AUGUSTA — Bryson DeChambeau was walking toward the 18th green on Thursday with his head down, his hat and putter in his left hand when he heard something that got his attention.

It was a ripple of applause coming from the gallery.

He waved back in appreciation, then went to take his hat off as the applause began to build, forgetting that … he’d already taken it off for the walk.

It was the kind of awkward but harmless gaffe that’s always made DeChambeau easy to dunk on, but watching it unfold after a first-round 65 in the Masters made it feel nothing but endearing.

It was a fun reminder: This is the version of Bryson DeChambeau we want more of in our lives.

If you tune in regularly to LIV Golf (or DeChambeau’s YouTube page), you’re probably annoyed by that statement, convinced that he never actually went away, he just found an audience more receptive to his quirks and his talent. But the truth is, DeChambeau was always more fun, and more captivating when his goofy personality went hand-in-hand with his jaw-dropping performance in majors. The dominance we saw at Winged Foot in 2020 wasn’t sustainable, but you still wish it could re-appear occasionally.

We saw a flicker of it at the PGA Championship in 2023 when he opened with a 66 and grabbed the first-round lead, but he never truly contended on the weekend. He teased it again when he shot a final round 58 at The Greenbrier to win a LIV event, but the setup that day (where the average score was roughly 66) wasn’t making anyone fearful.

His first round at Augusta on Thursday was something different. Even he knew it.

“That was one of the best rounds I’ve played in a long time,” DeChambeau said.

It had, truthfully, a bit of everything. DeChambeau began the day by showing up just seconds before his tee time, creating a twinge of anxiety for the starter. Then he roared out of the gate and birdied the first three holes. That’s when things started to get truly interesting. He needed sand saves at 4 and 5 to avoid bogey, and he hit two beautiful and delicate chips. He launched an iron into the crowd on No. 7 (and did, it can be reported, yell “Fore!”) and then got up-and-down for another par. He drove it past the walkway on No. 8, and his mom squealed “That’s the KRANK Driver effect!” as he strolled by, but Dechambeau settled for a par when he rolled an eagle putt 8 feet by the pin.

His front nine ended with a violent lip out and a bogey. With the wind suddenly swirling, anything seemed possible. But DeChambeau’s second nine turned into the right mix of robotic swings off the tee and artistry with his irons. He focused on just two swing thoughts: Tilt his shoulders and swing in to out.

“Trying to be a robot is always something I've tried to do, but it's not something that's feasible in this game that's ever-changing,” DeChambeau said. “I try to be as repeatable as possible, but just doesn't happen. This wind out here just makes it diabolical and you've got to strategically play this golf course and put in places where you can get up-and-down or you can 2-putt from, and just get out of there. It's a lot of painting an image and trying to execute that shot out there, compared to just hitting the same stock shot every time.”

He birdied the 12th hole with a good wedge to 17 feet, getting him back to 3-under par. When his drive tumbled into the pine straw on 13, he decided to go for the green anyway, hit it just long and got up and down for birdie.

But true drama — and his best shot of the day — came on 15 when DeChambeau hit it right and in the trees and had to choose whether to go for the green. He talked it over with his caddie Greg Bodine for several minutes, then decided to roll the dice. He lashed at the ball with violence, and threaded it right through an opening unscathed.

Sort of.

“I was just trying to get to the back right section of the green, and I pushed it a little bit,” DeChambeau said. “It clipped the tree. I hit four pine needles rather than five, and it worked out perfectly.”

The ball, after flying 228 yards through the air, caught the left edge of the green.

“It was a little scary of a shot,” DeChambeau said. “I shouldn't have probably done it, but I took a risk. I was willing to take it. I was rewarded fortunately.”

He nearly rolled in the eagle putt, missing by inches. Another birdie.

“I'm in a place now where I've figured some stuff out with my golf game, golf swing,” DeChambeau said. “I'm just in a comfortable place where I'm doing the same thing every single week.”

He made two additional birdies in his closing stretch, one of them a 31-footer on 17. When he hit a good shot into 18 and began his walk up the fairway, he looked almost sheepish, then grateful as he heard the crowd express their appreciation. As he walked toward the clubhouse to sign his scorecard, he spotted Greg Norman, who was on site at Augusta National for the second straight day. Norman leaned over the ropes and hugged DeChambeau, whispering a few words in his ear.

By the time DeChambeau came to the interview room, he was feeling a little philosophical. He said he knows he’s been a polarizing figure in golf the last few years. And while he says he understands why he is, he admittedly doesn’t love it.

“I'm a very passionate individual, and some people can take that in a pretty negative way,” DeChambeau said. “Others can take it in a way of, wow, he's trying to pave a pathway and his own path. I think that's a pretty big misconception; that I'm divisive. I'm really not. I don't try to be. It may come off that way because I'm passionate about certain things and certain subjects. That's up for interpretation and opinion. And, look, I respect everybody's opinion and what they think. I have no issues, and I understand the pathway that I pave is going to be viewed in multiple ways. I'm just learning to be myself and continuing to be okay with what happens.”

DeChambeau said one thing that’s been uplifting, over the last year, is how much he’s enjoyed making content on YouTube. And SnapChat. And Instagram. And Twitter. But mostly YouTube.

“What's been really nice and helpful for me is doing a lot of content on YouTube, as crazy as it sounds,” DeChambeau said.”It's been really awesome to see how I can affect a lot of people's lives, junior golfers' lives, middle-aged men, even, they are coming out shouting: Thanks for the content. Appreciate what you do online.”

It’s easy to roll your eyes when DeChambeau talks about retreating into an online world, particularly to find a safe space from the reaction to his own polarizing comments. But it’s also fair to acknowledge he’s not a robot, even if he’s trying to swing like a robot. He does feel wounded when people make fun of him. When he was informed by a reporter that Rory McIlroy said earlier this year he wished DeChambeau had been able to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he seemed genuinely touched.

“I appreciate him saying that, first and foremost,” DeCheambeau said. “He is a huge voice for the game, and I respect his voice and respect his opinion. Him saying that definitely, hopefully shines a light in this game that is pretty divisive right now where we can all kind of hopefully come back together at some point and say, look, how do we make this work for both sides.”

When DeChambeau shot a 66 at the Masters in 2019, it felt like he was going to have a special relationship with the tournament. He’d already been low amateur in 2016 and tied for 21st place. But when he said he believed Augusta National was a Par 67 for him — as long as he was playing well — it was easy to mock him when he missed the cut in 2022 and 2023. It stung more than he thought it would.

“Regarding the 67 comment, you know, you mess up,” DeChambeau said. “I'm not a perfect person. Everybody messes up. You learn from your mistakes, and that was definitely one.”

Whether Bryson DeChambeau has been properly humbled by the golf gods, or unfairly chastised by the fans or media, isn’t important. You don’t need to fall into that trap. What’s more interesting is he’s got the game to contend in majors again.

He loves tinkering with his equipment still, mentioning that he put new irons in his bag just this week. And he’s been using a driver that he loves, made by the start-up equipment company KRANK, for about eight months now. Prior to DeChambeau, it was a company that was primarily used by competitors in long drive competitions.

But he added it to his bag right before he won at Greenbrier – and right after he signed for his 58, tying the lowest round-ever shot, he turned to his caddie and admitted he was already thinking about the future.

“I can’t wait for April,” he said.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director at No Laying Up.

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