Bryson DeChambeau thrills but falls short of long-drive World Champion Kyle Berkshire

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Of course Bryson DeChambeau didn’t win the Professional Long Drivers Association’s World Championship on Friday. This week was the 2020 U.S. Open winner’s first foray into the muscled-up world of long ball, and he was competing against faster swingers with years of experience.

DeChambeau beating the long-drive pros at their own game was as likely as eventual 2021 long-drive winner Kyle Berkshire sinking the winning putt at last week’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Long-ball and golf golf are separate universes.

On Friday, none of that mattered for DeChambeau. He appeared to be in Mesquite, Nevada, to have a good time and swing hard. Mission accomplished, and then some. The No. 7 player in the world of real golf went deeper in the long-drive World Championship than anyone might have predicted, and judging by DeChambeau’s own response to several of his tee balls, even deeper than he expected.

DeChambeau made it to the final eight competitors by bashing balls 400 yards or farther at the right times – including one of 406 yards in his first set Friday – but more importantly hitting the high 300s when that was enough to secure much-needed points in the final day’s early round-robin format. He finished eighth in that round to advance to the quarterfinals.

He even showed the kind of focus that pays off on Tour. In his final set in the round of 16, DeChambeau needed to win the set to advance and was swinging on the line next to Ryan Gregnol. Midway through the set of six balls, Gregnol suffered a dramatic groin injury, fell to the ground and stayed there until being helped off the tee. DeChambeau kept looking over with concern, then refocused to win the set and advance. Relative to Tour golf, it was a surreal scene.

DeChambeau finally hit a wall in the round of eight, which was divided into two groups of four. DeChambeau sent one 391 yards, but it wasn’t enough against Justin James’ blast of 403 and Martin Borgmeier’s 397. At the end of a week of 400-plus, it came down to those six yards. DeChambeau finished third in the set, and with only the top two advancing, he was done with a tip of the cap.

But DeChambeau’s reaching the quarterfinals opened plenty of eyes. The field had been narrowed each day from an initial 80 Tuesday to 64 players Wednesday, then 32 Thursday, with the top 16 advancing to Friday. DeChambeau just kept swinging, with his longest blast of the week traveling 412 yards on Tuesday. His ball speed built throughout the week, reaching 219 mph Friday – imagine what he might do if he never had to practice his putting.

With DeChambeau finally out as the sun dipped below the surrounding mountains, 2019 World Champion Berkshire (425 yards) – the defending champion after the 2020 event was canceled because of COVID-19 – and James, the 2017 World Champion (418 yards), survived the four-man semifinal. In the ensuing head-to-head final, Berkshire smashed a ball 422 yards to beat James’ best of 418 to lock up his second World Championship title.

In the end the veterans made the final, and a deserving champ defended his crown. The finalists live for long drive, while DeChambeau surely will refocus on the rest of his game and the pursuit of Tour titles and major championships.

That in no way diminished the speed that DeChambeau showed.

In all, DeChambeau hit nine balls past 400 yards in the World Championship. That’s FOUR HUNDRED YARDS. Are you kidding? Some social media naysayers had a field day when DeChambeau announced he would give long-ball a try, but which golfers among us don’t dream of hitting the ball as far as possible? More than 40,000 people tuned in to YouTube to watch the livestreamed final Friday.

Give credit where it’s due. DeChambeau has identified a way to play golf on the PGA Tour that he believes gives him an edge with an all-out pursuit of speed. He led the PGA Tour in its recently completed 2020-21 season with a 323.7-yard average driving distance. Drama follows DeChambeau, but so do eyeballs and success. He’s won eight times on Tour, three of those titles – including that U.S. Open victory – coming since he bulked up his body and his approach. The 28-year-old went 2-0-1 in the Ryder Cup that ended less than a week ago.

It just wasn’t enough at the long-drive World Championship. It didn’t have to be.

The energy was palpable when DeChambeau unleashed his 406-yard blast in the first set of round-robin group play – that ball was traveling 218 mph on the way out. One of the YouTube announcers erupted, screaming an obscenity into a live mic – long bombs beget F bombs, apparently. The PGA Tour this is not, nor is it supposed to be.

DeChambeau has shown a childish side at times, for better and for worse. And that’s what made his appearance in long-ball so compelling. He was a kid with a driver and a golf ball, trying to keep up with bigger competitors. What’s more fun than that?