How social media has made Bryson DeChambeau golf’s slow-play villain du jour

August 12, 2019

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Well, it’s the dog days of summer, everybody is feeling the heat of these playoffs, and the lodge brothers are getting edgy.

At the center of the Tour’s most recent contretemps is Bryson DeChambeau. DeChambeau, by word and deed (and swing and club) is spectacularly unconventional, and it makes him a convenient target. Tee-to-green he is not a slow player, by the glacial standards of the PGA Tour. But he has become a social-media villain for the times he has taken f-o-r-e-v-e-r when playing certain pitches, chips and putts.

Enter Brooks Koepka, who plays ready golf as well as anybody on Tour today. Koepka cited DeChambeau by name when discussing the issue that actually is hurting the game not only at its highest levels (slow play kills a telecast) but also at every level.

Readers of a certain age will recognize that Koepka was outside the Tour’s we-are-family culture by naming names and by airing his complaints for all to hear. But the thing about Koepka is that he does not care. You’ve seen the bicycle pants and you surely know about the hour-before-tee-time rollups. Plus, he looks like Mickey Mantle.

Which gets us to Sunday morning, here at Liberty National, your home for FedEx I. (FedEx II is next week at Medinah. FedEx III is the following week at East Lake. And then, finally, we can turn our attention, without distraction, to the football. Hallelujah.) DeChambeau saw Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, and told him that if Koepka had something to say, he should say it to his face! Well, BK did just that. They talked briefly. By 11:10 a.m., Koepka was on the first tee, to start his round, paired with Tony Finau.

DeChambeau, playing with Corey Conners, was on the tee 20 minutes later. Loads of money was at stake, even though neither had any chance of winning the event. DeChambeau had a small walking gallery with him, including one of his agents, who was timing DeChambeau’s every shot. DeChambeau wanted proof of what he was doing out there, time-wise.

All the while, the golf-mad portion of the Twitterverse (including the likes of Justin Thomas and Eddie Pepperell) was having a field day with DeChambeau and one clip in particular, in which he took more than two minutes to miss an eight-foot putt, after stalking it from every angle. It was obvious to the 20 or so reporters covering this oddly sleepy event — few fans, little buzz, no Tiger — that Koepka and DeChambeau would likely say something about their conversation when the round was over.

Then, at 12:46 p.m., the PGA Tour, surely looking to, in a phrase of our times, change the narrative, put out a statement, saying that recent “incidents about pace of play have led the PGA Tour to take a deeper look at its policy on the issue, and ShotLink technology could provide an answer. The Tour’s current pace-of-play policy only addresses players whose groups have fallen out of position. The Tour is now exploring whether to expand its policy to also address players whose groups are in position, but who take an excessive amount of time to hit a shot.”

Koepka never takes an excessive amount of time to hit a shot. Neither does — hold your applause — Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Brandt Snedeker and a very few others. DeChambeau’s pace on Sunday was exemplary. Roughly four hours after his workday began, Koepka was telling reporters about his pre-round tete-a-tete with DeChambeau. He said: “It’s not just him. I know he feels singled out, especially when I’m speaking about it. But it’s like I told him, I’ve mentioned his name once and that’s it.

“There’s so many guys out here where it’s become an issue, and obviously him being probably the best player that’s relatively slow right now, he’s going to be on TV a lot more, so you’re going to catch a lot more of those type of instances.” Who knew Koepka was so skilled in the fine art of diplomacy? If he’s not careful, he’s going to wind up on the PGA Tour Policy Board.

Twenty minutes later, it was DeChambeau’s turn in front of the microphones and the cameras. Summarizing his conversation with Koepka, DeChambeau said, “It was awesome. It was actually fantastic. I appreciate what Brooks did. I have high respect for him because he did that. There was one instance he said in Abu Dhabi, and he said, ‘Yeah, I said something about that. But it was in general, and it got blown out of proportion.’”

Social media does that, blows things out of proportion with ruthless efficiency. It also showed this week that it can speed up a player’s pace, at least for a day.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected].