There was a time, not so long ago, when Bryson DeChambeau looked like the future of golf. He’d just won the 2020 U.S. Open, he was driving the ball past the rings of Saturn, he was talking seriously about carving up Augusta National, and he sure seemed on pace to be the hulking, monomaniacal face of the game.
There was a time, even more recently, when Bryson DeChambeau looked like a washout, a flop who not only failed to humble the majors, but managed to deal some substantial injury to himself in the process. He came off as the hapless nerd in a long-running feud with Brooks Koepka. When he hopped over to LIV, it seemed less like he was one of the young stars like Cam Smith taking advantage of financial opportunity, and more like the past-their-prime fading stars seeking one last big payday.
Now, though, he’s ridden out an ascent as soaring, and a decline as sharp, as one of his own drives, and he’s come out on the other side looking — against all odds — slim and strong. The culmination of that came Sunday at LIV’s Greenbrier event, when DeChambeau shot a LIV-record 58 to win the tournament.
“It’s beyond words,” DeChambeau said after the tournament. “I’ve been working so hard for a long time, and I knew something special was going to come at some point, I just didn’t know when.”
DeChambeau’s 58 — which included 13 birdies and one bogey — was the fourth in high-level professional golf. Jim Furyk’s 58 at the Travelers Championship in 2016 is the only such score on the PGA Tour; Ryo Ishikawa and S.H. Kim managed the feat on the Japan Tour.
Prior to Sunday, DeChambeau had bubbled up out of LIV-based obscurity only twice in the past few months. The first was when his dramatic new physique went viral this past spring. Golf Hulk was no more, and DeChambeau said at the time that he’d lost 20 pounds in a month due to dietary changes and a new health regimen.
A month later, however, DeChambeau made news for a much less noble reason. In the wake of the stunning agreement between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf’s Saudi backers, DeChambeau made a disastrous appearance on CNN attempting to downplay Saudi Arabia’s human rights atrocities.
“They’re trying to do good for the world and showcase themselves in a light that hasn’t been seen in a while,” DeChambeau said, apparently unintentionally offering an exact description of sportswashing. “Nobody is perfect, but we’re all trying to improve in life.”
“Nobody’s perfect” is useful when examining oneself, not so useful when examining the human rights record of an authoritarian regime. DeChambeau took heat for the comments, and wisely went to ground afterward, sticking to sports and focusing on his golf. The result: a DeChambeau Redemption Tour that might just end up with a Ryder Cup bid.
Unthinkable even a few weeks ago, the idea of DeChambeau winning a captain’s pick is starting to take shape. He’s placed in the top 10 of four of the last five LIV tournaments, and 13th in the fifth. He’s already finished T4 at the PGA Championship and T20 at the U.S. Open this year. Winning a LIV tournament means outplaying Koepka, Smith and other major winners. And although LIV critics can find a host of reasons to bust on DeChambeau’s achievement last weekend — a rain-softened course, favorable pin placement, a driver that apparently covers up all kinds of off-the-tee miscues — the fact of the matter is that DeChambeau carded a 58 on a course that’s hosted PGA Tour events as recently as 2019. As the old saying goes, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
“If I do get a call [from Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson], that would be awesome,” DeChambeau said. “If not, I’ll be rooting them on over in Rome.”
The fact that DeChambeau is even in the conversation for a Ryder Cup slot at all is a testament to the seismic changes that have altered golf over the last few months. While the fate of LIV Golf players beyond this year remains very much up in the air, what’s certain is that their skills haven’t deteriorated while being on the breakaway tour.
“I can’t thank LIV enough for what they’ve done for men’s professional golf,” DeChambeau said Sunday. “They have completely changed the narrative on what it means to be a professional golfer.”
For DeChambeau, at least, that change is at last in a positive direction. For the first time in two years, Dechambeau’s career seems primed for a second act.