The inevitability of Bryson DeChambeau arrived early and in the place where everyone but him doubted his mad genius – the U.S. Open.
DeChambeau claimed he has cracked the code of modern golf, and on Sunday he proved it emphatically with a six-shot victory over Matthew Wolff at vaunted Winged Foot to win his first major championship.
With his newfound brawn and a brash gameplan, DeChambeau overpowered the course and the field to the tune of 6-under-par 274 – the only player to finish under par and the lowest score in six U.S. Opens on the West Course.
On a par-70 course with a four-day scoring average nearly 74, DeChambeau was the only player not to shoot worse than par in any round. He saved his best for last, shooting 3-under 67 when none of the other 60 players to make the cut broke par (joining Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Jack Fleck as the only winners to ever do that) and seven players couldn’t even break 80.
“I did it,” he shouted to his parents via a video call behind the iconic clubhouse, repeating the words that went through his head when his final par putt dropped.
Already one of the game’s most curious and fascinating thinkers and among the top 10 in the world, DeChambeau completely reinvented himself in the offseason and during the Covid shutdown he added 40 pounds of bulk and muscle to his frame and started swinging as hard as he can from his heels off every tee.
It worked almost immediately on the regular PGA Tour, but how it would fare in a major was still debatable – until now. In his words, he “pressed the status quo” with his transformation and succeeded.
“It's a lot of validation through science,” he said of winning his way.
“I know I've done everything I can in my brain to make my perception reality… It definitely is validating that I'm able to execute time and time again and have it be good enough to win an Open.”
It was a particularly bold strategy for a nearly 7,500-yard U.S. Open course shrouded in lush rough and with severely sloped greens that have repelled assault from the greatest golfers for nearly a century.
But DeChambeau insisted that he knew what he was doing and backed it up with some major muscle despite hitting only 23 of 56 fairways (41 percent) this week.
“I don't really know what to say because that's just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does,” Rory McIlroy said of DeChambeau’s winning formula. “Look, he's found a way to do it.
Whether that's good or bad for the game, I don't know. But it's just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It's kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.”
Matthew Wolff – at age 21 vying to become the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923 and first championship rookie to win it since Francis Ouimet in 1913 – entered the final round with a two-shot lead on DeChambeau. It was gone by the fifth hole.
When they finished the ninth hole with matching eagles – DeChambeau draining a downhill 40-footer with Wolff following him in from 10 feet – it was pretty much a head-to-head match with nobody else able to gain any ground on the lead. DeChambeau led by one at the turn.
Wolff, however, lost steam on the back with bogeys at 10 and 14 to fall four behind and kept getting out of position to leave him little chance of putting any heat on DeChambeau – who finally dialled down his throttle just a little to coast home without a bogey.
“I battled hard; things just didn't go my way,” said Wolff, who adds U.S. Open runner to a T4 at the PGA Championship in his only career major starts.
“But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head up high for. I'm just excited to learn from this experience, and it's definitely not the last time that I'm going to be in this spot.”
Most of the threats to push the youngest lead pair since the U.S. Open started pairing leaders for the final round in 1965 sent early signals that it wasn’t going to happen. McIlroy four-putted the first hole for double. Harris English lost his opening drive in the rough and made double. Hideki Matusyama had a hash of it as well for double and never recovered.
Louis Oosthuizen and Xander Schauffele lingered in the wings for nine holes before fading. Oosthuizen (2-over), English (3-over) and Schauffele (4-over) finish third, fourth and fifth.
“I was there for a little,” said Schauffele, who has never finished worse than sixth in four career U.S. Open starts. “Obviously, Bryson being at 6-under now, I didn't have enough holes and not enough game to get there.”
The week ended up another lost opportunity for McIlroy. Hoping to get through the treacherous opening five holes in even par to cut into a six-shot deficit, McIlroy got off to a disastrous start instead by four-putting the opening hole.
After a perfect drive left him an ideal angle into the green, he failed to get his 156-yard approach over the false front and rolled 85 feet from the pin the right edge of the green. His putt got within 7 feet of the hole but not over the ridge, rolling back down the slope 63 feet away. Then he missed a 4-footer for bogey to turn his six-shot deficit into eight.
Bogeys at 4 and 7 compounded his problems. By the time he birdied 9 and 11, he was still no closer to the lead than when he started the day. A desultory finish with bogey at 15 and double on 16 dropped him into a tie for eighth with rounds of 67-76-68-75.
“It was really difficult,” McIlroy said. “Wind was up again like it was on Friday. Yeah, it was hard to give yourself enough chances and leave yourself in the right spots where you could make a run at putts and birdie putts and just sort of being real defensive on the greens, trying to sort of think about your next putt and where the best place to leave it is. Looks like everyone found it pretty tough out there. Just a tough day."
Everyone except DeChambeau, that is. Armed with “validation through science,” he said he’s got more in his arsenal and hopes to be 10 pounds heavier and even stronger when he gets to Augusta for the Masters in November.
“I’m not going to stop,” he said. “Next week I'm going to be trying a 48-inch driver. We're going to be messing with some head designs and do some amazing with things with Cobra to make it feasible to hit these drives maybe 360, 370, maybe even farther. I don't know.”