Augusta University is one of the smallest schools that fields a Division I golf program. Undergraduate enrollment is just over 5,000, and the Jaguars play at the Division II level in seven other sports.
Yet the school has always had a strong golf program, and nearly a decade ago it caught lightning in a jar not once but twice as the Jaguars won back-to-back NCAA championships.
Augusta, already the toast of the golf world because of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, had something else to crow about.
With Patrick Reed and Henrik Norlander packing a 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup, Augusta State (as it was called then) took down the Goliaths of the college game. In 2010, the Jaguars knocked off Georgia Tech, Florida State and Oklahoma State to capture their first national championship.
A year later, they did it again as they beat Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and Georgia to become the first team to defend its title since the powerhouse Houston teams of the 1980s.
Fast forward to the spring of 2018, and Augusta’s golf program achieved even more glory. Reed won the Masters to give the Jaguars their first major champion, and a few weeks later Broc Everett claimed the NCAA individual championship.
“It’s incredible,” said Carter Newman, who was a member of the 2010-11 teams that won titles. “Can you name another university, really in any sport, that’s had a run like Augusta State?”
Long before he slipped on the green jacket, Reed was a hotshot amateur who had moved to the Augusta area when he was still in high school. He first made waves by reaching the semifinals of the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst, where he fell to eventual champion Danny Lee.
The two finalists of the U.S. Amateur earn invitations to the Masters, and Reed fell just short of achieving that dream.
“I was so caught up in the match that I wasn’t even focusing on what was to come next,” Reed said. “I try to stay that way in every event I play, no matter what I’m doing, because the more you try to think ahead you start to lose focus on what you’re doing at that moment.”
What Reed took from that U.S. Amateur performance was a feeling that he was heading in the right direction and could make the transition to play college golf at the highest level. He had visited the Georgia campus and decided that was where he wanted to play.
Things didn’t work out in Athens, though, and after one season Reed was in the market for a new school. Augusta State was on his radar because he had played in some amateur events with the Jaguars’ coach, Josh Gregory.
Reed got the same story from Gregory as he did from other coaches.
“When I was talking to Josh in his office, he was talking to me about how we need one player,” Reed said. “One more good player. If we have a player like yourself, we’ll go from the team we are to a national championship team.”
Gregory’s pitch won Reed over.
“I had a coach who was into making every player, no matter what level they were at, no matter how their swing was, how their personality was, he wanted to get the best out of every player no matter what,” Reed said. “That ultimately was my decision on why I wanted to go there, because of the coach.”
Augusta State rolled into the 2010 NCAA championships at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., as the nation’s fifth-ranked team.
Reed, Norlander and Newman were joined by Mitch Krywulycz and Taylor Floyd, and the Jaguars made it out of the stroke play qualifier to become one of eight teams to compete in match play for the championship.
Georgia Tech was Augusta’s first opponent, and the Yellow Jackets held a 2-1 lead as Reed’s match headed to the 18th hole. Reed was 1 up on Chesson Hadley, who faced a lengthy birdie putt to force extra holes.
“Next thing you know he hits this putt and it seems like it’s rolling forever,” Reed said. “It hits the back of the cup and goes in. He just goes absolutely insane.”
Now Reed faced a 15-foot putt to tie the hole and win his match. But his teammates weren’t worried.
“One thing about Patrick: I have never met someone in my whole life who can grind and make a putt like him,” Newman said. “When he really needed to make a putt, he always found a way to do it.”
Reed’s putt was in from the moment he hit it, and the Augusta sophomore unleashed a yell and fist pump that was heard all over The Honors Course.
The Jaguars advanced to face Florida State, and Reed faced off against Brooks Koepka. Reed won the battle of future major champions 1 up, and the Jaguars moved on to the championship match against top-ranked Oklahoma State.
Few gave Augusta State a chance against the Cowboys. Reed had his work cut out for him as he was matched up against Peter Uihlein, one of the top amateurs in the world.
“Anytime Patrick is up against a top player he puts a chip on his shoulder and honestly wants to beat their brain in,” Newman said. “Similar to Tiger’s mentality, he wants to beat anyone as badly as he can.”
Reed did just that, jumping on the Cowboys’ top player early on his way to a 4 and 2 victory. And with his teammates taking care of business behind him, tiny Augusta State had done what many thought was impossible: win a national championship.
A year later, with their core lineup intact, the Jaguars did it again. This time the victory came on Oklahoma State’s home turf, which made Augusta State’s semifinal win over the Cowboys even sweeter.
Once again Reed had his way with Uihlein, and that helped set up a championship match with Georgia.
On a tense day at Karsteen Creek, it all boiled down to one match: Reed vs. Harris English.
“He probably hates losing more than he loves winning,” Gregory said of Reed. “He just wants to beat somebody. He loves that mentality.”
It was something Reed had always wanted, to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game, so to speak.
“To know it’s my last year of playing, having that opportunity for it to come down to me at the end, was just amazing,” he said.
Reed closed out the match at the 17th hole, and with his 2 and 1 win the Jaguars became the first team since Houston in 1984-85 to repeat as national champs.
“I had players who loved college golf as much as I did,” Gregory said. “They lived and died beating teams that people didn’t think they could beat. You couldn’t have scripted the teams that we beat. Those are the teams we wanted to beat more than anything.”
It was the end of Reed’s college career. The junior had decided to turn pro, and he drove from Oklahoma to Memphis, Tenn., to play in the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He missed the cut after rounds of 71-75.
Success didn’t come easy. With no status, Reed was successful at Monday qualifying in 2012 with wife-to-be Justine carrying his bag. He played a handful of events until he earned his PGA Tour card at qualifying school later that year.
His results in 2013 were spotty until a fifth-place finish in Memphis ignited a two-month stretch of good golf. It culminated with his first professional victory at the Wyndham Championship, a playoff win over Jordan Spieth.
The victory pumped him with confidence, gave him status and, more importantly, allowed him to play in the Masters for the first time.
Reed entered the 2018 Masters as one of the top players in the world and one of the hottest players on tour. His previous three starts before Augusta had resulted in two top 10s and a solid showing at the Match Play Championship.
But no one was picking the former Augusta State star, and for good reason. Reed’s track record at Augusta National Golf Club was less than stellar, with two missed cuts in four starts and no rounds in the 60s.
But Reed had been trending in the right direction, as his brother-in-law and caddie Kessler Karain said, and he had decided to use contact lenses for the first time in competition.
He also came in more relaxed.
“He had a different attitude about Augusta last year,” said Gregory, his college coach who now works with Reed and others as a swing coach. “He tried to enjoy it more, embrace the situation. I’ll say it paid off.”
Success was noticeable from the start as Reed opened with 69, his best round at Augusta National. A day later he did that even better, scorching Augusta National for nine birdies in a round of 66. It gave him a two-shot lead heading into the weekend, and it also revived interest in his college days in Augusta as the media took note of his background.
The third round of the Masters was a rainy day, which made conditions softer and susceptible to scoring. Top players like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm all made moves with 7-under-par 65s, but Reed kept pace with a pair of eagles on the incoming par-5s and a round of 67. He entered the final day with a three-stroke lead over McIlroy, who needed only a win at the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam.
“I felt I was playing well and it was one of those situations where it was time for me to go out and prove not only to myself, but everyone else, that I got into this position and I can close these off and I can win at the biggest stage,” Reed said.
Reed and McIlroy had engaged in an epic duel in singles at the 2016 Ryder Cup Matches, and the golf world was salivating at the prospect of another shootout filled with birdies and eagles.
Except it didn’t happen. McIlroy fizzled on his way to a disappointing 74, and Reed played steady golf for the first nine holes.
The main road block to Reed’s first major win came from Spieth, who had started the day well back but was tearing up Augusta National like he had on his way to his 2015 win. Fowler, playing in the group ahead of Reed, was also piling up birdies.
Reed countered with a crucial birdie of his own at the par-3 12th to give himself a little breathing room.
“I’m a scoreboard watcher so I knew where everyone was,” he said. “I knew Jordan, once he birdied 16, that he had 17 and 18 coming up. He was running out of holes. I was worried about Rickie, seeing what Rickie did. That kind of decided how I played 13 through 18. Having the lead, I knew I didn’t have to be aggressive. Go for pars, make a bunch of pars, and the tournament would be over.”
Reed did just that, throwing in a birdie at the 14th for good measure, but as he headed to the 18th tee with what he thought was a two-shot lead, he heard a huge roar. Fowler had made birdie on the final hole to cut the lead to one.
“I had to actually go win with par or better,” Reed said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way to have to go out and finish well to win.”
After hitting his “helicopter” cut off the tee to find the fairway, Reed could finally breathe. His troubles in the past always stemmed from the tee shot.
He hit his approach shot to the green, but was left with a downhill putt. He coaxed it to about 3 feet from the hole, and took another deep breath.
“Hey, you’ve made a million 3-footers in your life, and this one is uphill and left center,” he said he told himself. “Very straight forward, easy one. So I lined up and right when I hit it I knew it was going in.”
Reed had his first major victory, and Augusta University had its first major champion. To come at the Masters was icing on the cake.
“It’s still hard to even explain,” Reed said. “The feeling is overwhelming, unbelievable. As a kid you’re always growing up being like you’ve got this putt to win the Masters, or I have to get up and down to win the Masters. Once I hugged Kess, shook hands with Rory – and to look at the back of the green and see Justine waiting, was an unbelievable moment.”
Article appears in the April 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.