Monday, August 24, 2015

Bryson DeChambeau a unique champion

 at U.S. Amateur

Bryson DeChambeau, shown at the 2015 U.S. Amateur
Bryson DeChambeau, shown at the 2015 U.S. Amateur ( Tracy Wilcox )
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. –– He’d just given away the 18th hole of his morning session and hooked a drive deep into the trees at the 19th hole on the North Course at storied Olympia Fields. The occasional train would churn down the tracks to his left, and Bryson DeChambeau was just trying to hold it together, doing what he could to stay on the rails.
DeChambeau seemed to be in trouble, and was reeling at the 115th U.S. Amateur, surrendering ground to his opponent, Derek Bard, and seeing all the momentum he’d built earlier in the day wash away with the morning rains. But that’s when something kicked in.
It was almost as if DeChambeau refused to accept the way he’d been hitting the golf ball for a few holes and decided that he would will himself into better play. 
Belief. That’s a key word in his arsenal, one that wasn’t always there on the shelf for him to pull down when needed.
  But these days, Bryson DeChambeau has self-belief practically thumping out of his chest, and that’s a valuable tool for a golfer to possess.
What happened next, after he’d botched a third consecutive hole to watch his lead trimmed to 1 up, was complete domination, which happened to be a common thread to DeChambeau’s long week at Olympia Fields. The SMU senior got torrid with the putter, birdied his next three holes, built a 4-up advantage over Bard and refused to be slowed as he chased down history. 
Bard had come from behind in four of his previous five matches, but he had no chance to do so in this one, falling decisively, 7 and 6. It was the most lopsided U.S. Amateur final since David Gossett defeated Sung Yoon Kim, 9 and 8, at Pebble Beach in 1999.
DeChambeau, 21, of Clovis, Calif., became only the fifth player to capture an NCAA individual title and a U.S. Amateur in the same year, joining some elite company: Jack Nicklaus (1961), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1996) and Ryan Moore (2004).
With his victory comes starts in the first three majors of 2016, which is nice, and extended his collegiate career (DeChambeau and his coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, both said he was likely to turn pro this fall). 
Most importantly, winning the U.S. Amateur notched his name into history. For an astute, highly intelligent player who cares about the game and does everything in golf his own way, it was the history that meant the most.
“Having my name etched on this trophy with the great Bob Jones, as well as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, all those guys, it's incredible,” he said. “I can't even imagine what I just did. It won't sink in, I'm sure, for the next couple days. But I'm honored.”
There were 312 golfers that started the week at the U.S. Amateur, and not a single one is anything like DeChambeau. It’s refreshing, and that’s how he wants it to be. The throwback Hogan cap he wears? He picked it out at a golf shop with his dad, Jon, a former player at the University of Arizona, when Bryson was a young teen. He won a tournament that week and the cap stayed. 
(The blue one he wore Sunday is headed to the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J.) His swing? Different, for sure, upright and following a single plane. The makeup of his set? Different, too, as every iron in his bag, from 20 degrees (his 3-iron, though it's labeled only as '20') to 60, is the same length, measuring 37.5 inches long. His lies are dialed in at 72 degrees, each clubhead weighing 280 grams so that he can swing the same speed with every club, each featuring a jumbo-sized grip. 
His putter? Different. Torque-balanced and square (nicknamed The Brick), built to swing a certain way.
There’s no debating this young man hears a different beat. He is highly intelligent, a physics major who pursued the discipline at SMU because he wanted to learn more about the golf swing.
“It took a lot of courage for Bryson to follow the path that he’s followed,” said David Edel, a club designer and family friend who built the same-length set of clubs that DeChambeau currently uses. Edel flew in from Austin, Texas, late Saturday to watch DeChambeau compete in the Sunday final.
“Here’s a guy who created a philosophy around his own unique motion, like a Moe Norman or a Lee Trevino," he said. "There’s not one aspect of ‘copying’ in what he does.”
DeChambeau’s coach, Mike Schy, who caddied for DeChambeau up until his final 12 holes (his feet worn, he was replaced by DeChambeau's former teammate, Brooks Price), said his teaching philosophy is to let individuals find their own way, and he has enjoyed the journey of watching DeChambeau find his.
 It was leaving the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills in Wisconsin four years ago that DeChambeau turned to Schy and questioned why he needed to play variable-length clubs.
“The golf swing, the clubs, it made sense,” said Schy, who played junior golf with Jon DeChambeau, worked alongside him at the same club in California (Riverbend, now called Dragonfly Golf Club), and has other students who play successfully using same-length clubs.
 “I never said ‘No’ to Bryson, not one time. Even to this day, if he’ll ask me something, I won’t say yes or no. I’ll always say, ‘It depends.’ And Homer Kelley answered a lot of questions, too. So when he wanted to do the single-length (clubs), it was, ‘OK, let’s do some research.’ ”
(Homer Kelly is the author of “The Golfing Machine,” a famous swing instructional that applied physics to golf and is highly regarded by many of its disciples – two of whom happen to be DeChambeau and Schy.)
Beyond the clubs, the swing and the unique style, DeChambeau has developed the grit and heart of a tough competitor. He has evolved in match play and become tougher mentally after making several early exits. 
 Though he’d never gone as far as the quarter-finals before at a U.S. Junior or U.S. Amateur, he was going to be a tough “out” this week at Olympia Fields.
"He had a certain look in his eye on Monday," Enloe said. "Coming into here, he was hungry and excited to be selected to that Walker Cup team. I think he was freed up, and he just looked like a kid on a mission. He kept telling me every night when he'd win and I’d text him, 'I’m just trying to stay in school for you, Coach.' "
And how, suddenly, did DeChambeau manage to flip a switch and go from hitting errant shots and making bogeys to suddenly hitting shots tight and piling up birdies?
“I told myself I was good enough (to win),” he said. “Every single shot out there, I was telling myself I was good enough.
As eccentric and as different as he can be – DeChambeau once again on Sunday ran through his routine of floating his golf balls in water and Epsom salts before a tournament to find any that might be more than 60 milligrams “out of balance"; he maintains that he finds four in every dozen – those around him salute him for being a nice young man, a devout Christian and somebody who is driven to find a bigger purpose in life than being somebody whose best strength is hitting a golf ball.
“He’s really a sweet boy,” said Enloe, his coach at SMU. (He inherited DeChambeau, as former coach Josh Gregory, also on hand Sunday, wsa the man who recruited him to school in Dallas.) In fact, when Gregory offered the lightly recruited DeChambeau a scholarship after he'd finished second in the Junior Worlds, DeChambeau had to go online to find out where the school was located.)
“He’s an intense competitor on the course,” Enloe continued, “and he’s got a fiery side, but man, I don’t think there’s a conversation we have where he doesn’t ask me about my wife and two girls. He asks me about my day, how I’m doing. He’s more of a giver than a taker. He’s just a great kid to be around. He cares a lot about people. I hope he never loses that.”
And now, a lot of people will get to know the story of Bryson DeChambeau, the newly minted U.S. Amateur champion. It’s something that becomes part and parcel when you play your way into history.



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