Leaner, charming and not so nerdy, the 2020 U.S. Open champion is back to playing some of his best golf
By Alan Shipnuck
May 18, 2023
PITTSFORD, N.Y.—On Thursday afternoon, amid the chaotic clutter of Golf Twitter, a lone, brave soul gave voice to the previously unthinkable: “Is Bryson DeChambeau likable?”
That was courtesy of @SportsGirlSL, in the wake of DeChambeau’s highly entertaining 66 to take the early lead at the PGA Championship. DeChambeau won the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, which looks and plays a lot like Oak Hill, and he finished T-5 last week at LIV Tulsa, so it was not implausible that he would factor at the PGA. No, the real shocker was his post-round bonhomie, when DeChambeau displayed charm, humility, perspective and, dare we say, likability. The know-it-all boy wonder is on the cusp of turning 30. The beefy disruptor who threatened to reshape the game in his bloated image is now lean and healthy and actually hitting fairways (9 of 14 on Thursday). The mad scientist who obsessed over the Golf Machine and prattled on like a physics professor on trucker-speed has finally figured out his swing and is seeking only to keep on keeping on. It’s been a helluva ride for DeChambeau, who, as he enters the second act of his career, is seeking not to change the world but merely to find himself again. “I want to be just stable now,” DeChambeau says. “I’m tired of changing, trying different things.
DeChambeau began his latest reinvention last summer, when he joined LIV Golf and then went on a radical diet that precludes dairy, corn, wheat and gluten—“pretty much everything I liked,” he says. He lost 18 pounds in 24 days. Just like that, gone was the dizziness, lethargy, inflammation and volcanic bowel movements that had dogged him since the spring of 2020, when he began eating like Joey Chestnut in an effort to gain mass and increase his driving distance. (A typical day’s consumption back then was a half dozen eggs, a heaping serving of bacon, toast (half a loaf), peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, a handful of granola bars, an enormous steak, a bag of potatoes, eight protein shakes and various snacks.) DeChambeau’s extreme bulking and unhealthy obsession with clubhead speed helped carry him to victory at the U.S. Open, but he paid a steep price, tearing the labrum in his left hip and breaking the hamate bone in his left wrist. DeChambeu had surgery on his wrist in April 2022. A month later LIV Golf made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
For the socially awkward DeChambeau, LIV was the fresh start he needed after having irritated his PGA Tour colleagues for the better part of a decade. “A lot of my time out there was difficult,” he says. “I was trying to get on the [Player Advisory Committee] for six years and it never happened. You get voted onto it by the other players and nobody liked the way I thought. I felt I had an interesting perspective on a lot of issues. I’d love to have been part of it, but they didn’t want me.”
LIV made DeChambeau the captain of the Crushers, and he has reveled in the company of low-key veterans Paul Casey, Charles Howell III and Anirban Lahiri. “He thrives with that social environment around him, which maybe doesn’t come naturally to him,” Lahiri says. “But in this case, it’s not a matter of choice. The social element is very good for him. He enjoys the company, he enjoys the hang.”
Says DeChambeau, “They’re wise individuals—a lot wiser than me. They’ve taught me how to play certain shots, how to think through certain situations, little tricks on the greens. Nuances I never knew about. We’re able to talk about things freely and openly because we’re all in it to win together. I’ve learned so much from them.”
Says one of DeChambeau’s teammates, “Yeah, we’ve been telling him to stop trying to find a girlfriend on Instagram.”
Even as DeChambeau struggled on his own ball, the Crushers have turned into a formidable squad, winning the season opener in Mayakoba. Afterward, Howell said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bryson happier.” No wonder Capt. DeChambeau bought the whole squad matching Rolexes in Crusher blue and gold.
A jollier, healthier DeChambeau has finally found his new/old swing, after a post-surgery bout of the driver yips. In his post-round presser he described his action as “more ulner,” his only lapse into golf nerdhood. Even having dropped 30 pounds, DeChambeau still can reach 200 mph ball speed, but on Thursday he drove it on a string like it was 2018, the year he won five times on the PGA Tour. DeChambeau even laughed off his biggest miscue of the day, a wild approach on 17 out of the tangly rough that sailed wide left and pegged in the back poor club pro Kenny Pigman, who was standing on the 18th tee.
DeChambeau now faces the tough task of having to follow a low round on an exacting course. Come what may, golf’s most restless mind now radiates a hard-won content that should serve him well. Asked about his complicated relationship with golf, DeChambea said, “Look, I love the game. But I will say that there have been times when it was like, man, I don’t know if this is worth all of it. But you wake up the next day, and there’s that glimmer of hope, and I want to go do it. It’s a bit of an addiction, I can tell you. But it’s just about giving yourself hope every single day. That’s what I tell anybody: As much success as I’ve had, I’ve had so much more failure and you’ve got to be able to jump over that failure to get that success. The more that you push back on failure…the more resilient you can become. And that’s a beautiful part about the game is it always gives you another opportunity to do better.”
It was a thoroughly likable answer.
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.