Bryson DeChambeau 2.0 and Rory’s Heel Turn

Remember the classic tag line from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” weekend television program?

While showing a variety of winners in major sporting events, the announcer would say “The thrill of victory” and then pause for a second to add the phrase, “and the agony of defeat” as a tragic snow skiing accident took place on the television screen.

A similar issue occurred Sunday afternoon during the final round of the US Open golf tournament at the extremely difficult Pinehurst #2 golf course in North Carolina.  One golfer converted the shot of a lifetime to grab the title, while the other missed a couple of short par putts which cost him the tournament.

Another thing happened on Sunday at Pinehurst #2.  Much like professional wrestlers can morph from being a good guy to a bad guy (and vice versa), two of golf’s biggest names tagged each other and changed hats in front of the fans.

One of golf’s former villains (Bryson DeChambeau) has miraculously transformed from a heel (a bad guy in pro wrestling terminology) into pro golf’s newest fan favorite (or “face”).  The other golfer’s abrupt heel turn caught most golf fans by surprise.

“Wee-Mac” faltered down the stretch on Sunday

The world’s #2 golfer and very popular Rory McIlroy lost a heartbreaker on late Sunday afternoon to DeChambeau as Rory tried to capture his first major title in ten years.  He had come close to getting his fifth major a few times in recent years – including finishing in second place in last year’s 2023 US Open.

Rory McIlroy started the final round three strokes off the lead of Bryson DeChambeau.  Playing in the group just ahead of the leader, Rory briefly caught fire and moved to four under par on the day early on the back nine at Pinehurst #2.

Unfortunately, McIlroy misfired on a couple of approach shots coming down the stretch (which wasn’t hard to do on such a difficult golf course) and then missed two relatively short putts on #16 and #18.  With his bogey on the 18th hole, McIlroy still posted a respectable 69 on Sunday to finish at -5.  However, the bogey on #18 gave the lead back to DeChambeau as he stepped to the tee box on to play his final hole of the day.

All Rory McIlroy could do was watch and hope for the best.

DeChambeau pulled his drive on #18 into the left rough.  The golf ball landed in the Carolina sandy soil amid some very knarly grass.  Worse yet, Bryson DeChambeau was stymied by an overhanging magnolia tree which restricted his swing.

For his second shot, Bryson punched a low shot down the fairway and into a greenside sand trap.  From there, DeChambeau hit the shot of a lifetime.  His 55-yard blast from the sand went skyward, bounced a few times on the green and then rolled up the hill to finish within 3 feet of the 18th hole.  Bryson DeChambeau drained the short par putt to capture the 2024 US Open for his second major championship win.

The Carolina fans cheered wildly as DeChambeau enthusiastically hugged his caddie and anyone else nearby.  Stunned by his own good fortune on #18, Bryson DeChambeau (much like Tiger Woods or Arnold Palmer) had won over the crowd with an exciting finish as he truly enjoyed the moment.

A “Heel turn” for Rory?

Rory McIlroy certainly didn’t enjoy the moment, though.  He made a very surprising heel turn after DeChambeau sank his final putt.  Usually one of the most gracious golfers in the game, McIlroy quickly bolted out of the clubhouse, refused to address the assembled media, and exited the golf course premises without sticking around to congratulate the winner.

The 5’9” Rory McIlroy (dubbed with the nickname “Wee-Mac” by his fellow players and golf fans) just transformed himself into “The Invisible Irishman” after his hasty departure following Sunday’s US Open.

Bryson DeChambeau has turned “Face” in men’s pro golf

Bryson “The Scientist” DeChambeau just became one of the most popular golfers in men’s professional golf with his win at Sunday’s US Open.  How did this transformation happen?

The 30-year old Bryson DeChambeau has not received enough credit for being one of the most talented golfers in the game over the past decade.  Upon entering the PGA Tour in 2016, DeChambeau was already one of the most decorated amateur golfers in recent men’s golf history.

A physics major while attending SMU (where his boyhood favorite golfer, Payne Stewart, had played collegiate golf), Bryson DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAA individual college golf title.  Two months later, he added the US Amateur championship as well.  Only Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Ryan Moore had won both of those prestigious amateur golf events during the same year.

After entering professional golf in 2016, Bryson DeChambeau finally broke into the winner’s circle with a victory in the 2017 John Deere Classic.  He grabbed four more PGA wins during 2018.  At that point in his professional career, he was best known to PGA fans as the golfer who played with irons of exactly the same length.  He was christened with the nickname of “The Scientist” for his never-ending interest in applying science to find ways to improve his golf game.

Unfortunately, the intelligent, focused and sometimes aloof DeChambeau came across to many fans as being a little bit arrogant and moody.

After a lackluster 2019 season, Bryson DeChambeau made a strange decision to beef-up his driving distances.  By starting an exhaustive workout regimen along with a high protein diet, he added almost 30 pounds in only a few months prior to his first event of the 2020 golf season.

“The Scientist” had just transformed himself into “Bryson the Bruiser”.

DeChambeau became a long-driving golf machine with his booming 330 yard drives.  Once the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot outside of New York City rolled around, COVID-19 restrictions meant that no golf fans would be permitted in attendance.  Bryson DeChambeau’s golf game finally returned to peak form as he overwhelmed the 2020 US Open field to win by six shots.

Unfortunately for Bryson DeChambeau, there wasn’t a big celebration on the 18th hole in 2020 to share his biggest professional win.  Even if COVID had never entered the picture, the beefy long-driving version of DeChambeau still wasn’t becoming a fan favorite.

DeChambeau struggled on the golf course during 2021 and eventually eased back on Popeye-like workout routines.  Though some fans still came to watch his booming drives, his moodiness on the golf course oftentimes worked against him.

This “heel” persona turned even darker in 2022 as Bryson DeChambeau joined Phil Mickelson to become part of the new LIV Golf league.

The Saudi-backed upstart golf group handed DeChambeau a signing bonus worth a reported $125 million.

Bryson DeChambeau’s former PGA Tour players and millions of golf fans felt surprised and betrayed by his exit.  However, isn’t that exactly what pro wrestling “heels” do?

After joining LIV Golf in 2022, Bryson DeChambeau has enthusiastically embraced the new league and its team-based camaraderie.   The Crushers’ golf team of DeChambeau, Paul Casey, Charles Howell III, and Anirban Lahiri has won two team events already in 2024.

You Tube to the Rescue!

A two-time winner on the LIV Golf tour, Bryson DeChambeau seems to have become much more relaxed on the golf course in the past two years since joining the new golf league.  He also seems intentional in building a better relationship with golf fans, too.

DeChambeau has attributed much of his image rehabilitation to a surge of interest in a series of golf videos which he has produced for social media.

Bryson DeChambeau’s You Tube channel now has more than one million subscribers –most of them under the age of 30.   One recent video series is the entertaining “Break 50” challenge.

Needing to shoot 23-under par from the red (women’s) tees at a par-72 golf course in Dallas, Bryson and a playing partner (playing a best-ball format) try to complete 18 holes in less than 50 shots.  During the filming, DeChambeau seems to be having exceptional fun while injecting some very solid golf advice to his mostly younger golf viewers.

This video outreach has helped Bryson DeChambeau to lighten his personal image and develop a growing legion of younger golf fans.

At this weekend’s US Open, this new fan-friendly version of Bryson DeChambeau fist-bumped with fans while walking from one hole to the next.  He even stopped to sign an autograph on the hat of a special needs young man as he made his way to the #10 tee box during Sunday’s final nine holes.

Professional golfers are notoriously intense and focused – especially during major championships like the US Open.  Arnold Palmer, though, had a unique ability to connect with golf fans – on and off the course.

Since Arnie’s passing in 2016, there has been a niche waiting to be filled in professional golf.

With a friendly persona not unlike the great Arnold Palmer, word has spread like wildfire that the new and improved Bryson DeChambeau 2.0, the golfer who hits those monster drives, loves the fans back, too.

After winning the US Open on Sunday evening, DeChambeau accepted the championship trophy and told golf fans in attendance to come on down and touch the trophy.  He stayed around with the golf fans for nearly two hours to share this special moment and sign autographs well into the night.

Payne Stewart was probably smiling down from heaven

Like DeChambeau, three-time major champion Payne Stewart played his collegiate golf at SMU.  He also won the US Open twice with his final victory coming at this same Pinehurst #2 golf course in 1999 (25 years ago).  Stewart tragically died just a few months later at age 42 as the airplane he was traveling in failed to pressurize properly after take-off.

Bryson DeChambeau wore a special button on his golf hat all week in remembrance of Payne Stewart and his dramatic 18th hole victory over Phil Mickelson in 1999.

On the LIV Golf website, there is a brief biography featuring Bryson DeChambeau.  It includes a Q&A section which asked the question, “Which golf shot gives you the most difficulty?”  He answered, “A 60-yard bunker shot.”

DeChambeau’s dramatic up and down after a 55-yard bunker shot on Sunday’s 72nd hole will be nearly as memorable as Payne Stewart’s putt on the same hole to win in 1999.  It truly was the shot of his lifetime.

Rory’s Heel turn should be brief

Lost in the chaos on Sunday night was the story that Rory McIlroy’s recent divorce filing had been withdrawn earlier in the week.  He and Erica, his wife of seven years, share a 3-year old daughter named Poppy.

The emotional weight of dealing with both issues last week must have been extremely difficult.  Rory McIlroy’s surprising loss of composure after Sunday’s US Open may linger for a few more weeks.

On Monday, he sent a message advising his plans to get away from golf for the next few weeks to regroup.

He should be ready for the final major golf event of the season in July for The Open Championship at Scotland’s Royal Troon Links.  Scottish golf fans will try to propel Rory McIlroy to remain loose and play his best.  I fully expect that Rory will return to form and regain his position as one of the most popular players in golf.

If Rory McIlroy should win The Open Championship and break his 10-year drought in major championships, men’s professional golf will need to find a new “heel” for fans to jeer soon.

Who wants to be next?