Bryson DeChambeau’s wild show winds through the U.S. Open


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BROOKLINE, Mass. — If following a round of golf with Bryson DeChambeau is a bit like climbing in a racecar with treadless tires on a greased track and realizing a toddler is at the wheel, well, that would explain how we skidded to the top of a rocky outcropping to the left of the 13th fairway Friday morning at the Country Club. Among the problems here: DeChambeau was playing the 12th hole.

This is the DeChambeau Experience, and it’s the same at the U.S. Open as it is week-to-week on the PGA Tour — or, soon to be, on the upstart LIV Golf series. The best version of his game — a version he doesn’t currently possess — can’t be contained in a conventional box. Nor can his thinking.

When he’s off even a fraction, the fun begins in full: wayward missiles; exasperated glares; pantomimed swings; chats with himself, his clubs, his caddie — and perhaps even with apparitions only he can see. With DeChambeau, anything is in play.

It’s worth tracking DeChambeau at this U.S. Open not because he is a factor but because he isn’t. A pair of 1-over-par 71s sound normal enough, until you consider the decidedly abnormal path. They left him inside the cut line at 2 over, here for the weekend but seven shots off the lead.

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Through it all, he is simultaneously an absolute outlier and a cautionary tale. No one played like he did on his way to the top of the sport, a victory at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot just 20 months ago. So many have experienced the inevitable crest and fall backward as he has. DeChambeau arrived at the Country Club having undergone surgery on his wrist and taken seven weeks off, with the following results in his last five stroke-play events: missed cut, withdrawal, missed cut, missed cut and … (checks notes) … missed cut.

He had climbed into the top 10 of the world rankings during that scorching covid-19 summer of 2020, when he ran off seven straight top-10 finishes and morphed from a curiosity to an elite player. This recent mixture of inactivity and poor performance has dropped him to 29th. At his peak, he was a polarizing figure, cheered and jeered by galleries who loved or loathed his social media war with four-time major champ Brooks Koepka. Here, he is one of 156 in the field — unique in ability and approach, an everyman in trying to slay the Country Club.

“I love you Bryson!” one Boston bro yelled Friday as DeChambeau walked off the 12th tee. “Let us get a look!”

DeChambeau complied, glancing up into the stands. “Yay!” came the response. That’s all it takes to win people over.

DeChambeau’s thoughts on all this — his health, his game, his decision to leave for LIV, how he ended up on top of that rock — will remain with him; he declined my request to chat with the media after his Friday round. That’s no sin. But it also doesn’t grant him clemency from the spotlight.

“My time off, I haven’t been able to hit golf balls,” DeChambeau said this month at the Memorial, where he shot 76-77 to miss the cut by seven shots. “It’s very difficult. You’re in your head the whole time.”

Doesn’t that describe DeChambeau in perpetuity? There is no putt DeChambeau strokes that, upon its failure to find the bottom of the cup, he doesn’t follow with a jaw-dropped look back at his caddie that says, “That’s not possible.” On Friday, he walked off the 17th green, having missed a 10-footer for birdie. “I cannot believe that,” he muttered to no one. How could such a thing happen? Science shouldn’t allow it.

But it can be impossibly difficult to click the remote away from the DeChambeau show because there’s no telling what might happen next. Which brings us back to the top of that rock. The path there: 345 yards from the 12th tee box over rough, fescue, a rope to contain the gallery, a cart path and another rope to contain the gallery, to a spot among the stones that characterize this wonderful place.

“I was telling guys to move,” one volunteer course marshal said. “And they were like, ‘What do you mean I’ve got to move?’ ”

Well, Bryson’s coming through. He climbed that pile with caddie Brian Zeigler, and they began the discussion. To anyone standing on the grass or on the path below, he looked to be in jail. DeChambeau has long approached every shot as if he has the key. His infrequent play as he dealt with injuries — which included withdrawing from the PGA Championship — made him tweak that thinking a bit.

“You have this thought process, and you go out there, and it doesn’t pan out the way you want it to,” DeChambeau said at the Memorial. “So having a positive attitude, even though things aren’t going great out there, is important for me.”

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At 12, he had some 140 yards from those rocks to the front of the green. Somehow, he flushed a wedge over two traps, just over 30 feet below the hole. Playing partners Justin Rose and Gary Woodland — like DeChambeau, former U.S. Open champs — had birdie putts. Somehow, DeChambeau did, too.

The ensuing “4” looks plain enough on the scorecard. It was stunning to see in person. Two holes later, DeChambeau launched a tee shot so far left it might have hit Rachel Maddow. The 14th is a monstrous 619-yard par-5. From the rough, it must be a three-shot hole. DeChambeau had 266 yards to the pin. He and Zeigler appeared to wrestle between — get this — 5- and 6-iron.

The 6-iron he struck was perfectly drawn around a tree, and it settled all of 15 feet left of the pin. Two-putt birdies don’t come much easier. And yet maybe 10 minutes later, DeChambeau had inexplicably flared an approach shot from the middle of the 15th fairway over the green and was forcing a muffled “g——–!” through clenched teeth as he assessed the ensuing chip.

A pair of 71s seem like a bland enough start to the U.S. Open, particularly because these layouts can produce carnage. (See Mickelson, Phil: 11 over). But Bryson DeChambeau, even as an afterthought in the tournament, is incapable of bland and boring. He is both one of 156 and one of one — no matter where he plays or his form while doing it.


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