The Summer of 'Bryson Golf' Continues
August 23, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Dave Shedloski
With an easily discernable bounce in his step as he ventured toward the first tee at Olympia Fields Country Club Sunday morning, Bryson DeChambeau eagerly shook dozens of hands and hugged friends who had come to support him. So effervescent was his smile that you couldn’t have erased it with Photoshop.
Then he pumped his opening drive in the final of the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship 361 yards, some 65 yards beyond the tee shot of his opponent, Derek Bard, whose veneer was much more serious and reserved.
It was a telling omen. Not the shot, but the light and easygoing manner with which DeChambeau was approaching arguably the biggest day of his golf life.
DeChambeau looked determined to have fun, just as he had all week. And in the end, he did. He traversed a few rough patches against the gritty and game Bard, most notably double 6s that marked the end of his opening 18 holes and the beginning of the next. Still, DeChambeau continued to project confidence and competency, leaving the result, a 7-and-6 victory, as surprising as a sunrise.
“I have a belief in myself that I can get the job done when I need to,” said DeChambeau, 21, of Clovis, Calif., who dominated the championship from the start, trailing for just six of the 103 holes he needed in six matches. “Every single shot out there, I was telling myself I was good enough.”
DeChambeau, an All-American at Southern Methodist University who had already been named to the USA Walker Cup Team a week ahead of the championship, is the first player since Ryan Moore in 2004 to win the NCAA Division I championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, and the fifth overall. The others: Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
DeChambeau, who said afterward of winning the championship, “I don’t understand it yet,” certainly understands his game, which he referred to as “Bryson golf.” He said it’s about the rhythm of his game and playing aggressively, and it all came oozing out of him starting on the 20th hole of the match when he birdied to restore his lead to 2 up. From there, he put on a clinic, particularly with a putter that had been misbehaving earlier in the day. The momentum just built from there and overwhelmed Bard, a University of Virginia junior.
At the par-5 sixth hole, the 24th of the day, as Bryson was lagging in another putt for another birdie and another win, Bryson’s father, Jon, was straining to see over the crowd from his single seat motorized cart. Hobbled by a broken right foot, he hadn’t seen as many of his son’s shots this week as he had hoped, and he barely snagged a glimpse of this one.
“Yeah, but I listen well, and I know when he’s hit a good shot – and he’s hit a lot of them this week,” he said proudly.
The rout was on when, on the 26th hole, DeChambeau drilled a 20-footer for birdie after Bard had saved par with a 40-footer of his own, but the result already seemed baked into the cake on the previous hole. Bard converted a lovely up-and-down from the front bunker for a conceded par, while DeChambeau was staring at bogey after finding the back-left bunker. But then DeChambeau earned the halve by rolling it in from 15 feet. Bard dropped his head and then shook it, as if he knew the long uphill walk to the eighth tee was a metaphor for his fate.
“That had to hurt him a little bit,” DeChambeau allowed. “Making that 20-footer, he was thinking he's going to win the hole, I'm sure, but knocking that putt in to halve it and go on to win the next few was huge. I could just see it in him, he was kind of deflated and didn't have the same step that he had before.”
Meanwhile, DeChambeau walked around Olympia Fields all week like a guy who was thinking of buying the joint. His self-assuredness was not an accident. He arrives at every championship, he said, “thinking that I have a great chance to win. I prepare myself every single week to win. I don't go into a tournament thinking, ‘Ah, you know, I don't have it this week.’ That's not what I am.”
Nevertheless, his confidence has risen after winning the NCAA title to launch a summer that included qualifying for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay out of the Columbus Sectional, traditionally the toughest because of its heavy attendance by PGA Tour players.
“The belief aspect has definitely improved over the course of playing in a couple PGA Tour events, as well as winning nationals. I mean, that had to definitely help,” he said. “Coming into this week, I was still confident about my game. I knew that I had a couple things to work on. And we got here a little bit early and were still working on the same things. But that belief, it definitely translated from the NCAAs to today.”
Well, when you play golf with an unconventional set of clubs – the shafts in his irons are an identical length – and employ a unique putting routine and soak your golf balls in Epsom salts to determine their center of gravity (as Ben Hogan used to do), you better be darn confident in what you’re doing. And he is.
“There's a bunch of different ways to play the game of golf,” DeChambeau said. “You don't need to play it one way. It doesn't need to be one swing that's perfect out there. The thing that you can benefit most from me, I believe, is be yourself and play golf like you can, not like anybody else.”
Few people have ever played amateur golf for one summer as well as Bryson DeChambeau. Or had as much fun doing it.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.