BROOKLINE, Mass. — Despite all the noise it had caused, it was awfully quiet. This was initially attributed to Boston fans taking Friday morning off after a grueling Thursday night their beloved Celtics fell short in the NBA Finals. However, this was quickly refuted, as crowds could be seen gathering around other pits and shouts and cheers could be heard from other nooks and crannies of the course. In this case, the simplest theory proved correct: the player who had mattered so much suddenly stopped mattering as much.
“Wait, is that Bryson DeChambeau?” one fan asked another as DeChambeau lined up a putt on the fourth hole. “I didn’t know he was here.”
Bryson is here. A pair of 71s in two days at the US Open will keep him here for two more days.
But the Bryson Phenomenon is over.
IT WAS FOR THIS TIME Two years ago DeChambeau’s physical transformation, a transformation that was conceptually ambitious and aesthetically jarring, in search of more distance became the sport’s preeminent story. He competed in the first three events of the tour in exchange for his three-month pandemic sabbatical and won the fourth at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. A month later, he posted his first top 10 in a major with a T-4 at the PGA Championship, and a month later he captured the US Open at Winged Foot. It was seen not just as a personal triumph, but as a paradigm shift that left the game as a whole in stunned resignation. When the fans returned in 2021, DeChambeau was the main draw, his performance was a spectacle in every sense of the word.
However, not all advertising is solicited advertising. DeChambeau’s game took a backseat to his personal feud with Brooks Koepka that spiraled out of his control. He was nine holes away from defending his US Open crown. Withdrawing from the Olympics after a positive COVID test, he made a misinformed statement about vaccination and started a media outcry after his statement was ridiculed. . However, he stole the show at the Ryder Cup, did better than expected in a long-running tournament, and was good to Koepka, at least good enough for both of them to earn a hefty paycheck for an exhibition of Thanksgiving.
Entering 2022, DeChambeau was arguably the sport’s second-biggest needle driver behind a certain 15-major winner. His performance, coupled with a perpetual gravitational pull toward oddities, both big and small, made it impossible not to have an opinion about who he was or what he was trying to do. If you had a conversation about golf, you’d end up talking about DeChambeau.
But that was then and this is now. And now, well, now DeChambeau seems like an afterthought.
This may sound cruel, but for all the discussion that has surrounded and spurred on the burly man over the past two years, DeChambeau has been largely ignored at Brookline. In theory, some of that could be due to his depression, with a capital S. It’s an injury-related performance, a torn labrum in his left hip and a small fracture in his left hand, with surgery on the latter forcing him out of the PGA Championship. Still, DeChambeau hasn’t broken par since January and hasn’t made a cut in a full field event since August. If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s that he doesn’t have to worry about the cut-off line much longer.
Last week, DeChambeau, after denying rumors on multiple occasions that he was defecting to LIV Golf, defected to LIV Golf, reportedly for a nine-figure signing bonus. In an interview taped earlier this week, DeChambeau called it a “business decision,” a decision that means he is suspended from the PGA Tour and puts his future in the major championships in doubt. On the back of that controversial move, in a rare public appearance, at a tournament he won so emphatically less than two years ago, would seemingly herald a greater prominence for the actor who has dominated the golf stage for two years running. Instead, he has been nothing more than a supporting character.
GIFT BOSTON FANS this: DeChambeau has been treated well by those at Brookline, at least compared to the vitriol he’s faced in a post-“Brooksie” world.
After DeChambeau on Friday morning, it would be hard to explain to an outsider that the man in the Hogan cap has been one of the most divisive figures in the game. There was a lot of “Come on Bryson!” shouts, and almost all of them responded with a movement of the head. As fans put out their hands to applaud on the way to the tee, DeChambeau clapped back. On the seventh green, a boy waved at Bryson and Bryson waved back. Those answers seem simple and they are, but there is something to be said for galleries to know they are heard. Yes, there were some suckers, but there are always suckers, and even then those boos were mostly dumb (“Hey, Bryson, do the math right!”) than malicious. There was no mention of his decision to join the fledgling circuit that threatens to tear the pro game apart.
On the other hand, perhaps part of that reception is due to the fact that there have not been many to receive it.
DeChambeau was grouped with Gary Woodland and Justin Rose, and for the most part they were left alone. Instead, fans gravitated towards the super couples of Scottie Scheffler, Brooks Koepka and Cam Smith and Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland and Tony Finau. A good contingent was fascinated with the return of the prodigal Phil Mickelson. Some fans just wanted to walk the course, whoever was inside the ropes, and the few times the group had a decent following it was because they came to a hole where fans were camped out, oblivious to the golf being played in front of them. .
The thing is, Bryson played well. He didn’t do much to give off strong, positive reactions, skipping a handful of birdie looks. But birdies are rare at the US Open, and just as valuable is keeping the bad guys at bay. Aside from a double-bogey mishap in the fourth, DeChambeau did what he had to do to stay in the process. After the morning wave, DeChambeau was tied for 45th, but he, too, is just five shots off the lead. For the third year in a row, DeChambeau will start the weekend with a shot at the US Open.
But fan sentiment is more than just a score, and that so few were around to see it affirmed a harsh but incontrovertible truth. There are dozens of attractions featured this week at The Country Club. DeChambeau just isn’t one of them.
It’s kind of hard to square that the man who incited an individual revolt against the rules of the game is now working quietly. Perhaps the distance was a novelty. Perhaps after sucking up so much oxygen, the sport needs a second to breathe. Maybe fans don’t remember who they don’t see regularly. Maybe they know he’s headed for the door and don’t care that he’s headed that way. Whatever the case, Bryson DeChambeau, the once revolutionary, has become just another guy.
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