Stamina, as much as science, fuels DeChambeau rise
Tireless 24-year-old nabs second TOUR win at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide
DUBLIN, Ohio – By the time he made a 12-foot birdie putt to close out Byeong Hun An in a playoff at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, Bryson DeChambeau had already checked the nitrogen levels in the Muirfield Village rough, verified the camber of the 18th green, and analyzed the glycemic load of Jack Nicklaus’ favorite milkshake.
Or so you would believe, given DeChambeau’s mad-scientist reputation.
“People always kind of scrutinize me saying I’m too technical and whatnot,” DeChambeau, 24, said after moving from 22nd to 4th in the FedExCup with his second PGA TOUR win. “It’s all just to aid my feel. I am a guy that goes off of feel still, to everybody’s surprise, probably.”
By now it’s well known that the polymath DeChambeau has reimagined golf. He plays with a single-length set of irons, advocates a single-plane swing, and has done for the humble yardage book what Leonardo da Vinci did for anatomy.
Good copy, as they say in the typing business.
But it doesn’t really explain how this guy won the Memorial while hitting just 5 of 14 fairways in regulation play Sunday. How after missing 14 straight cuts last season, he now must be considered one of the 10 best American players. (He and other potential U.S. Ryder Cup Team members were fitted for uniforms at Muirfield Village earlier this week.)
Yes, DeChambeau has reimagined the game, but he’s been even better at reinventing himself.
“Other players go to the range,” said his caddie, Tim Tucker. “He goes to the range religiously.”
Case in point: DeChambeau was the only one on the Muirfield driving range as the sun bled over the horizon Saturday night. What was he working on? No telling. He was improving his transdimensional aspect, closing the thorium loop, attenuating the dip slip. It doesn’t matter, and DeChambeau says he doesn’t like to give away his secrets, anyway.
The important thing is he was working.
“He’s happiest when he’s hitting balls,” Tucker said.
With his active mind, DeChambeau is a perfect fit for golf, with its three-dimensionality and limitless variables. But that insatiable curiosity would mean nothing without the insatiable work ethic to go with it, the willingness and stamina to tear everything apart and start all over again.
In a sport where even the big winners fail most of the time, self-reinvention is everything. Those 14 straight missed cuts, the last of which came at the U.S. Open last summer? Not unusual. Plenty of players could describe similarly bleak stretches before they turned into caddies and broadcasters.
Not DeChambeau. Although he said it was “a tough pill to swallow” and wondered if he was a TOUR quality player, he also settled in and sucked it up. It was time to have the Big Talk with the guy looking back at him in the mirror, because if he was going to survive, he had to adapt.
“I went back to the drawing board,” he said, “kind of figured something out, and ultimately wound up winning the John Deere four weeks later because of that hard talk to myself.”
But his reinvention wasn’t over, because he went straight from the Deere, where he thought he’d figured something out, to the Open Championship, where he shot 76-77 to miss the cut by eight shots. And he failed to make the TOUR Championship two months later. “So I went back to the drawing board again,” DeChambeau said, “… to be able to come out with something that has allowed me to be more consistent on TOUR, have less error in where I’m hitting it and be more confident in unique situations.”
The second drawing board worked even better than the first one.
He notched a top-20 finish at the Safeway Open, a top-10 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a top-5 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Reinvention gave way to refinement, and he was second to Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, T3 at the RBC Heritage, and 4th at the Wells Fargo Championship.
The mad scientist was closing in.
DeChambeau led the field in scrambling (17/21) at the Memorial, and was ninth in Strokes Gained: Putting (+4.916). With only five fairways hit, the entire final round was a high-wire act.
He three-putted the 72nd hole to fall into a playoff with Kyle Stanley (70) and An (69), and ripped off his white, Hogan-style cap and swatted his leg with it.
“Let’s go win it,” caddie Tucker said.
As sudden-death playoffs go, this one wasn’t very sudden. For the second time in 20 minutes, DeChambeau split the 18th fairway with a 3-wood, and he and An each missed the green before making deft par saves. Stanley, who had birdied four straight holes on the back nine to make the playoff, could barely get a club on the ball for his second shot and bogeyed to fall away.
Again, DeChambeau went back to the 18th tee; again, he split the fairway with that 3-wood. This time his 9-iron approach shot rode the wind to within 12 feet of the pin. When the final putt fell, with An looking at another short putt to save par, the winner looked up and pumped his arms. He had found validation, again, and with something less than his A-game, grinding out the win the way tournament host Nicklaus had so often back in the day.
“Sometimes that’s what you gotta do,” Nicklaus said. “If your driver’s not working, your putter better be working. And if your putter’s not working, everything else must be working. But he had the right club working today and that was his flat club. Nice going.”
A Memorial victory, by the way, comes with a three-year exemption on TOUR, which is one more than most tournaments. DeChambeau may not need the extra year, but it’s nice to know it’s there. You know, just in case he ever has to go back to the drawing board.