PITTSFORD, N.Y. — As Bryson DeChambeau took to the final green of the first round of the 2023 PGA Championship on Thursday, the humble gallery that awaited him remained silent. DeChambeau led the tournament and was on his way to his best score at the 18-hole U.S. Major Championship in three years. Still, about 200 silent fans near the green stared at him like they were looking at a museum exhibit.
This is where DeChambeau’s golf world belongs. Even at the end of his stellar performance, fans were curious, but still wary of giving him too much love.
Three years ago, he was hailed and hailed as the game’s next revolutionary, someone who inspired a new generation to swing as hard as possible on every shot. That was his path to a record-setting 2020 U.S. Open victory. He encouraged an intense training regimen and a radical diet. His supporters were young and noisy.
What followed was a long period of lackluster results, a departure from the PGA Tour for LIV Golf, and inefficient play that left him relatively on the back foot. DeChambeau, who was once ranked No. 4 in the world, started Thursday at No. 214.
But DeChambeau, who attacked Oakhill Country Club’s demanding East Course in the first round, had at least one day to be different. He was still strong on the tee, sometimes outscoring his playing mates Jason Day and Keegan Bradley by 40 yards. As he stepped onto the final green, he held his breath and cursed as he led the tournament as most players struggled.
Facing a 50-foot uphill birdie putt, DeChambeau landed the ball within inches of the hole. The fans who were watching finally broke down and gave a polite applause.
One spectator, who appeared to be in his 50s, not the typical demographic for avid Bryson fans, yelled, “Come on, Bryson!” Come on buddy!
With a 4-under 66, DeChambeau was second before play was suspended for darkness after many players, including leader Eric Cole, had not completed their rounds. He walked off the ground smiling, his steps jumping, seemingly reflecting the loss of about 35 pounds from his former behemoth.
He stopped to sign a kid’s golf ball, fist-bumped a few fans, trotted to the scoring tent, and then had a lengthy meeting with reporters and TV interviewers.
During that time, DeChambeau said many times, “The last four or five years have been tough,” but grinned.
That’s a strange statement for a golfer who has dominated the US Open since 2018, has six wins on the PGA Tour, and has 31 top 10 finishes. During this period, he earned more than $23 million on his PGA Tour.
But DeChambeau will explain his take on what happened in 2018 and beyond.
First, he was consuming about 5,000 calories a day and “eating a lot of things that irritated his body.” He currently consumes about 2,900 calories per day.
He also had an injury to his hand, which he said had already healed.
“It was obviously not fun to learn to play golf again with a new hand after a hand injury,” DeChambeau said.
Slumps and illness followed, dark days followed.
“There’s definitely a lot of high and low emotion, you think you have something but it fails or goes back and forth,” he said. “That’s humility.”
He continued: “I think there were times when I wasn’t sure if this was all worth it.”
DeChambeau was famous for hitting balls on the practice grounds of PGA Tour competitions well past sunset, smashing them under his own lights. He seems ambivalent about spending that long time on him now.
“You’ve seen me on the practice range,” he said. “That’s something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to stay out all night.”
But DeChambeau feels he has now discovered that he is, in Thursday’s words, “on the right track.”
When asked if the journey to finding or regaining his swing is nearing an end, he said, I just want to be stable now. Tired of changing and trying to be different. ”
But what about the prediction that he could hit a 400-yard drive? DeChambeau shook his head.
“Yes, you can hit a little further,” he said. “Can I get a little stronger? Of course, but I’m not going to go all out. It was a fun experiment, but I definitely want to play good golf from now on.”
And as he said, he still has plenty of time.
One good round at Oak Hill wouldn’t undo months of ineffective play, but what next for DeChambeau?
“Golf is a strange animal,” he replied. “But I feel like I’m on the right track. Of course, playing like today makes it easier to feel that way.”
DeChambeau was still smiling. Two years ago, even three years ago, he smiled easily and often.
“Maybe tomorrow everything will change. It’s golf,” he said. “But I don’t think so.”