For a Humbled Bryson DeChambeau, Augusta National Looms Long

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It was only two years ago that Bryson DeChambeau arrived at the Masters Tournament as the reigning U.S. Open champion, having earned that title by bludgeoning Winged Foot Golf Club in New York with prodigious 350-yard drives to win by six strokes. He was the new face of golf and promised to shape the sport in his image, which at the time was a musclebound 240-pounder who had gained 45 pounds and swung so hard it almost hurt to watch.DeChambeau, a physics major in college at Southern Methodist, preached that he had used scientific research to construct a more powerful swing and would remake the paradigm of the modern golfer: Someday 400-yard drives would be routine and render many traditional courses obsolete. He predicted that his imposing length off the tee would make the timeless Augusta National Golf Club play like a par 67 rather than its par 72 on the scorecard.His brash, swashbuckling style energized golf and the fervent, cheering galleries that followed him dwarfed those of every other golfer (Tiger Woods was injured). His fan group also skewed noticeably younger, a demographic shift welcomed by the stewards of the game. DeChambeau reveled in the role of pied piper and pledged that his golf revolution was in a nascent stage.“It won’t stop; there’s just no way it will stop,” DeChambeau said.On Wednesday, in a final practice session before his fifth consecutive Masters, DeChambeau sauntered up the eighth fairway alone. Trailing him by 50 yards was his caddie; he had no playing partners. There did not appear to be a single fan accompanying him. As he approached a grandstand with about 1,000 seats overlooking the eighth green, there were 21 people witnessing his arrival. No one offered applause.It was as if those looking down at him were not sure who he was, which might be understandable since DeChambeau is now one to two shirt sizes smaller and maybe 30 pounds lighter — possibly more. Late last year, he admitted he lost 20 pounds in one month alone by eschewing his former protein shake, overeating diet.Whatever the cause, and the golf community has multiple theories, in the last two years DeChambeau has become a shell of his former self in more ways than one. At the 2021 Masters, he finished tied for 46th with three rounds of 75 or higher. In 2022, he missed the cut with an eight-over par 80 in the second round. So much for Augusta playing like a par 67. At the 2021 U.S. Open, he led with nine holes remaining and then collapsed as he shot eight over par to finish the tournament.He tied for eighth in last year’s British Open but other than that his highest finish in a major championship since his runaway victory at the 2020 U.S. Open has been a tie for 26th.Before joining the LIV Golf circuit last June, he had missed the cut in four of his five PGA Tour events. In LIV competitions since, he has never finished higher than 10th. Wrist surgery contributed to his woes, as did a bout of vertigo later corrected with a sinus surgery. In November, his father, Jon, who had taught his son to play golf, died at 63.But earlier this week, a grinning DeChambeau arrived at Augusta National and professed himself healthier than he has been in years. He advised anyone trying to get stronger to see a doctor for a blood test that would measure food sensitivity because DeChambeau believes he was eating foods that caused inflammation and injury.The highs and lows of his golf game, he said, have taught him that “the only thing consistent in life is inconsistency.” It is the kind of quizzical thing DeChambeau has been saying since he stamped himself as a rising star in the sport as the N.C.A.A. Division I individual champion and U.S. Amateur champion in 2015.As for shortening Augusta National to a par 67 because of his length off the tee — and then shooting eight-over par in his last Masters round — DeChambeau did not admit to any contrition for the comment.“I don’t think I regret anything,” he said, adding: “Because of that statement people think I don’t have respect for the course. Are you kidding me?”He continued: “With the distance I was hitting it, I thought there was a possibility. I learn from all of my mistakes.”He has clearly tempered his expectations. Asked if he could win this week, he answered: “I don’t come here to finish second, but I will say that I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can get there.”When DeChambeau had completed his practice round after nine holes, he departed the last hole in silence, despite the green being surrounded by a few hundred fans. He stopped at one point when a few fans asked for his autograph. One in the group was Matthew Fehr, 16, of Alamo, Calif., who wanted DeChambeau to sign the cover of Golf Magazine from March 2021.Fehr collects athletes’ autographs and has had DeChambeau sign for him three times before, all during the height of the golfer’s popularity.Asked to assess what he thought had gone wrong for DeChambeau in the last few years, Fehr said: “It was cool to see him hit the ball that far and he definitely got the fans’ attention. But I don’t think what he was doing — the workout regime and the diet — was sustainable. Or healthy.”Fehr added: “You know, in athletics there are checks and balances.”

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