Bryson DeChambeau has changed. Here’s why he’s leading the Masters

bryson dechambeau

Bryson Dechambeau waves to the crowd during his first round at the 2024 Masters.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Pro golfers are shouted at all the time while they ply their trade at tournaments. Often, it’s  their alma mater — Roll Tide — their tee shots — babah-booey — their nicknames — C’mon Deejay — or generally something stupid. Mashed potatoes! Only one of them hears, We love your Snapchat!

But that’s Bryson DeChambeau for you. Full-time golfer, part-time content creator. Aware of how many followers he has. Also currently leading the Masters.

If you’re not on Snapchat, don’t follow DeChambeau on Instagram, and watch most of your television on … a television, then you’d be surprised at his eight-birdie 65 in the first round. Even if you saw it in person at Augusta National, you’d be surprised, too. With the wind up and the course plenty firm, 65 wasn’t just good. It was damn good. Better than anyone else. “One of the best rounds I’ve played in a long time,” as he put it himself. 

The point of the surprise of DeChambeau’s Thursday is not that it happened — he’s played brilliant golf before — it’s that we’ve all seen a lot less of him these last two years.

In June 2022, DeChambeau left the PGA Tour, the most visible track of golf on the planet, for LIV Golf, an upstart league that didn’t have a TV deal at the time and has since struggled to attract viewers. By struggled, we mean just 11% of the PGA Tour’s Sunday viewership last weekend.

According to various metrics — literal measurements commissioned by the PGA Tour — DeChambeau was one of the most popular golfers in the world before the move. He ranked fifth in the inaugural PIP rankings — behind only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. DeChambeau wasn’t the most famous golfer in the world, but his Neilsen rating that year was higher than any of those pros who, as we like to say, move the needle. He was on TV a lot, he was in headlines a lot. He was a golf marketing asset, with his single-length golf clubs and his commitment to making golf a robotic, scientific pursuit. There was his steak-and-potatoes, weight-and-muscle gaining diet, adopted in the hope of hitting the ball farther than any of his competitors. He was different. All of which is why LIV Golf wanted him, and paid him more than $100 million to join. 

But then he essentially went behind a paywall, forced into talking more about team golf — the Crushers — and his new league, than himself. It coincided with an injury, a caddie change, the loss of his father. He couldn’t compete in the Ryder Cup, and will struggle to qualify for this year’s Olympics. His golf could have, at any time, pulled him out from behind the paywall and back atop leaderboards, into the discussion, but it didn’t. At this time one year ago, DataGolf ranked him no. 147 in the world, a stunningly low valley for a player who was routinely among the 20 best. 

So for those who stopped paying attention to DeChambeau, a number of natural questions arise: Why now? What’s different? How is it going to manifest this week, for a player whose best finish at the Masters was a T21, way back in 2016? 

Step 1: Equipment. At least that’s what he says. Equipment has always been finicky for him. “I’ve gotten equipment that is performing a little differently for me, and I’m settled on that,” he said Thursday evening. “I’m just saying to myself — every day I get up, just swing the same way you have been for the past seven, eight months since I put it in play at Greenbrier and just go back to those feels every single day.”

Step 2: Getting older. DeChambeau has matured during his time with LIV Golf. That doesn’t make him the most mature 30-year-old, but it makes him more mature than his former self. (Perhaps mature enough to win the Masters!) He took time during his post-round press conference to acknowledge past mistakes. “You know, I’m 30 now … it’s definitely taken time to get comfortable and getting to a place where, you know what, no matter what happens today, I’m okay … Focusing on playing a fun game. You know, taking that perspective has definitely enlightened me a little bit and allowed me to play a little more free.”

Step 3: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. DeChambeau will always be more inclined to crunch numbers than figure out feels, but he has normalized his day-to-day. He doesn’t appear to be in constant change, like he has seemed in the past. “I’m not trying new things, not doing new things,” DeChambeau said. “I’m just doing more of the same. That’s what’s been different from a couple years ago to now. I’m just doing the same thing every single day, day-in and day-out … And that’s what I feel like has accumulated into playing some really good golf.”

DeChambeau highlighted that weekend at the Greenbrier (in early August) as a bit of an awakening. A golfy platonic ideal. He shot 61-58 in consecutive rounds to win his first LIV tournament. (He went on to win again a month later, for those not following along on The CW.) “When I shot 61, 58 on the weekend, I looked at [my caddie] G-Bo and go, ‘I can’t wait for April.'”

Now that it’s April, what does that look like?

It looks like risk and reward. Draw shots most of the time, cut shots when he has to. Like the awkward one from the crevice between pine straw and rough on 13, which flew 202 yards and landed safely on the back of the green. Two putts for birdie. Or on the 15th, another famous par 5, where he stood among the trees again, this time for about 15 minutes, determining if he should lay up or carve a low, fading stinger over the pond and onto the green. The risk was worth the reward.

He struck it, paced forward, bent down to track his ball all the way to the ground. We all heard his ball clip the pine needles hanging 50 feet in front of him, but it somehow landed on the corner of the putting surface. He whipped around with a wide smile and high-fived his caddie. Phew. He even admitted he probably shouldn’t have played the shot, but it worked out. It always works out for those on top of the leaderboard.

When he wasn’t getting breaks, DeChambeau’s golf still looks a lot like what he did at Winged Foot when he won the 2020 U.S. Open. Exquisite driving, longer than just about everyone, and putts dropping. Taking big bites out of the 7,600 yards Augusta National now stretches to, and delicately guiding his ball through its subtle parts. 

“He can do some stuff that other people can’t do,” playing partner Thorbjorn Olesen said.

“He’s always been one of the best putters in the world, and he showed that today,” the third in the group, Gary Woodland, offered. “He makes a lot of putts. But when he drives it like that, he makes this golf course a little bit different.”

Woodland was absolutely impressed. He knew no one else would touch 65 the rest of the day. But you could hear a twinge of ‘We’ll see‘ in that quote. “When he drives it like that.” WHEN that happens. It happened Thursday. It doesn’t always happen at Augusta National. It’s never happened quite like that for him at this course, and it has to happen three more times, considering the unbreakable Scottie Scheffler sits just one shot back. 

“There’s three more days to go,” DeChambeau said, “and I’m not losing sight of that fact. That it’s right there in front of me. Just got to go execute.”

Were DeChambeau to do it, he’ll cackle at the number of YouTube subscribers that come with a green jacket.

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