Bryson DeChambeau Rediscovers His Groove at the P.G.A. Championship

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Bryson DeChambeau walked onto his final green in the first round of the 2023 P.G.A. Championship on Thursday and the modest gallery awaiting him remained hushed. DeChambeau was leading the event and on his way to a sterling 18-hole score, his best at an American major championship in three years. And yet, the roughly 200 silent fans near the green stared at him as they would an exhibit in a museum.This is the place DeChambeau has come to inhabit in golf. Even at the conclusion of a sparkling performance, fans were curious but nonetheless wary about awarding him too much affection.Three years ago, he was feted and cheered as the game’s next revolutionary, one who would inspire a new generation to swing as hard as possible on every shot. It was the way to his record-setting 2020 U.S. Open victory. He promoted an intense workout regimen and a radical diet. His following was young and raucous.Then came a long series of uninspiring results, a defection from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf and more ineffective play that made him a relative afterthought. Once ranked fourth in the world, DeChambeau began Thursday ranked 214th.But the DeChambeau who attacked the demanding East Course at Oak Hill Country Club in the first round was wholly different, for a day at least. He was still powerful off the tee, often out-driving his playing companions Jason Day and Keegan Bradley by 40 yards. Stepping onto his last green, he was leading the tournament on a day when most players were floundering and cursing under their breath.Facing a 50-foot uphill birdie putt, DeChambeau knocked his golf ball to within a few inches of the hole. The fans watching finally relented and applauded politely.One spectator who appeared to be in his 50s — not the usual demographic for a Bryson die-hard — shouted, “Come on, Bryson! Come on buddy!”With a four-under-par 66, DeChambeau was second by the time play was suspended because of darkness with many players, including the leader Eric Cole, not having finished their rounds. He left the grounds smiling and with a hop in his step that seemed more than a reflection of the roughly 35 pounds he has shed from his once bulky frame.He stopped to sign a child’s golf ball, fist bumped a handful of fans and jogged off to the scoring tent and then lengthy meetings with reporters and television interviewers.All the while, DeChambeau grinned, even as he said repeatedly: “It’s been a tough last four or five years.”It is a quizzical statement for a golfer who since 2018 has had a runaway victory at the U.S. Open, six wins on the PGA Tour and 31 top-10 finishes. In that stretch, he earned more than $23 million on the PGA Tour.But DeChambeau would explain his view of what has transpired since 2018.For starters, he had been consuming about 5,000 calories per day and “eating lots of stuff that inflames your body.” He is now eating about 2,900 calories per day.He also had a hand injury, which he said has healed.“Obviously having the hand injury was no fun and then learning to play golf again with a new hand,” DeChambeau said.There were dark days as his slump and ailments continued.“The emotions have definitely fluctuated pretty high and pretty low — thinking I have something and it fails and going back and forth,” he said. “It’s humbling.”He continued: “I will say that there have been times where it’s like, man, I don’t know whether this is worth all of it.”DeChambeau was notorious for hitting balls on practice ranges at PGA Tour events well past sunset, swatting away under lights that illuminated only him. He now seems ambivalent about putting in those long hours.“You see me out there on the range,” he said. “That’s something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be out there all night.”But DeChambeau feels like he’s now discovered something, or in his words Thursday: “Trending in the right direction.”Asked if he was closer to the end of his journey to find, or regain, his swing, he answered: “The end of it, for sure. I want to be just stable now. I’m tired of changing, of trying different things.”But what of the predictions of him maybe being able to blast 400-yard drives? DeChambeau shook his head.“Yeah, I could I hit it a little further,” he said. “Could I try and get a little stronger? Sure. But I’m not going to go full force. It was a fun experiment, but I definitely want to play some good golf now.”And, as he said, he is still plenty long enough.One good round at Oak Hill does not reverse many months of ineffectual play, but what next for DeChambeau?“Golf is a weird animal,” he replied. “But I feel like I’m trending in the right direction. Of course, playing like I did today makes it easier to feel that way.”DeChambeau was still smiling. He smiled easily and often two and three years ago, too.“Maybe it could all change tomorrow; it’s golf,” he said. “But I don’t think it will.”

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