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Bryson Vs. Everybody: How golf’s strangest character became its best player

Jay Busbee
·7-min read

He’s got the dudebro look of a California high school quarterback, but the demeanor of a kid who reminds the teacher she forgot to assign homework. He swings with enough force to bring down redwoods, then calculates launch angles and spin rates like he’s tracking a shuttle launch. He’s a swollen-muscled weirdo who might just be the best thing to happen to golf in a decade. And now, Bryson DeChambeau is a U.S. Open champion.

In the strangest year golf has ever seen, it’s only fitting that the strangest golfer in the game is now at the sport’s peak — or the apex, as DeChambeau would surely say. What’s even more impressive than Sunday’s victory is just how many opponents DeChambeau had to surpass — both on and off the course — to get to this point.

Sunday’s U.S. Open victory capped a remarkable four-month stretch for the 27-year-old DeChambeau, but it was also the end point of a journey that saw DeChambeau draw laughter, memes and scoffing from pretty much every corner of the golf world. In a sport of show horses, he’s a jacked-up grizzly bear. He’s also a grizzly bear who just figured out how to win the Kentucky Derby.

A champion in college and as an amateur, he arrived on the PGA Tour sporting a driver cap like the ones favored by Payne Stewart and Ben Hogan. He could say it was a tribute all he wanted, but it still came off as an affectation. Then he sang the praises of uniform-length clubs, and an entire industry built on convincing everyday Joes and Janes they’re one precisely fitted titanium shaft away from greatness laughed at him.

But here’s the thing: All that goofy strangeness, all his talk of physics and calculus that made golf analysts chuckle and shake their heads … it was all kind of working. He notched a fourth-place finish in his first tournament after turning pro in 2016. He won once in 2017 and four times in 2018.

Bryson DeChambeau, of the United States, holds up the winner's trophy after winning US Open Golf Championship, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Bryson DeChambeau, of the United States, holds up the winner's trophy after winning US Open. (AP)

Still, something eluded DeChambeau: major success. Prior to 2020, he’d never finished better than T25 at any major. He’d missed almost as many cuts (five) as he’d made (seven) as a professional. He was a threat week-to-week, but on the biggest stage, he was a cosplayer in an old-timey hat.

With all due respect to the Rocket Mortgage Classics and Northern Trust Opens of the world, golfers measure themselves by majors won. For a guy like DeChambeau, it was the easiest calculation he’d ever make: himself + majors = immortality.

So DeChambeau went full Dr. Frankenstein, with himself as his patient. He put on 20 pounds of muscle prior to quarantine, then spent lockdown reshaping himself into Golf Hulk. He devoured up to seven protein shakes a day. He lived in the gym. He reshaped his swing from the spikes up, creating a corded explosion that looks like it could dent steel.

He devised a data-driven approach based on the premise that if you hit the ball real damn far, everything else in the game becomes that much easier. And he was happy to talk at length about his theories and discoveries, no matter how much golf’s elders chuckled at him.

“My goal in playing golf and playing this game is to try and figure it out,” he said Sunday night. “I'm just trying to figure out this very complex, multivariable game, and multidimensional game as well. It's very, very difficult. It's a fun journey for me.”

It wasn’t a smooth ride. Along the way, DeChambeau found himself in scraps with everything from other players to nature itself. A sampler:

Bryson vs. fire ants. At the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in July, DeChambeau griped that some fire ants were wandering around his ball and he deserved a free drop. A rules official disagreed, and DeChambeau got a double bogey on the hole. The ants, therefore, scored a rare victory on DeChambeau.

Bryson vs. cameras. During the aforementioned Rocket Mortgage Classic, DeChambeau got into a bit of a spat with a cameraman he believed was filming him too closely when he flubbed a shot out of the sand. “As much as we’re out here performing, I think it’s necessary that we have our times of privacy as well when things aren’t going our way,” DeChambeau said, adding that he was worried about “damage to our brand.”

Notably, DeChambeau did not seem particularly perturbed Sunday by the cameras almost literally in his face as he walked up the 18th at Winged Foot.

Bryson vs. Brooks Koepka’s abs. DeChambeau and Koepka, who missed this year’s U.S. Open due to injury, have sparred before over slow play. But DeChambeau made it personal when he scoffed that Koepka “didn’t have any abs” in his ESPN: The Body shoot. Koepka scoreboarded him, saying he was “two short of a six pack” with a photo of his four major trophies. Weird insult, devastating comeback.

Bryson vs. a fence. At the Memorial, DeChambeau — looking far less composed than he was throughout literally all of the U.S. Open — tried to get a rules official to admit that a ball adjacent to a fence was in bounds. When the official disagreed, DeChambeau went full Let me speak to your manager, complaining about “a garbage ruling like usual.” His caddy later hustled to block a Golf Channel camera from recording DeChambeau up close.

Again: DeChambeau could not have been more conciliatory and welcoming to a rules official on the 17th hole on Sunday. It’s almost like he realized the damage he could do to his own brand.

Bryson vs. the federal government. This one’s technically from before quarantine, but it’s too good not to share. DeChambeau uses a laser-guided putting aid — of course he does — during practice and has to have his caddy hold up a towel in bright sunlight so he could see the line. He could have just cranked up the laser’s power, he said, “but then it becomes illegal through federal law. Can't do that."

The idea of Bryson DeChambeau packing a laser that’s banned by federal law is just perfect.

Bryson vs. Death. This is the big one. In the course of one of his interviews, which tend to sound a whole lot like 2 a.m. dorm BS sessions, DeChambeau allowed that “my goal is to live to 130 or 140. I really think that's possible now with today's technology. I think somebody’s going to do it in the next 30 or 40 years.”

Oh sure, you think he’s joking. But look: DeChambeau has already solved the problem of how to win majors. He carded a 6-under to win the U.S. Open when no one else even finished under par. You really think something like living to 130 is beyond him? Laugh all you want, but don’t be surprised if your great-great-grandchildren are watching DeChambeau tee it up in 2120.

All these little spats masked the fact that DeChambeau was actually delivering on exactly what he’d promised. He pounded the ball an average of 322.1 yards, first on the Tour. He blasted out of the gate notching three straight top-eight finishes before winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He played well enough to reach the finale of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs in Atlanta.

And, well … you saw what he did to Winged Foot.

“As difficult as this golf course was presented, I played it beautifully,” he said Sunday evening. “So many times I relied on science, and it worked every single time.”

Heads up, golf. It’s going to be a wild next 100 years.

_____

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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