Bryson DeChambeau had a frustrating opening round
The voice crackled through the marshal’s walkie-talkie beside the first tee. Traffic jams outside. Those already on the inside felt extra-privileged, a double-bill of action about to unfold featuring The Mad Professor, Bryson DeChambeau, and Redemption Man, Jordan Spieth, in search of a glorious past when life was sweet and golf was easy.
It was no contest with neither DeChambeau or the third player in the group, South African, Branden Grace, able to replicate the touch and insights of the former Open Champion as Spieth, the winner at Royal Birkdale four years ago, hit a hot streak just prior to the turn, four successive birdies setting him up for a five-under par 65. DeChambeau, by comparison, carded a 71, a fittingly underwhelming return for a wayward round, feckless and reckless at times, curiously composed at others. The American, who has missed two cuts in his three previous appearances at the Open, is already a fading presence on the leaderboard, no mean feat for a bloke of substantial frame, one who wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of a Springbok maul.
But the gallery cared little. They were here for the crack, be it the fun of the experience itself, that first bound of freedom, or the sound of DeChambeau’s driver as it unleashed sporting venom into the sky. Love him or loathe him, you simply can’t ignore him. The ‘bomb and gouge,’ strategy had limited effect, however, apart from troubling Air Traffic Control guiding aircraft into the nearby Kent International airfield. DeChambeau hit only four fairways and might have been better served employing Bear Grylls as his caddie so much time did he spend foraging in the undergrowth, examining the unfamiliar flora and fauna as if he were a transatlantic David Bellamy. Several times DeChambeau had to flex his Popeye biceps to hack the ball from the deep, deep rough.
Bryson DeChambeau found himself in deep rough on more than one occasion
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
DeChambeau was not a happy chappy, his team getting into a brief spat with a marshall as he left the 18th while his Tinkerman mind vented its ire on the very thing that has made him such a draw-card in the first place – his driver, the Big Beast, the very essence of this gym-shaped hulk. Yet it appears that this is not a match made in heaven.
“The driver right now, it sucks,” said DeChambeau. “It’s not a good face for me and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits. When I did get it outside of the fairway, like in the first cut and whatnot, I catch jumpers out of there and I couldn’t control my wedges. It’s quite finicky for me because it’s a golf course that’s pretty short, and so when I hit driver and it doesn’t go in the fairway, and it’s in the hay, it’s tough for me to get it out on to the green and control that. I’ve realised this for years now. This has happened since 2016-17 when players stopped drawing it.”
Familiar feeling: Big drives fail to find the target
There was talk also of angles and spin rates and the scientific data that occupies a special place in the DeChambeau mind. We may mock at his obsessional nature, and it was not until the 12th that DeChambeau appeared to even consult his caddie on the line of a putt (which he made for birdie, the first of three in a row and a brief upturn in fortunes), but his idiosyncratic approach is what makes him box office. You expect steam to be coming out of his ears at any point, be it at the ninth where he drove wildly left, and again at the 15th but this time to the right, cursing his luck as he somehow got it out and up only for the ball to kick off left before the green, but he soldiers on in search of a solution. Peace of mind may take rather longer to locate.
In previous Opens here at Sandwich, a supposedly unloved course, rather like a Faf de Klerk, always nibbling your ankles and disturbing your karma, a 71 would not have been a bad first round yield. But this year is different and DeChambeau, forever locked away in his own zone, studying the rhyme and reason of every possible technical this or that when the secret might lie within, not without. Spieth admitted he had lost faith in himself and DeChambeau could do worse than trust his own instincts such as were in play in the 18th. There were whoops and hollers as the driver came from the bag, whoops and hollers again as it split the fairway, landing 321 yards from its point of origin. His second found the heart of the green and, ok, he did miss birdie but the opportunity had been created. Spieth has found Nirvana again. For DeChambeau, the search goes on.