ROCHESTER — I have a confession I want to make from Day 1 of the PGA Championship.
If necessary, I will shout it from the blustery shores of Lake Ontario so that it can (in theory) travel beyond the American border.
I want this resurgence of Bryson DeChambeau to be real.
I want to see him chase majors again, not be mired in irrelevance. I want to listen to him explain his various eccentricities, even if those explanations sometimes don’t make sense. I want to witness him nuking drives that defy logic, then see him flash his dopey grin to the galleries, something he did frequently during his first round 66 at Oak Hill. I want him to go at the ball pain-free and take massive divots that fly through the air like someone has thrown a cheesesteak.
I don’t need him to return to the PGA Tour, because he seems happier with LIV Golf than he was on his former circuit — happier than he’s been in years. But I do want to see this kind of golf from him in majors once again. And I know I’m not alone.
Everything about the sport is more interesting when DeChambeau is relevant, whether we’re talking about his prodigious feats or his frequent faux pas. He still looms large, even though he is no longer quite as large, a topic he was happy to expound on after his round. DeChambeau says he’s lost about 30 pounds in recent months after some drastic changes to his diet. Gone are the days when he would drink eight protein shakes a day, overwhelming his body with calories, all in the name of speed training.
“I’m eating properly instead of eating stuff that inflames my body,” DeChambeau said. “I took a Zoomer peptide test, which essentially tells you what inflames your blood when you eat it. I was allergic to corn, wheat, gluten, dairy. Pretty much everything I liked, I couldn't eat. I took that out. Started taking it out in August and over the course of time I've lost all this inflammation, lost a lot of fat and slimmed down like crazy. I lost 18 pounds in 24 days. It was crazy. It wasn't fat. It was all water weight. You know how I looked before. I was not skinny.”
But it wasn’t just his stomach that was a mess. His wrist — and ultimately his psyche — needed healing too. DeChambeau withdrew from last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, deciding to have surgery to fix a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist, and has struggled with his game and his confidence ever since. The player who dominated the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, winning by six strokes, looked like a shadow of his old self. At the LIV Invitational Tucson in March, DeChambeau finished 44th out of 48 players. Listening to him describe how he climbed out of that nadir, you couldn’t help but feel good for him.
“Each day, I had this glimmer of hope that I could get back to it,” DeChambeau said. “It was never like I've got nothing, I'm done. I could have easily been like, you know what, I had a great career, I'm good. But I didn't because I knew I had it in me to do it every single day, and I worked as hard as I could every single day. There were times I doubted myself, severe doubts, but never got to a point where I was done. Maybe for like a day I was done, I'm just going to take a day off, whatever, and the next day, I came back. All right, I think I got something.”
You could feel one of those somethings building during his round on Thursday. DeChambeau’s bulk is gone, but the speed in his swing is still astonishing when he needs it to be. On 16, he pounded a drive 343 yards down the middle of the fairway, then nipped an elegant wedge that stopped 15 inches from the hole. It was a stark reminder of how easily he can dismantle a 466-yard hole when he’s healthy. Off the tee Thursday, he gained 2.77 strokes on the field – and while Adam Scott trails close behind (2.62), both players were more than half a stroke ahead of Billy Horschel and the rest of the field.
“How do I explain this easily?” DeChambeau said, holding out his left wrist for reporters after the round. “I’m just in a place where I’m more ulnar. I’m keeping the handle higher through impact, and that allows the clubface to stay more stable. I feel like I was pushing down to the left, and it was closing the face down really hard. And I had low left, high right (misses). So that's five years of trying to figure that out and not being able to, as well, like my wrist has not been able to do it.”
There was also a moment Thursday that reminded you that no DeChambeau round is ever dull, and sometimes for the strangest reasons. On 17, he lashed an approach out of the rough and watched it sail 30 yards right of its intended target. It came screaming down from the sky toward the 18th tee box and drilled Kenny Pigman — one of the PGA Professionals in the field — in the back, just below his right shoulder blade.
“He wasn’t aiming for me, but it stung pretty bad,” Pigman said, mostly chuckling over the incident.
Years ago, when DeChambeau was in a stretch of blasting the ball toward galleries with little regard for their safety, it might have sparked a controversy, the kind that frequently seems to follow DeChambeau around. But Pigman was quick to add that DeChambeau did holler out “FORE!” when the ball was in the air and he was effusive in apologizing when he arrived on the scene.
“He was going to sign a glove for me, then he realized I was a player,” Pigman said.
“We were like ‘How about flights somewhere? Or cash maybe?’ ” joked Pigman’s caddie Andrew Alderice. “We’ll take some tickets to the next LIV event.”
It turned out to be a minor blip on a day when DeChambeau was vibing, grinning at the gallery and soaking up some welcomed praise after good shots.
“The emotions have definitely fluctuated pretty high and pretty low, thinking I have something and it fails and going back and forth,” DeChambeau said. “It's humbling. Golf, and life, always has a good way of kicking you on your you-know-what when you are on your high horse. It’s nice to feel this today.”
If you listened closely, you could still hear a flicker of the kind of jokes that used to torment DeChambeau when he was in a more fragile, frustrated state. On the 11th hole, someone waited until he was walking up the fairway before belting out “Let’s go Brooksy!” a throwback to a time when the galleries tormented DeChambeau by calling him Brooks Koepka’s nickname. But it felt flat at Oak Hill, like listening to someone at a party repeat a joke that everyone has heard, and grown tired of, years ago.
There were others in the same vein.
“Bryson is lucky he didn’t hit it over here, I bet he’d have trouble with this rope,” I heard one man tell a friend, a reference to the time when DeChambeau accidentally clotheslined himself with a gallery rope at a LIV Golf event in Chicago.
His friend could only muster a courtesy laugh.
It was more fun to listen to kids in the crowd, to see them bobbing between adults, craning their necks to peek through the gaps near the rope line, yearning to get a better view of DeChambeau.
“I bet he annihilates this ball,” I heard one tweenage boy whisper to a friend as the three of us stood just behind the 1st tee, waiting for DeChambeau to hit.
“Oh my gosh,” his friend whispered back as we watched DeChambeau’s golf ball go piercing through the sky. “Wow.”