NORTON — Bryson DeChambeau’s reputation in golf has been established for years, mildly surprising considering he’s just 24 years old. But when you’re as different as he is, word is going to spread.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s been weird and unique relative to everyone else,” DeChambeau was saying Monday evening, the sun setting over the golf course he had just made look ordinary.
He’s the kid in the Hogan cap who approaches the game nothing like the greats of the past, but rather an iconoclast willing to upend tradition, a mad scientist eager to buck convention, a thinker, tinkerer, and all-around mystery. Even as he would use his custom-made, single-length set of clubs on the tee and his vector-measuring putting plan on the green and ride them to both the NCAA individual title and US Amateur crown, skepticism abounded. From college coaches who had stopped recruiting him to a father who tried to talk him into using conventional clubs, from the peers who looked sideways at him to the fans who didn’t know what to make of him, he heard the doubters.
“There’s only been a few people that have really helped keep pushing me in the right direction, saying hey, ‘Bryson, you’re doing the right thing, keep doing it, just keep figuring things out,’ ” he said. “Mike [Schy], my coach, was a big part of that. And my mom was a big, huge part of that. My brother, Garrett, was a big part of that, and a few of the friends that I’d go play golf with out there on Saturday afternoon, they always encouraged me, too, even though they thought I was crazy, they’d still encourage me. There was a lot of resistance moving up through the ranks, but once I won a few events at the junior level and made it to the US Amateur and US Open, it started to progress in the right direction.”
Who would argue with his vision now? With one more dominant round Monday, DeChambeau won the Dell Technologies Championship, his 4-under day and 16-under finish putting him two shots clear of the rest of the TPC Boston field. And in winning for the second straight week — the first man to take the first two legs of the four-tournament, year-end FedEx Cup playoffs since Vijay Singh in 2008 — DeChambeau does so much more than take a commanding lead in the points race toward the Tour Championship or make it impossible for Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk not to announce him as one of his at-large picks Tuesday in Philadelphia.
He validated his unique approach to the game. It might not work for everyone. It might not even work for anyone else. But it sure works for him.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “I’m playing golf at the highest level and winning at the highest level. And I’m consistently performing at the highest level. So there has to be some validity to it. Is everybody going to do it? No. But it works for me and I believe this is going to benefit me in the future, as well.”
Here he is now, taking his turn in the spotlight, the dizzying carousel of emerging young American golfers taking him on its latest spin. Others may have burned brighter — Jordan Spieth’s sprint to three major titles, needing only the PGA to complete the grand slam, Brooks Koepka’s impressive second straight US Open title followed by a third major win at the PGA, Patrick Reed slipping his arms into a Masters green jacket, Justin Thomas entering the major club at last year’s PGA, to name a few — but none is as hot as DeChambeau is now. Talk mad science all you want. This guy can golf.
Sunday, he outplayed partner Tiger Woods. Monday, he outplayed the rest of the field, moving up from his starting position in second place with a birdie on the second hole, cementing his status as the man to beat with a fantastic three-birdie stretch on seven, eight, and nine, and holding off a charging Cameron Smith (who got to within one with a birdie on 16) by calmly sinking his own birdie putt on 15.
“Yeah, he’s won three times so far and I think that’s three times under the age of 25, which is pretty impressive,” Woods said after playing with DeChambeau on Sunday, the day before the 24-year-old would add this fourth career title. “Just the way he’s played, especially the last couple of weeks. He’s had opportunities and had runs, but I think he’s cleaning up the rounds. He’s not making that many mistakes, and if he does, from what I’ve seen of him, I talked to him over the past couple of months, he’s missing the ball in the correct spots, and that makes all the difference.”
Woods has come to respect the oddities of DeChambeau’s approach, because in it, Woods can still see what he knows matters most: Hard work. The two may use different terminology and be separated by almost two decades, but they managed to find plenty of common ground regardless.
That’s not always easy.
Sports is nothing if not conformist, and DeChambeau, with his physics major, dedication to brain training, and overall belief that perfection is attainable through the marriage of golfing science and golfing athletics, has no interest in going along to get along. I distinctly remember meeting his father, Jon, during the Masters two years ago, when Bryson was an amateur staking an early spot near the top of the leaderboard and his dad was a mesmerized member of the gallery. “He just has such belief in himself,” Jon told me that day. “The general public has probably read and heard so much about the science portion of his game, but he’s an artist. He’s so creative in his own mind. He sees things differently.”
There was a time Jon tried to talk his son out of being so different. Now? He’s using the same single-length clubs.
“Yep,” Bryson said. “For about a year and a half.”