed has always excelled in.