Bryson DeChambeau Has the Right Stuff to Beat the Game’s Best

March 23, 2016

Bryson DeChambeau has it all down, except maybe the timing.

The young man from Southern Methodist University has his own unique style. Every iron in his bag is 7-iron length, a potentially revolutionary idea.

He has already established his own look, too, if not his own brand (pardon the marketing jargon). He wears a Hogan– (or newsboy–) style cap, usually in the SMU colors of red, white or blue. He’s 22 and he’s still an amateur for a few more weeks, but you can already pick him out of a line of PGA Tour players hitting on the range because of the cap. Shades of Payne Stewart, another SMU alum.

DeChambeau’s timing isn’t perfect, though. You’d love to anoint him as Golf’s Next Big Thing or The Young Gun Who’s Going To Save Golf or something equally dramatic. The problem is, golf is suddenly overstocked in that category. We have three new-ish big names atop the game—Jordan Spieth, who won two majors in 2015; Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion; and Jason Day, who captured the 2015 PGA Championship by shooting 20 under par, the lowest score in major championship history.

So when DeChambeau and McIlroy were paired early Sunday morning in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational—not just two ordinary guys back in the pack—there was an urge to call it some kind of passing-the-torch moment.

Except McIlroy is 26 and he’s not going anywhere and he’s certainly not willingly passing any torches. Neither are Spieth, 22, or Day, 28. Throw in Rickie Fowler, 27, and Hideki Matsuyama, 24, for starters and man, this Young Guns Saloon is a crowded room.

For now, DeChambeau is simply a big talent with a charismatic smile and personality to match. He’s got major game. You could see that when he won the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship and when he finished runner-up in the 2015 Australian Masters. Can we talk? He’s a star waiting to happen.

It was obvious again on Sunday morning at Bay Hill when DeChambeau was paired with McIlroy, a recent former world No. 1. All DeChambeau did was pretty much match Rory shot for shot. 

“He made a nice little 20-footer, I made one on top of him, [then] hit a nice little wedge shot on 6 and he chipped in on me,” DeChambeau said with an easy smile. “He kept one-upping me all day, and did it on the last hole, as well.”

They shared a laugh on the 17th tee, something to do with DeChambeau’s making birdie at 16 and being unable to get honors on the tee due to McIlroy’s eagle.

It was a great show, and it ended with McIlroy shooting 65, DeChambeau 66. They tied for 27th. 

McIlroy isn’t prone to hyperbole but on Sunday morning he gushed over DeChambeau. He was particularly impressed at how much DeChambeau had improved his short game, which was lacking in Abu Dhabi, in barely two months. 

“Look, he’s a great young player,” McIlroy said. “He’s got a really bright future. He’s very mature for his age, very smart. He can hit it both ways and control the trajectory. He’s a good putter. He’s got every aspect of the game. It’s an exciting time for him. I told him, ‘If you keep playing like this, I’ll be seeing a lot more of you.’ There’s no reason he can’t get his PGA Tour card in seven starts.”

Every future legend starts somewhere. These early days of Bryson may be worth remembering. He’s normal, he’s smart, he’s nice, he’s remarkably mature and humble and he’s got a clear view of his future. Check out his answers to a few post-round media questions.

Media type: How comfortable are you out here now? Bryson, big grin: “Pretty darn comfortable.” Confident, not cocky.

Media type: Did you get some momentum going? Bryson: “A little bit of momentum. One day, I hope to get momentum out of the equation so that no matter what, I’m executing shots even if I do hit one bad. But that’s going to take time.” Not relying on momentum to keep rounds alive? This guy is two jumps ahead of all of us.

Media type: Do you realize Rory is only four years older than you? Bryson: “That makes me sad.” He laughs. “He’s doing pretty well. I hope to do the same. Shoot, I hope I can get to that stature, but golf is a fickle game. I’m just enjoying the moment.” Shoot, the kid says shoot? Seriously? You’ve gotta like him.

The last guy this smart at 22 was—oh yeah, Jordan Spieth. Also from the Dallas area.

DeChambeau knows where he’s going, literally. After Bay Hill, he was headed to Hilton Head for practice. Then he was going to Augusta National for three days, Thursday through Saturday. That’ll be his eighth time there, he thinks.

After that, it’s on to suburban Atlanta for the Georgia Cup at the Golf Club of Georgia, an annual exhibition pitting the U.S. Amateur champ (DeChambeau) against the British Amateur champ (France’s Romain Langasque, 20). Then he returns to the Augusta area, where he’ll practice at Sage Valley, before arriving at Augusta National on Saturday before Masters week.Following Augusta, he hopes to make his debut as a professional golfer at the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town and chase his next task—obtaining exempt status on the PGA Tour. 

This will be his first Masters, and he’s racking up a lot of firsts. His first visit to the course was last December with Mike Schy, his golf consultant (coach, if you must, but he’s really so much more than that).   

“It was fun driving down Magnolia Lane with him,” DeChambeau says. “It was a teary-eyed moment, a special moment I’ll never forget.”

The kid, if it’s all right to call him that, has a strong sense of history and perspective.  

He knows what it means to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational while Mr. Palmer (the only way DeChambeau would consider addressing him in person) is still around.

He first met Mr. Palmer when the Walker Cup team visited Latrobe C.C. and had dinner with him and heard some stories. Last week, he got a second private session with The King in his office, an opportunity DeChambeau called “pretty special.”

From someone else, that might be lip service but you look at DeChambeau’s arms and there are goose bumps. He is authentic. 

So you believe him when he says that SMU’s ban from the NCAA postseason for multiple recruiting violations may be a blessing in disguise for him, as unfortunate as it was for the seniors on his team. It made clear his path in golf.

You’re sure he gets it when he’s asked about his unconventional swing and he answers, “I play the game my way. As Mr. Palmer said, ‘Swing your swing.'”

You know he absorbs knowledge and advice like Sponge Bob Squared. He listens because that’s how you get smart.

“One of the biggest things I learned from Mr. Palmer in Latrobe is, Make your signature legible,” he says. A few dozen young players have repeated hearing this advice from Mr. Palmer but probably none with the zeal of DeChambeau.

“I’ve done it ever since,” DeChambeau says. “It will happen for the rest of my life. Even though it’s a long name, I’m going to take that time to make everybody feel special.”

Funny, he’s accomplishing that already.