Eccentric Bryson DeChambeau recasts mold of champion golfer in winning U.S. Amateur title

Eccentric Bryson DeChambeau recasts mold of champion golfer in winning U.S. Amateur title


Eccentric Bryson DeChambeau recasts mold of champion golfer in winning U.S. Amateur title

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the Aug. 31, 2015 issue of Golfweek

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – This wasn’t just a victory. It was a validation.

The question arose long before this week, in this seminal year of his life: How could Bryson DeChambeau survive the rigors of golf with his quirky approach to the game?

The 21-year-old famously adopted an obsessive technical and analytical bent to his game. He caught on with “The Golfing Machine,” which offers a scientific approach to building a swing. DeChambeau also had all of his irons manufactured exactly the same length (37½ inches, comparable to the average 6-iron).

He wore a Ben Hogan cap beginning at age 13 to stand out. His explosive attitude tended to unwire his statisticallycrafted approach.

All of that led coaches at some bigger, more established college golf programs to be wary. But rebuilding SMU hopped on board.

“A lot of people wanted to change him. I had a lot of coaches say, ‘Good luck with that kid; he’s going to be tough to deal with,’ ” former SMU head coach Josh Gregory said. “I asked Bryson why he chose us, and he said, ‘You’re the only coach who would let me be me.’ ”

Well, DeChambeau, of Clovis, Calif., proved to everyone Aug. 23 that his modus operandi works. He captured the 115th U.S. Amateur with a dominating 7-and-6 victory against Derek Bard at Olympia Fields’ North Course.

The incredible final showing wrapped up a match-play run in which DeChambeau was far and away the highest-performing competitor. He demolished his Round of 64 foe, 8 and 6; pasted Matthew NeSmith, 5 and 4, in the Round of 32; notched back-to-back 3-and-2 victories against Maverick McNealy and Paul Dunne; and ended his race to the final with a comfortable 4-and-3 defeat of Sean Crocker.

This performance tops off an epic summer for DeChambeau. He won the NCAA Championship on June 1, and his U.S. Amateur triumph makes him the fifth player to secure that double in a year, joining Jack Nicklaus (1961), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1996) and Ryan Moore (2004).

“I can’t even imagine what I just did,” DeChambeau said. “It won’t sink in, I’m sure, for the next couple of days.”

Bryson DeChambeau holds the Havemeyer trophy after defeating Derek Bard 7&6 at the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.

He could have been talking about his U.S. Amateur victory or his emotional journey.

DeChambeau fought through the ultimate crucible in maintaining emotional poise at the U.S. Amateur.

There was the two-shot penalty for his tardy arrival to the first tee box during the second round of stroke play – precipitated by a hasty tee-sheet change. The U.S. Golf Association later overturned the penalty. Then in the quarterfinals, Dunne seemingly drained putts from different area codes every three holes.

In past years DeChambeau would have sunk with similar misfortunes. His freshman season at SMU, DeChambeau broke 80 once in a putrid NCAA regional performance. So internally angry, the then-19-year-old shut out his teammates and couldn’t fashion together a single modest score as his frustration boiled over and combusted his emotional system.

Something changed, though – specifically, his immersion into Christianity – this past year. And the transformation became apparent at the 2015 NCAAs.

“He didn’t complain, cuss or think about a bad break. He was just perfect,” SMU head coach Jason Enloe said. “And I told him afterward, ‘Dude, if you’re like that all of the time, you’re going to win big tournament after big tournament.’ ”

DeChambeau brought that tact to a new level at the U.S. Amateur. He viewed any obstacles as fuel rather than impediments. He shrugged off Dunne’s onslaught and executed his shots brilliantly to secure the victory.

“If this happened last year or two years ago,” DeChambeau said, “I wouldn’t have won.”

In the final, DeChambeau was 1 up through four when storms and heavy rain delayed action for nearly an hour. In the reset, Bard pounced by winning three consecutive holes to take a 2-up lead. Bard, a Virginia junior from New Hartford, N.Y., and the No. 51-ranked amateur in the world, made a habit of improbably overcoming deficits against top-rate opponents, most poignantly his quarterfinal victory against World No. 1 Jon Rahm after being 3 down with eight to go.

But DeChambeau pummeled the underdog from there on out and was 5 up when he dropped a 20-foot par putt to halve the 25th hole. Bard rolled in a 30-footer to save par at the next yet already appeared resigned to his fate. DeChambeau fed the despair when he drained his 15-foot birdie effort to move 6 up. Four holes later, Bard was dismissed.

The negative emotions that DeChambeau conquered speak to an ever-whirring mind. The physics major kept the assembled media guessing all week with new anecdotes and insights into his peculiar strategies. DeChambeau revealed that he studies contour maps of greens to aid his reads, uses something called the DECADE System to analyze when to attack flags, has started evaluating his body by way of 3-D biomechanics and floats golf balls in Epsom salt to find their centers of gravity.

Bryson DeChambeau gets a fist bump from Fox announcer Greg Norman after holing out at No. 8 during the finals of the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.

His analytical mind travels off course, as well.

“We’ll go to a nice dinner, and he doesn’t even look over the menu. He just finds the most expensive thing on the menu and points to it,” Enloe said. “He doesn’t order by menu item; he does it by price because he knows it will be the biggest cut of meat on the menu.”

There’s an intensity to DeChambeau that tends to take center stage, depiction of a fanatical thinker and genius. When asked about his leisure activities, he copped to perfecting his cursive. Backward and left-handed.

He hasn’t tasted soda since his freshman year of high school simply because one day he decided it was unhealthy.

“When he makes up his mind that something is a certain way, he’s a strong believer,” said Jon DeChambeau, Bryson’s father.

That traps observers into a one-sided depiction. DeChambeau’s time management is precise, but he is known among his SMU group as a prankster who adores sharing Vines of hijinks on Japanese game shows. And his exclusion of soda doesn’t preclude a deep sweet tooth for chocolate.

However long he shines in the spotlight, DeChambeau always will bear the cross of an enigma. But he now can gloat about how a singular method can crack the U.S. Amateur code.

“I hope that I can honestly revolutionize the game of golf in a unique way,” DeChambeau said. “I would like to show people and tell people: Play your own game, and play to the best of your ability; and if you do that, that’s all you can do.”

The DeChambeau system is fully functioning. Future competitors, beware.


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