Mel Reid’s Long Journey to the Top
Becoming an Open contender is the latest reinvention
for one of the game’s most compelling characters
SAN FRANCISCO—Is Mel Reid the coolest person in golf? Let us examine the evidence. She has swag from head (the rare flat-bill cap in the women’s game) to toe (low-cut skater-style golf shoes that allow her ankle tattoos to peek out). Her clipped English accent enlivens a surfer girl/snow bum patois; her favorite word to describe herself is “chill” and of her good vibes at the Olympic Club, site of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, Reid says, “As soon as I rocked up here I thought, this is the kind of golf courses we want to play.” Reid can carve up a mountain on her snowboard “… against my team’s advice, but there we go,” she says of persnickety agents and swing coaches. Reid has cool friends: an hour-long FaceTime chat with big-game hunter Brooks Koepka earlier this week helped optimize Reid’s mindset for the rigors of major championship golf, one of the keys to a first-round 67 that staked her to an early lead in the game’s toughest test. “I had a pretty good game plan,” Reid says. “It’s probably the best I’ve had for a tournament. We had a game plan and stuck to it.”
But for all of that, what makes Reid, 33, so effortlessly cool is her authenticity. Beneath all of her banter and bluster—”I like her fire and her personality and I love to egg her on sometimes,” says Jessica Korda—Reid has emerged as a keynote player by being true to herself. She came out in December 2018, saying she wanted to raise her voice against all forms of exclusion. She aligned herself with Athlete Ally, a non-profit that uses sports as a platform to fight homophobia. “You have one life, so be the best version of yourself and be proud of who you are,” Reid says.
Her decision to go public came as Reid arrived at a career crossroads. She won six Ladies European Tour events between 2010 and 2017, though it was not without heartache; in ‘12 Reid’s mum Joy died in a car accident on the way to watch her daughter compete in a tournament in Germany. A month later Mel won a tournament in Prague, playing through the tears. After representing Europe in three Solheim Cups (including going 3-0-1 in 2015), Reid decided to relocate to the U.S. for the 2018 season. It was a disaster, as she missed cut 9 of 19 cuts and failed to register a top-10 finish. That compelled her to go through Q Series to fight for her job.
But along the way she had fallen in love with Carly Grenfell (below), a social media staffer for the PGA Tour. Unburdened by finally living her truth, Reid has been on a tear ever since coming out, fueled by a renewed emphasis on being in the gym and work with a new swing coach and sports psychologist. At the 2019 Women’s PGA Championship she finished tied for third, by far her best finish in a major championship. Reid contended at the 2020 Dinah Shore and then won her first LPGA event, the Shoprite Classic, propelling her to 23rd on the season-ending money list. Asked what she likes most about Reid’s game, Marina Alex says,”Everything. She hits it great. She’s been working really hard on her game the last three or four years. She’s obviously very comfortable in it now. To see her game evolve from that point to where we are now in 2021 is really cool.”
To hear Reid tell it, the transformation is metaphysical. “I’m just happy off the golf course,” she says. “I feel like my life is in a good place. I’m just working hard and being a good person, and hopefully good things will happen to me. That’s just my mentality.”
Reid has always had perspective. As the youngest of seven kids growing up in the town of Derby, she had to pay for her budding golf career by working as a waitress at Chevin Golf Club beginning at age 14. Part of what kept her entrenched on the LET for all those years was a desire to stay close to home and care for her father Brian. (She was named for the title character of one of his favorite books, Melissa, by Taylor Caldwell.) Now Reid has thrust herself into the most stressful situation imaginable: contending for a national championship on big, bad Olympic, a course with a history of breaking hearts. But anyone who has seen Reid blast down the slopes on her snowboard will not be surprised that she is relishing the challenge. “I love the rough personally,” she says of the fraught course setup. “That’s how a U.S. Open should be. Level par should be winning this thing, in my opinion, or close to level par. I love how tough it is. I think it makes you think, makes you create a strategy. You can’t bomb it everywhere. You’ve really got to think where your misses are. This is exactly how a U.S. Open should be.”
Composed, confident, comfortable in her own skin—that’s Reid, and exactly how a U.S. Open contender should be.