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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – For the past month, Bryson DeChambeau has let his clubs do the talking, and on Friday at the BMW Championship, they were quite chatty.
Two eagles and eight birdies sent the masses following along at Caves Valley into a frenzy, and if not for a missed 6-footer at the last, DeChambeau would’ve been signing for 59. The consolation, though, wasn’t terrible: a scorching 12-under 60 and a spot at the top of the leaderboard at this second leg of the FedExCup playoffs.
As for DeChambeau? He remained silent.
No, not completely. He did speak briefly to the PGA Tour’s broadcast and radio partners.
“A lot of putts went in, a lot of things went right,” DeChambeau told Golf Channel’s Steve Sands. “… Sticking to the process allowed me to continue to hit great shots when I knew I had a great chance to shoot 59.”
But that was about it. When it came time to face the assembled print media, DeChambeau, for the 10th straight competitive round, declined.
As DeChambeau bee-lined it from the Sky Sports tent to the practice green – with his manager, Brett Falkoff, attached to his left hip – he passed nary a glance at a half-dozen scribes, gathered a stone’s throw away, waiting to add some life to the story, some substance that a 45-second TV hit could never.
It’s odd. For years, DeChambeau’s unique story has been shared, at length, via the written word. We first learned of his single-length irons when he was in college at SMU. We discovered how he soaked his golf balls in Epsom salts to determine the center of gravity as he won the U.S. Amateur. He lit up the interview room at the 2016 Masters while claiming low-amateur honors, and that same week, he captured hearts as he expressed gratitude that his father, Jon, then on dialysis and needing a kidney, was there to witness it.
“For him to be here for this moment, it’s special,” DeChambeau said, so eloquently, back then. “And it chokes me up.”
Of course, that was all before DeChambeau garnered millions of social-media followers and became a larger-than-life figure (literally) in the sport. These days, DeChambeau, for as much as he’s focused on growing the game, doesn’t seem too interested in deep dives or feel-good stories – unless it’s paid or sponsored content. (For example: DeChambeau did speak to print media on Friday, but it was via phone with Golf.com, for which DeChambeau is the site's playing editor.)
In fact, since going radio silent on the press earlier this month in Memphis, DeChambeau has taken to social media to disparage golf writers, claiming that they are out to get him and take his comments out of context.
In some ways, DeChambeau has some ground to stand. Take this paragraph from the Daily Memphian: “DeChambeau is a dummy. Indeed, he is the worst kind of dummy, the kind that likes to pretend he is smart. You know the type, don’t you?”
Pretty harsh, no matter how one viewed DeChambeau’s controversial takes on COVID-19 vaccination prior to the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. But when it came to the small group of national-media types, those accounts of the events in Memphis offered little editorialization and quoted DeChambeau verbatim.
That Twitter trolls pounced on the comments is not anyone’s fault but DeChambeau’s. He can control what he says and what he doesn’t say. Then again, this quote from last summer is telling: “I think we need to start protecting our players out here compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image,” he said after one journalist caught DeChambeau berating a cameraman for filming him while taking an angry swipe at the sand after a poor bunker shot at the fan-less Rocket Mortgage Classic.
DeChambeau is smart enough to know that a reporter’s job – one that pays significantly less per year than whatever DeChambeau will collect this week – isn’t to be a player’s PR machine but rather to report and story-tell. The ironic part, too, is that DeChambeau’s story is arguably one of the most interesting in the game, with immense talent and a flair for the unorthodox.
Yes, DeChambeau has misspoken and acted in unflattering ways, from calling out his equipment company’s driver at The Open to his feud with Brooks Koepka, but he’s also young – and human. Jon Rahm has transformed from the talented player who was held back by his propensity to throw tantrums — and took flak from reporters, some of it unfairly — into one of the best quotes on Tour. DeChambeau can still be that guy.
Behind the stubbornness is a player who wants to do the right thing. He wants to change the sport. He wants to inspire. (A quick story: After winning the U.S. Amateur, DeChambeau knew he wasn’t going to play his senior year at SMU, but out of respect to Golfweek magazine, which had documented his rise through the amateur ranks, he played the magazine’s fall event, the only tournament he’d play that final season.)
He doesn’t have to talk, sure. But instead of shutting out the media, DeChambeau should open up and give himself a shot at redemption, to show a little grace and receive it in return.
Teed up like a softball, Friday — a career day — was one of those chances.
A month after the crowd heckled DeChambeau’s collapse at TPC Southwind, they were cheering him on to success. When he holed an 11-footer for eagle at the par-5 fourth hole and started 5 under through five holes, they screamed. When he stuck an 8-iron out of the rough to 3 feet at the par-5 16th hole, they roared. And when he spun back a wedge to 6 feet at the closing hole for a look at an elusive sub-60 score, they went downright nuts.
They even groaned with DeChambeau as his closing birdie try never broke back right toward the hole, missing a few inches on the high side.
“It seemed like everybody was pulling for him,” said Harris English, who played alongside DeChambeau on that Sunday in Memphis and again on Friday. “You'd hear the random negative comments, but it was nice to see a bunch of positive energy out there, and he obviously feeds off that.”
How did that make DeChambeau feel? He was never asked.
His playing competitors, however, were there to rave about the ultra-talented player.
"When he's driving it that straight," Jordan Spieth said, "it's got to be what it was like in the early 2000s with Tiger just hitting it the furthest and the straightest."
“He can bring [this course] to its knees, and he did it today,” English added. “The way he's putting, I can see him going out the next two days and scaring 59 again.”
Hopefully, if he does, he’ll tell us – all of us – more about it.