'He is winning people over': Golf is subscribing to Bryson DeChambeau

'He is winning people over': Golf is subscribing to Bryson DeChambeau
By: ESPN GOLF Posted On: June 13, 2024 View: 24

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Bryson DeChambeau is trying to do it all.

As he walks down the sand-framed fairways at Pinehurst No. 2 on a warm Monday afternoon ahead of the U.S. Open, a casual practice round of nine holes is showing glimpses of how much the 30-year-old is trying to hold on to some parts of who he has been while embracing who he is now -- and thinking about who he wants to be.

On this particular day, the balancing act looks like this: DeChambeau is hitting his custom-made 3D-printed 6-iron off the tee on a 410-yard par-4 just as well as he is hitting it on a 243-yard par-3. What appears to be a display of restraint on one hole is a showcase of aggression on another. On the short par-4 third hole, he hits 3-wood near the green and a driver hit from the forward tee launches over the green.

Lesson learned. But it doesn't mean he has to like it.

"Yeah, it stinks hitting a 6-iron off the tee compared to a driver," DeChambeau said. "But sometimes you've got to do it and you've got to make the right decision for shooting the lowest score out here."

It also looks like this: DeChambeau is waxing on about the importance of spin into Pinehurst's greens as well as how he calculates rollouts on his drives, some of which traveled over 340 yards that day. The launch monitor he carries around like a lunch pail has a sticker that simply says "golf is dope."

While other players try everything from fairway woods to 4-irons to putter around the course's domed greens, DeChambeau is hell-bent on using his lob and sand wedge to hit bump-and-runs. He knows, however, that this week, he will have to inject some creativity into his typically pragmatic approach.

"My brain just won't let me hit it that hard," he said, upon trying to putt it from the back of the green, going back to the wedge and nearly holing it. It prompts his caddie, Gregory Bodine, to make a joke.

"It's going to be the reverse Martin Kaymer," Bodine said, referencing Kaymer's 2014 U.S. Open win at Pinehurst in which he hit putter from everywhere off the greens and won. "In 2024, Bryson is going to win by chipping from everywhere."

Finally, it looks like this too: DeChambeau now spends ample time around the ropes and the fans who surround them, not just signing autographs but also conversing with people. He is, in his own words, "trying to do the right thing." These days, DeChambeau seems equally concerned about being a gracious showman who draws people to him as about being a successful golfer.

"I have changed, definitely, in different ways. I still feel like I'm that same kid that came out here right at the start, but I feel like as a person I'm just different to interact with," DeChambeau said this week.

"My dad passing gave me a great perspective on life. Just everything in general has changed. They say every five years somebody's life changes, and it couldn't be more true. I'm a completely different person than I was back at Winged Foot. There's remnants. I've still got a lot of the same cells, but I'm definitely different in the brain, for sure."

Since DeChambeau has been removed from the sport's main stage by going to LIV Golf, his appearances at majors have been equal parts impressive (four top-10s in his past seven) and compelling. At the PGA Championship in Valhalla, DeChambeau came within 1 stroke of going to a playoff with winner Xander Schauffele. It was hard to ignore the fact that he was the crowd favorite, giving the fans the kind of energy they craved while feeding off their fervor.

Be it in person or online via his popular YouTube channel, DeChambeau's evolution and energetic style of play have struck a chord, leading many to posit the notion that golf needs DeChambeau. And while there's certainly truth to that, it's evident that DeChambeau also needs golf.


LET'S TALK ABOUT DeChambeau's golf equipment.

Perhaps no other player in the sport is as synonymous with unique golf clubs. This is someone who is still playing all his irons and wedges all at the same length, whose longest-tenured club in his bag is his putter. He talks about his equipment like it has the kind of effect that an elixir or a therapy session might have.

"Ever since I got the equipment change last year, my whole life dramatically changed," DeChambeau said this week.

As is now well-known, DeChambeau's custom irons (of which there's only one set, according to him) were approved by the USGA just before the Masters in April. The clubs have a horizontal bulge or curvature that allows him to hit the ball straighter. This week, on the Golf Channel, he explained what makes them so appropriate for him.

"For speeds that I have, when I hit it on the toe or heel, it doesn't overcorrect," DeChambeau explained while walking with Johnson Wagner on Tuesday. "When I hit it on the toe, I was hooking it right like crazy, so I created curvature on the toe and the heel to get it to start a little further right on the toe and to get it to start a little further left on the heel to make sure it doesn't go too far offline."

Last year, DeChambeau said a similar thing about his new driver, from a manufacturer called Krank, which only he uses. It's the driver that underlay his round of 58 at LIV Greenbrier, where DeChambeau said he felt as if he was back in the 2015 U.S. Amateur that he won at Olympia Fields.

"I feel like my mental game is in a different place because of the equipment," DeChambeau said last year. "I feel like I'm just a brute. I just, boom, right down the fairway, wedge it on the green, right down the fairway, wedge it on the green. It's just more of a determined, focused mentality that I have with this new equipment. It's really the equipment, to be honest. So it is different."

Whatever one might think about DeChambeau's approach -- or the fact that his equipment has been ruled fair play -- it's clear that it has all given him a palpable confidence. Bodine said this week that he has seen that confidence change how DeChambeau practices too. There are still times when DeChambeau chooses to spend hours on the range, but those sessions have diminished as his play has improved.

"Everyone knows him to be this guy that lives out [on the range], but he, like, he's played pretty well the last year," Bodine said. "And there's been several times when we go to the range for 15 minutes after a round, he's like, I'm good. It's not like he likes to be out there. He just doesn't like going into the next day feeling uncomfortable about the golf game."

These days, DeChambeau continues to talk about how he is trying to return to the swing feels and execution he experienced during that round of 58. It is not the only thing he is chasing, however. And it's why coming up short at Valhalla, to him, felt less like a disappointment and more like a confirmation.

"What I took out of Valhalla was, I would say personally, the confidence that I can do it again," DeChambeau said. "And my ultimate goal, after 20 more years hopefully of playing golf, God willing, I'm hopefully going to complete that career Grand Slam. That's my ultimate goal for myself."


"WHERE ARE THE kids I said I would sign for?"

DeChambeau has just hit his tee shot on the seventh hole and, as he promised the group of teenage boys on the sixth tee -- one of them who threw a hat at him that he caught and signed as they cheered -- he makes a beeline to the ropes where they, and several others, await.

As DeChambeau signs another hat, one of the fan's friends calls out: "He's not even subbed to you, Bryson!" referring to DeChambeau's YouTube channel, which has over 680,000 subscribers.

"You're not?" DeChambeau asks.

"No, I am, I am!" the fan insists. His friend asks him to prove it.

"Show him then!"

"Yeah, show me." DeChambeau smiles. "I'm just kidding."

Another fan asks DeChambeau about his weight. He doesn't flinch.

"I'm at 215 right now, I'm really light," he says. "But it's because I'm in season. Once we're in the offseason I'll get back up to 230."

With YouTube, DeChambeau has met fans where they're at. As the league he plays for struggles to consistently draw an audience, the flexibility has allowed for him to pour time and effort into ensuring fans are watching him no matter what.

DeChambeau's videos have featured fellow LIV Golf stars Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia as well as other popular YouTube golfers. He also consistently makes appearances on other channels. He has created a series where he and another golfer try to "Break 50" and conduct other challenges like having Siri pick his club before every shot or playing with a rolled back golf ball.

"YouTube is just an unfiltered look at who he is behind the scenes," Bodine said. "I think also he's playing better to where he has the time to go do that stuff. He's told me specifically is like one reason why I'm able to do a lot more YouTube stuff is because I'm not on the range for four hours a night."

To hear DeChambeau tell it, YouTube has been a multipurpose endeavor. He credits the outlet for helping him hone his celebrations in big moments, helping people get to know him better and understand who he is and helping him promote the game. DeChambeau even touts that it makes him a more versatile player on the golf course because it doesn't "lock me into just one thing."

"I'm just learning to be myself and continuing to be okay with what happens and from my perspective, what's been really nice and helpful for me is doing a lot of content on YouTube," DeChambeau said at the Masters. "As crazy as it sounds, it's been really awesome to see how I can affect a lot of people's lives, junior golfers' lives, middle-aged men, even, they are coming out shouting: 'Thanks for the content. Appreciate what you do online.'"

Online, DeChambeau's peculiar singularity, which once seemed to grate competitors, fans and others alike, has somehow evolved into a kind of magnetic pull that is now paying dividends on the grounds of golf tournaments.

"He is winning people over," one fan said while watching DeChambeau spend time on the ropes this week.

Maybe going to LIV has meant that the golf world gets just enough of a dosage of DeChambeau during the majors to embrace him. Maybe it's that DeChambeau has evolved and matured. Maybe it's that golf fans have changed, too. Those that dot the galleries that follow DeChambeau around a golf course these days are filled with younger people -- kids, teens and young adults who don't just want a player that signs their flag, but one that they can banter with as well. Maybe even one they can watch, not just on TV, but on their phones any time they want to.


DECHAMBEAU IS CLOSE.

Be it on a golf course that calls for him to be a mechanic like Valhalla or one that calls for him to be an artist like Pinehurst, DeChambeau's second major appears to be within reach. Venues aside, he's now competed in three of the last five, including a tie for sixth at Augusta National this year and back-to-back top-5s at the PGA Championship.

Times have changed. DeChambeau may no longer be the speed-chaser, protein shake-drinker that wore a flat cap and tried to hit the ball as far as possible. He's decked out in Crushers gear now, is skinnier and calls his putting "a huge asset." Even though he is still hitting his 8-iron 205 yards in the air and strikes the ball further and higher than nearly anyone else, DeChambeau's game appears to be more refined now, more complete and perhaps more suited to compete at places like Pinehurst -- a polar opposite to Winged Foot where he won the U.S. Open in 2021.

Pinehurst No. 2 is not a course you can overpower, but rather one where showing restraint and endurance may be far more important. DeChambeau is hyper aware of this. Maybe he isn't exactly pleased that this is the case, but he knows that what will play well will be boring golf. He's never been a boring golfer, but it's clear he has evolved to at least acknowledge when he has to go against his nature.

"That's the goal for me this week, is try to play as boring a golf as possible," DeChambeau said, while still holding on to the desire that he can make the galleries explode. "I'll try to do my best to show the crowd some fun drives and some hopefully long-made putts."

On Monday, after watching a bunker shot land on the sixth green and then roll off all the way back into the bunker where he stood, DeChambeau sighed, shrugged and laughed.

"It's going to be fun," he said sarcastically, before adding, "Seriously, the person who has the most fun with it is going to do well this week."

Perhaps no one is better suited to do that than him.

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