DeChambeau concocts a victory

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Sunday, July 16, 2017

This one was for the golf nerds.

You know them. The guys who futz and fiddle in their basement, working on their grips, bending the shaft of their putter, testing every combination of swing weight in their $600 drivers they can think of.

You may be one of them.

Bryson DeChambeau is a golf nerd squared. He thinks in four dimensions when there are only three. He wears a Hogan cap when he might well wear a wizard’s hat decorated with stars and half-moons instead. If he designed courses, he would be Pete Dye.

Attention was paid, eyebrows were raised and his logic was questioned during his college and amateur career, when he debuted a set of irons all cut at 7-iron length. Like those who looked at the contraption of Orville and Wilbur Wright and said, “Boys, it’ll never fly,” DeChambeau was dismissed as a gadfly with a nutty idea.

In 2015, he won the NCAA Championship representing Southern Methodist, and the U.S. Amateur, the latter at Olympia Fields, with those same-length irons.

Earlier this season, futzing and fiddling with his swing, he missed eight straight cuts, the last at the U.S. Open, a 74-76 showing at Erin Hills.

After all the surety, there were doubts.

“Yeah, absolutely,” DeChambeau said. “It was more trial and error, right? I’m going to test this and see if it works. It was going more into a longer swing, trying to hit it harder and farther and maybe I could time it out, and it just didn’t work for me.”

So, it was back to square one.

“So I finally backed off that about four weeks ago and said, ‘Look, just go back to what you were doing in college. You did pretty well. Let’s see where it goes from there. Maybe I can understand a little bit more of what I was doing and why I played so well because of it.

“I gained immediate confidence back.”

With confidence came instant improvement. He tied for 26th in Hartford, 17th at Avenel, 14th at the Greenbrier, and alternately contended and lurked for the first three days of the 47th John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.

Sunday, with a barrage of seven birdies in the last 11 holes, he overhauled leader Patrick Rodgers on the final holes and scored his first victory on the PGA Tour. DeChambeau’s 6-under-par 65 for 18-under 266 beat Rodgers by a stroke and Wesley Bryan and Rick Lamb by two.

No more doubts.

“Feels like a long time coming, even though I’m 23,” DeChambeau said. “It’s pretty special to win here at the John Deere.”

There were multiple reasons why beyond proving some detractors – including Nick Faldo – wrong. He’d been given a sponsor’s exemption to the Deere two years ago. And, he found out during the trophy ceremony, fellow SMU standout Payne Stewart’s first Tour win was at the Deere – when he debuted his plus-four look.

“That broke me,” DeChambeau said. He cupped his face in his hands, crying, when Deer chairman Sam Allen mentioned that Stewart, whom DeChambeau watched as a little kid, broke through at Oakwood Country Club in 1982.

He broke Rodgers at the end of the round almost without breaking a sweat.

DeChambeau was four strokes behind at daybreak, and dropped a stroke when he bogeyed the par 4 fourth. But his birdie binge began at the eighth with an 11-footer, and it never really stopped. And it needed to keep going. That bird moved him to 12-under, and he was still out of the top 10.

Birdies on the 10th and 11th opened the back nine properly, and at 14-under, he was in the neighborhood. So was a third of the field, with 26 players within three strokes when CBS hit the air at 2 p.m. At one point, after 50-year-old Steve Stricker completed an attack with 14 birdies in his last 30 holes and a final round 64 to jump to 15-under 269, he was tied for the lead with Rodgers, Wesley Bryan, Steve Stallings and Daniel Berger.

Stricker would eventually finish fifth. But DeChambeau kept coming, sinking a 10-footer for birdie on the 13th and a kick-in bird on the 14th. At that point, he was 14-under, but 14-under does not win the John Deere Classic. But 16-under can, and birdies on the last two holes got him there.

His hybrid from a downhill-sidehill lie from 259 yards out on the par-5 17th set up a two-putt birdie from 40 feet, but it wasn’t easy.

“Oh my!” DeChambeau smiled. “That first little putt, if you hit it three feet by, is off the green. I was a little tedious with it and left it three feet short.”

His four-footer hit the center of the cup.

“Sweet, huge,” he said.

His approach to the 18th was similarly stout, a 7-iron right over the flag to 14 feet behind the hole, which was cut in the traditional back-right spot, the pond looming as danger.

“I wasn’t trying to, either,” he said of attacking the pin. “I was able to take pretty aggressive line, but knew if I pulled it a little bit it wouldn’t go in the water because of the wind. So I pulled it just a little bit, pulled it enough to get close.”

And sank it, tying Rodgers, to a roar from the gallery, which might have numbered 19,000. Many were following Rodgers at the point, and, thanks to a misadventure on the 17th, he would soon be following DeChambeau.

Rodgers pulled his tee shot into the trees on the left, chipped out because he was stymied by a tree, hit the front of the green with his third but found the front bunker between his ball and the cup, and had to chip from one point of the green to the other. He lipped out the eight-footer for par and dropped to 17-under.

“I felt like I hit an OK putt,” Rodgers said. “I don’t really have a ton of regrets. I’m proud of myself for staying aggressive all day.”

At it turned out, Rodgers bogeyed the 14th and 17th holes – the 16th and 11th easiest on Sunday, respectively – and that was the difference. Pars on both, he wins. Par on either of the two, he’s in a playoff, even though DeChambeau birdied both.

“I didn’t make many bogeys this week, so to have two of them on some simple holes probably cost me the golf tournament,” Rodgers said.

He made seven bogeys in four rounds. DeChambeau made six.

Call it the revenge of the golf nerd.

Around Deere Run

The 64s of Stricker, Bryan and Morgan Hoffmann were the best rounds of the day. ... Local favorite Zach Johnson threatened but a bogey on the 15th left him at 67 and 269. ... DeChambeau’s score of 266 is the highest winning total since 2008, when Kenny Perry won a three-man playoff after scoring 16-under 268. ... DeChambeau won $1,008,000 from the purse of $5,600,000. ... Stanford’s Maverick McNealy won the low amateur title, scoring 9-under 275 to beat Illinois’ Nick Hardy by two strokes. ... The final round scoring average of 69.411 strokes was the lowest since 2013, while the four-round average of 69.753 was a hair higher than last year’s 69.743. ... There were only 14 rounds over par from the field of 73, including dew-sweeper Michael Kim, who played as a single and sped around in three hours. ... Nineteen players, the last being DeChambeau, took the Deere’s special nonstop charter to the Open Championship.

Tim Cronin

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