Bryson DeChambeau hit a bogey-free round of 65 on Sunday to end The Open on a high
At first, the applause came from just a few fans but then it spread throughout the crowd from the 18th fairway to the half-full grandstand at the green. Then there was a second eruption just moments later, this time with whistles and catcalls. Finishing his final round of The Open just before lunchtime on Sunday was certainly never Bryson DeChambeau’s plan but considering the week he has had, there was something of a redemptive air of his bogey-free round of 65.
Of course, when Royal St George’s, 2021 is looked back on in the golfing annals the American will probably be best remembered for his declaration that “the driver sucks” on Thursday, about which he then apologised profusely. But considering how DeChambeau bounced back after the off-course drama and media furore to play a composed and solid round, which the galleries enjoyed, could just be the beginning of a new chapter in the Saga of Bryson.
The 27-year-old generates plenty of column inches but they are usually criticising his slow play, his fastidious approach that comes from his “Mad Scientist” persona – which came from applying his physics degree to how he plays – his shocking physical transformation, which involved him bulking up by 20 pounds during the first lockdown last year to aid with a quest for the perfect monster drive, accusations of not shouting “fore,” losing his cool with officials – the list could go on.
And this is the part that is a shame in DeChambeau’s golfing story thus far – he has been painted as the pantomime villain hell-bent on destroying golf. While, in fact, he could actually be one of the sport’s best assets.
There has been a sense that only Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy had the power to “move the needle” beyond the traditional golf audience but if this week proved anything, then DeChambeau can join them in transcending the sport. Is his big game to everybody’s taste? No. Should he have said what he said about his driver? No. But everybody knows about the Cobra brand now.
But is he one of the most intriguing figures in not just golf but global sport at the moment? Hell, yeah!
In an era where we constantly lament the absence of “outspoken” characters in sport, DeChambeau and his quirks (whether you like them or not) should be celebrated. People who do no usually talk about golf now are because of him. And if you were to judge DeChambeau’s biggest fans as he made his bow from the Open, they were mainly pre-teens and tens. The group of mainly young boys screamed, “I love your hat Bryson” with genuine admiration of his trademark flat cap.
How Bryson finally broke 70 at The Open
There was another American who came to these shores four decades ago who created a similar level of controversy but brought his sport to a wider audience – John McEnroe.
Albeit, McEnroe’s notorious “You cannot be serious” rant came en route to a Wimbledon title, while DeChambeau’s bluster around his driver came during an Open where he was way off the pace, but it is conceivable that “the driver sucks” could become the new “You cannot be serious”.
McEnroe was branded “Super brat” and the British media took great joy in lambasting him just as is the case with DeChambeau now. But with his final round he showed that he might be finally getting used to the nuances of the links, and with his post-round interview where, when asked how he felt about the ironic boos the crowd had showered him with over the past days, he told Sky Sports: “I love it! I thought it was funny”. The Californian looked genuinely delighted with the warm reception he received from the large gallery who followed him from early on Sunday morning – doffing his cap in thanks several times as we walked up the final fairway.
So, it seems like the British crowd might be warming to him just as they did to McEnroe who became something of an imported national treasure. The issue McEnroe had in his early trips to SW19 and he spoke about in length on his 2017 episode of Desert Island Discs was that he didn’t get the genteel English sporting set at Wimbledon and they didn’t get him – and it was the same for DeChambeau earlier this week. Just as he admits he has to master the language of the links, his bombastic approach to both his golfing and media relations techniques can get lost on British sensibilities.
DeChambeau knows what he has to do from a golfing point of view to win The Open and he explained with modesty: “I’ll keep learning more and more about Open Championship style golf, and one day again hopefully I can hold up the Claret Jug. That would be awesome. One of those things I’ll keep learning over the course of time.”
If DeChambeau does one day lift the Claret Jug, don’t be surprised if he then becomes an unlikely transatlantic favourite. And you can probably count on armies of teenagers sporting flat caps in the St Andrew’s galleries next year.