Bryson DeChambeau: Golf’s greatest enigma and his constant pursuit of reinvention

Bryson Dechambeau

Ever since he exploded onto the scene like an over-amped Van de Graaff generator, Bryson DeChambeau has told anybody who will listen everything he wants you to know about the person he wants you to think he is.

He’s an innovator, a deep-thinker, a physicist, a maverick, and more.

The latest ‘him’ he’d like you to meet? Mr Nice Guy.

The 27-year-old met the media at Royal St George’s on Tuesday afternoon ahead of this week’s Open Championship, his blue polo somewhat complementing his demeanour. 

This was a different DeChambeau than we are used to seeing. The trademark effervescence was missing a bubble or two. He looked weary at times, chastened at others.

Look closely and you could almost see him wince at the mention of his well-publicised spat with Brooks Koepka. Whereas Koepka appears to be relishing the fight, it seems like DeChambeau would rather it all go away.

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Asked for his thoughts on Koepka’s comments earlier in the day about viewing him as ‘fair game’, Bryson said: “He can say whatever he wants. I think he said something [about] back at Liberty National not upholding something. I don't know what he's talking about in that regard. Maybe that's on me. Maybe I didn't. I really don't remember anything about that. We just had a conversation that I really don't know what happened, because we haven't really bantered back and forth until now, so it's like why is that happening now?

“I'm just here to play golf and focus on that. If we want to keep bantering back and forth, obviously being respectful and keeping lines where they aren't getting crossed, yeah, I think it's fun and a good environment for people in golf.”

Had it not been for the prospect of losing face, it was hard not to draw the conclusion that DeChambeau would gladly have waved the white flag.

Enough already, Brooks. You win.

He visibly bristled when he was asked why he doesn’t shout ‘fore’. “I do shout fore,” he contended. “I don't know what you're talking about. There are plenty of people on the tee box that do shout fore. You're bringing up a very controversial thing, which is unfortunate, but 99 per cent of the time I do, and unfortunately people think I don't. But that's okay, they can say whatever they want.”

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It was at the suggestion that some players thrive on controversy and conflict – the implication being that he is one of them – that DeChambeau shifted into a more conciliatory gear.

“Everybody is human,” he replied. “I'm definitely human. We all make mistakes and things happen. We have emotion. And I think that sometimes people objectify us big players at the top of the game too much and they don't realise that we are human and we make mistakes and things happen.

“Us as professionals, we have to be on top of it all the time. Unfortunately it just doesn't come out the right way sometimes or happen the way you want it to, and we make mistakes.

“At the end of the day I try to do the best. I'm trying to become better at it.”

A final question about whether or not criticism hurts him, elicited this reply.

“Well, I think it makes it emotionally a little more difficult to, I would say, resolve that because in my heart of hearts, I really think I'm a great person and a really good person to be around, a kind person to be around.

“It's sometimes difficult, but at the end of the day you can just keep doing what you're doing, and I think that's why for me I've done a lot on social media, done a lot of YouTube series to showcase myself in a different light because I want people to see that side.

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“I think there's a lot of greatness to that and also humbleness to that, as well. Showcasing that I am human and I did start pretty much from nothing. My parents were nice enough to give their whole lives to help me play golf. Played at a public golf course and country club every once in a while when I got the chance, but it was humble beginnings.

“I hope people can realise if you work hard enough, you can be successful in life. That's really my goal. And yes, at times it can be difficult, but at the same point in time, I've just got to keep pressing forward.”

Those 207 words are potentially the most candid DeChambeau has ever been with the media and, by extension, the public. They offered an interesting window into the inner psyche of one of golf’s great enigmas.

For all his idiosyncratic behaviour, for all of his anomalous antics, for all of his seemingly choreographed grandstanding, he appears to be riddled with vulnerability and an underlying need to be liked.

I’m a good person. Just ask me and I'll tell you.

Consider his response to a question about last week’s made-for-TV match with Phil Mickelson.

“I think we delivered six-and-a-half million meals, which was amazing. So we did a lot for charity, and I think that was more of the reason why I did it and wanted to showcase myself in a unique light that people don't usually get to see me in.”

Quite bizarre. How charitable can an act really be if its intentions were not, as it turns out, as selfless as advertised?

And there lies the crossroads at which Bryson DeChambeau has arrived: the intersection of authenticity, celebrity, pretence and nature.

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With Brooks Koepka, what you see is what you get, warts and all. He’s an alpha. That’s his legitimate self. He is unashamedly, unapologetically true to himself. 

That doesn’t feel like something you could say about DeChambeau – and maybe, just maybe, he’s starting to realise it. Today, he looked like a guy who needed a hug and a second chance. He just couldn’t bring himself to ask for it.

The sad thing is, he doesn’t need the accoutrements. By being one of the very best golfers in the world, he’s fascinating enough. 

Then again, what is ‘enough’? Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps it’s the pursuit of more and more and more that’s weighing him down.

Less. Less is more. Less of the bombastic claims. Less of the psychodrama with Brooks. Less of the ‘new ways of doing things’. The more he insists he's trying to find the answers to the game's many intangibles, the more convinced I am that it's a smokescreen to deflect from his inability to answer a much more pertinent question. 

Who is Bryson DeChambeau?

Little does he know, he answered it today.

“I am human.”

Yes, Bryson. You are. And you know what? That's okay.

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