Ernie Els reflects on England’s Golf Coast

By Ben Morse, CNN

The crowds slowly grasp who is on the tee box and the whispers intensify.

It’s Bryson DeChambeau that’s got these golf fans animated. The murmuring only increases as they realize that this hole will be one of the few that he uses his massive driver.

A flurry of camera phones are switched to video mode as DeChambeau prepares to hit the ball on the 12th tee and a deathly quiet falls upon the masses, the atmosphere heightened by the sea breeze sweeping in from the English Channel.

The ensuing powerful strike from DeChambeau’s hulk-like figure sends reverberations of oohs and ahhs across the throng of onlookers.

“How does your back survive that?” one fan says in amazement. It’s as if Dechambeau is golf’s answer to Superman. Another fan says that while he can track other players’ balls, DeChambeau’s travels too fast for his eyes.

DeChambeau’s group at the 149th Open at Royal St George’s — alongside Jordan Spieth and Branden Grace — was one of the most popular of the opening round, attracting a large following as the trio of golfers make their way around the famous course, which is based in the county of Kent, known as the”Garden of England.”

The Open was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic so it’s understandable why the fans would be excited to see the world’s best golfers compete in the UK.

The 2020 US Open winner’s entrance to the first tee was greeted by loud cheers, a few whistles and the odd shout of encouragement under the bright morning sunshine.

Despite the ongoing spat he is having with compatriot Brooks Koepka, there was seemingly no instances of goading from the eager crowd during DeChambeau’s round on Thursday.

After almost two years without golf, the fans on the first tee would have been disappointed when the big-hitting American — famous for his booming drives and use of science to hone his game — opted for an iron on the opening hole, which he eventually bogeyed.

Wherever DeChambeau roamed on the Kent course, fans followed in his footsteps — as well as a constant chorus of: “Come on Bryson” — some witnessing for the first time the golfer’s sheer strength.

However, the links course — near the sea where the wind is often a big factor — provided a stern test for DeChambeau, one which his powerful approach often couldn’t overcome.

He finished one-over par after his first round, seven shots behind the clubhouse leader, Louis Oosthuizen.

A run of three straight birdies on the back nine had drawn him to one under, but two bogeys in the last four holes meant DeChambeau had to settle for a first round 71.

Throughout the opening round, DeChambeau struggled with his big driver, hitting just four fairways from 14.

“If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that’s great, but with the driver right now, the driver sucks,” the 27-year-old said after his round.

“It’s not a good face for me and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits. I’m living on the razor’s edge like I’ve told people for a long time.

“It’s quite finicky for me because it’s a golf course that’s pretty short, and so when I hit the driver and it doesn’t go in the fairway, it’s first cut or whatever, or it’s in the hay, it’s tough for me to get it out on to the green. Like once in the middle of the fairway like I had it on 18, I was able to hit a nice shot to 11 feet and almost made birdie.”

Later DeChambeau issued an apology on Instagram saying: “I sucked today, not my equipment.”

“I deeply regret the words I used earlier,” he wrote. “I am relentless in pursuit of improvement and perfection. Part of that causes me to become outwardly frustrated at times. … My game is a constant work in progress and so is controlling my emotions.”

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‘Progressing nicely’

While DeChambeau struggled, his playing partner Spieth had a more serene time of of it.

The three-time major winner hit six birdies and just one bogey on his way to a five-under par round and just one shot off clubhouse leader Oosthuizen.

After a few lean years on the PGA Tour having burst onto the scene as a youngster, Spieth looks to have rediscovered his touch over recent months, finishing third at the Masters in April and claiming his first win in 1,351 days at the Valero Texas Open just before the Augusta tournament.

“To be honest, the path that I’m on and where I’ve been before in the game, I feel really good about my chances going forward, as good as they have been historically,” Spieth told the media.

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“As far as surprised or not, I guess I feel like I’ve been trending the right way and certainly had a chance this year already at Augusta. Made some mistakes in the first round and second round that I shouldn’t have made that I very well could have won that golf tournament this year. I like where I’m at.

“Again, I feel like I was progressing nicely. Took a couple steps back really on the weekend at Colonial through the US Open, and I know what it was now and tried to put in some good work over the last few weeks to get back on the same and even forward it from where I was already progressing.”

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