Bryson DeChambeau pays first visit to Winged Foot since winning U.S. Open

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MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The offer to launch a few balls across the East Course delighted the youngsters who stood along a rope line with phones aimed skyward to document the 2020 U.S. Open champion’s return to Winged Foot Golf Club.

And when Bryson DeChambeau reached for a wedge Monday, the disappointment was audible.

“I have to warm up like everybody else,” the longest hitter on the PGA Tour said with a laugh before rushing to get loose.

The membership here extended the invitation months ago and DeChambeau accepted, making time before heading to Liberty National, site of the Northern Trust. He rolled in behind a police and fire department escort, conducted a clinic for the kids, shared a few memories from his win last September and signed everything in sight.

“You’re one of our own and welcome to come back any time,” Winged Foot president Brendan Boyle said.

There was time for a slice, as well – the good kind.

“We all know the secret to Bryson winning here was Sal’s Pizza,” Winged Foot general manager Colin Burns said of the Mamaroneck Ave. landmark. “There’s a box right behind you.”

DeChambeau was typically outgoing and hungry.

“Coming back here brings back some amazing memories,” said the 27-year-old who has eight PGA Tour wins. “Seeing the people here, the clubhouse, the golf course, the emotions just come back quite quickly. It’s definitely a place I will hold near and dear to my heart the rest of my life.”

Nobody inquired about the state of his equipment. His stance on COVID-19 vaccinations never came up. There was one mention of Brooks Koepka in response to a question about the Ryder Cup.

And the members played along, responding with a burst of laughter.

“Shoot, I love the Ryder Cup,” DeChambeau said. “I’d love to be paired with Brooks. We’d kill it out there. It’d be awesome. We’d get in their heads so much.”

DeChambeau was a captain’s pick in 2018, acknowledging the Europeans played better in Paris. He expects a reversal next month at Whistling Straits.

“We’re the better team,” he said.

And who is the player DeChambeau would most like to see in singles?

“To be honest, I love to go up against the best, so Jon Rahm would be fun,” DeChambeau said, noting the head-to-head meeting he wished for on the way to a U.S. Amateur title in 2015 never came to be. “Now he’s No. 1 in the world and I want to take him down.”

DeChambeau eventually got around to swinging the driver Monday in between questions from the kids. He did not disappoint.

The juicy rough was supposed to keep the bombers in check here last fall.

Even though DeChambeau found only 23 fairways on the iconic West Course, he closed with an eye-popping 67 while the other contenders backpedaled to finish with a 6-under total of 274.

He won by six shots.

That prompted a question about his approach to playing at Winged Foot.

“I would say the best way to attack this golf course is you just gotta drive every green,” DeChambeau said, only half kidding. “I didn’t have that game plan coming in here. The Sunday before, I played a practice round with Tiger (Woods) and I was trying to bomb it everywhere. We got done playing nine holes and Tiger was like, ‘Man, you’re just hitting driver everywhere.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, seems like it’s the game plan so far.’ He was like, ‘That’s right.’ I went and played the front nine the next day with a different group of guys, same thing. I hit the ball as far as I possibly could, hit out of the rough and rolled it up onto the greens. Everyone was like, ‘Man, that’s pretty unique, but it’s working.’ I tried laying up on a few holes the next 18 that I played, and was like, ‘I’m not doing myself any service.’ ”

He got back up to full speed immediately, figuring it was easier to power wedges out of the rough.

The amount of practice time DeChambeau currently devotes to driving the ball since 2019 inspired a surprised reaction from the members. He estimated spending 75% of his time on the range with the driver in hand.

“My putting, I found a great system and I just keep moving on to different facets of my game that need a lot of work,” he said. “Once I figure out the driving component, I’ll move on to the wedging component, hopefully in the next year.”

Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at mdougher@lohud.com, or on Twitter @lohudgolf.