Orthodoxy lies at the heart of golf’s continuity. People have long played the game following the same formulas. When someone comes along opting to go in another direction the pushback against such actions can be unnerving to most. Not for Bryson DeChambeau.
DeChambeau’s final round 67 at Winged Foot’s West Course earned the Californian his first major victory and the path he blazed in doing so will clearly send shock waves far beyond his spectacular six-shot triumph.
Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and now Bryson DeChambeau. They are the three golfers who have captured an NCAA individual title, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open. DeChambeau joined that esteemed fraternity on Sunday at Winged Foot Golf Club with a performance for the ages on what many consider one of the game’s most demanding championship tests.
DeChambeau’s resolute performance goes far beyond his bashing of tee shots prodigious distances — which is a considerable strength in his shotmaking arsenal. The wherewithal to adroitly position his golf ball in working his way around the minefield layout created by architect A.W. Tillinghast and reinforced through a 2017 course updating by Gil Hanse was nothing short of epic. His cumulative total of 274 strokes betters the previous U.S. Open mark at Winged Foot by two strokes set by Fuzzy Zoeller at the 1984 Championship.
“It’s just an honor,” said DeChambeau, who is also the 12th player to have won a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open. “I don’t know what else to say. It’s been a lot of hard work. Mr. Nicklaus has always been awesome to me. Tiger has always been great to me. I can’t say thank you enough to them for helping push me along to be a better person and a better golfer, as well. To be in the likes of that company is special. I’ll forever appreciate that.”
His final round clearly ranks right alongside such post World War II U.S. Open triumphs with the likes of Arnold Palmer’s closing 65 at Cherry Hills in 1960 when overcoming a seven-shot deficit; Johnny Miller’s epic then record final round 63 at Oakmont propelling him from a 3rd round deficit of six shots to the title; David Graham’s hitting of every green in the regulation stroke and missing just one fairway in becoming the first Australian to win the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion; Tiger Woods punctuating closing 67 at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach cementing his record breaking 15 stroke margin of victory.
Winged Foot West played to a stroke average of 74.90 for the final round — the second highest during the championship outside of the 2nd round. The lone blemish of Bryson’s final round came with a bogey at the 8th hole. At the par-5 9th he quickly righted the situation with a edge-of-your-seat 40 foot eagle putt that demonstrated inner resolve and sent a clear unmistakable message to all that DeChambeau was not going to back off from the mission of winning.
DeChambeau finished the round in grand fashion — sinking a seven-foot par putt at the final hole and raising his arms in triumph. His first words after doing so were simple and direct — “I did it.”
Bryson’s arrival on the PGA TOUR was much anticipated and showed plenty of promising results. But during the off season following the 2019 season DeChambeau engaged in several months of offseason training with biomechanics specialist Greg Roskopf. The added 20 pounds of muscle framework clearly raised eyebrows amongst his fellow competitors — some intimating that doing so would only derail his career.
The return to Winged Foot for a sixth U.S. Open was a clear signal from the United States Golf Association (USGA), the organization that conducts the event, to re-establish past practices in course preparation in staging an event at a proven venue. In short — the rough lining the fairways would be strengthened to keep long distance players in check.
DeChambeau did set a new U.S. Open mark in hitting the fewest fairways by a winner — 23 total for the event. However, what many often fail to mention is that his approach shots showed plenty of respect for the devilish green sites by consistently giving himself enough of an angle to play to the hole. It was only at the par-4 14th where he short-sided himself but was still able to escape with a par.
Zach Johnson, the 2015 Open Champion who finished tied for 8th summed up his thoughts echoing others in the field when assessing DeChambeau’s style of play — “different but effective.”
Rory McIlroy, the 2011 winner and four-time major champion, provided a slightly different take on things.
“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does. Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It’s kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.”
Runner-up Matt Wolff, playing in his first US Open and paired with DeChambeau for the first time ever, held the 54-hole lead by two strokes.
“He played really well. I was just told that there’s a lot of people in here saying what he’s doing is pretty exceptional. To watch it firsthand I have to agree. I feel like I played really well, and that the difference out here between 4-over and 4-under is just those little tiny breaks that I didn’t get.”
Coming into this week’s event Bryson’s best performance in a major had come earlier this year with a tie for 4th at the PGA Championship.
DeChambeau’s wherewithal to hit drives remarkable distances were highlighted by his tremendous effort at the par-4 16th — carrying the corner of the dog-leg with a 365-yard effort leaving him nothing but a simple wedge shot to the 500+ yard par-4.
His total strokes gained of 7.90 is the fourth-highest by a champion since 1960. Johnny Miller (10.77 in 1963), Arnold Palmer (9.29 in 1960) and Jack Nicklaus (8.19 in 1967) were higher.
DeChambeau was quite candid about what his impact may be on others and in the sport in general. “I think I’m definitely changing the way people think about the game. Now, whether you can do it, that’s a whole different situation. There’s a lot of people that are going to be hitting it far. There’s a lot of young guns that are unbelievable players, and I think the next generation that’s coming up into golf hopefully will see this and go, hey, I can do that too.”
The legendary champion Bobby Jones said of Jack Nicklaus during the 1965 Masters in watching the Golden Bear set a new tournament record with exceptionally long drives and uncanny putting skills, “He (Nicklaus) plays a game with which I am unfamiliar.” The same is now being said about DeChambeau and what such future efforts may entail for those competing against him and how such rules making organizations such as the USGA and R&A may react bears close watching .