There’s a strange new Bryson DeChambeau at the PGA Championship

bryson dechambeau at the PGA Championship

Bryson DeChambeau debuted a strange new version of himself at the PGA Championship.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The last time Bryson DeChambeau stood atop the golf world, there was some concern he might shoot directly into orbit.

It was late-September 2021 — some two years before DeChambeau found himself one stroke off the Thursday lead at this PGA Championship — and Bryson looked like a man on the brink of finally conquering his demons. Just a week earlier, he’d had shepherded an American victory at the Ryder Cup, his thunderous, 350-yard drive on the first hole on Sunday at Whistling Straits proving to be the event’s defining moment.

Now, after the summer of bulking and “Brooksy” and hitting bombs, he’d traveled hundreds of miles into the middle of nowhere for a glorified test of mankind’s own virility: the World Long Drive Championships. But Bryson hadn’t gone into the desert to prove his own prodigious length or bolster his reputation (though those were nice side-benefits); he’d gone to rescuisitate the sport of long drive, which was dying a slow death in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“These guys all have families and lives,” Bryson told me then. “They’re just trying to survive, a lot of them are, and I think they need to be getting support — support from the world of golf, and support financially. This is the best way for me to do that. So why wouldn’t I?”

It helped, naturally, the Bryson nearly won the World Long Drive Championships. Fans came flooding into Mesquite, Nev., to watch him compete. Sponsors lined up at the door to talk with league brass. Golf Channel came back into the fold.

The sport was saved. And from his perch in the corner of the room, it seemed Bryson might be, too. He looked truly happy in the fall of 2021. The golf world smiled at him. The internet (briefly) stopped taunting him. For a moment, DeChambeau felt on the precipice of the thing he always seemed too cavalier to reach: honest-to-goodness international superstardom.

And then it all came crashing down.

It has been nearly two years since that fall — a lifetime, if you ask Bryson. Who knew that the man who seemed so ready to capture the golf world in September 2021 was actually on the brink of disaster?

First came the hand injury that took the first part of his 2022 season and any residual confidence from the previous fall. Then the ugly aftereffects of simultaneous under-and-overtraining in recovery that resulted in MCs or WDs in all but four events during the major season. The nail in the coffin came just before the U.S. Open, when DeChambeau became one of the highest-profile LIV Golf defections, a move that re-alienated him from a huge chunk of the golf world.

He fell off the map after a T56 finish at the national championship and remained there for much of the summer. That, he says, is when he learned something was very wrong.

“I took a Zoomer peptide test, which essentially tells what you inflames your blood when you eat it,” he said. “I was allergic to corn, wheat, gluten, dairy. Pretty much everything I liked, I couldn’t eat.”

The allergy test explained the inflammation, which helped to explain the strange, vertigo-like phenomenon he experienced at a handful of events, including the 2020 Masters. He stripped down his diet, going from 5,000 calories a day to 2,900, and his body responded in kind.

“I slimmed down like crazy,” he says. “I lost 18 pounds in 24 days. It was crazy. It wasn’t fat. It was all water weight. You know how I looked before. I was not skinny.”

With a better grasp on his health, Bryson launched into the offseason in an effort to salvage his golf game, but the range time did little to turn the tide. The harder he trained, the harder things grew.

As anyone who’s ever reached the golf mountaintop will tell you, returning to it is the sport’s toughest accomplishment (“It’s like, I’ve done this before, why can’t I just do it every day?” Bryson says). The work of reclaiming lost form involves not one breakthrough but a hundred of them stacked together. Sometimes the breakthroughs don’t come.

“There have been times where it’s like, ‘I don’t know if this is worth it,'” he said. “But each day I had this glimmer of hope that I could get back to it.”

As the calendar flipped to this year, DeChambeau’s stack of bricks finally started growing. The addition of new swing coach Dana Dahlquist helped, as did that of caddie Greg Bodine (Tony Finau’s former looper). Between last week’s LIV event in Tulsa and the start of this week’s PGA, Bryson “figured out some things” on the range. The game grew closer.

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On Thursday at Oak Hill, it all seemed to come together. Bryson arrived at the course looking downright chiseled, muscles rippling through the back of his shirt and down his arms. As his warmup wore on, he looked noticeably relaxed — a stark change from the juiced-up player who once stared daggers through the crowds on tournament days.

In some ways, that’s emblematic of a larger shift in his life. Gone are the days of pounding golf balls into oblivion in pursuit of swing speeds and central nervous system growth. These days, he says, the less time he spends on the range, the better.

“As I’ve told you guys before, I’ve struggled with my driving,” Bryson says. “You see me out there on the range. That’s something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be out there all night, but I’ve had to to figure out what I did so well in 2018 and what made me so successful then.”

Now, DeChambeau finds himself reaching the end of what he calls a “five-year” journey away from his north star as a golfer. It is fair to point out that those five years included a major championship win, a top-five world ranking and many, many millions of dollars. It is also fair to point out that those developments may have come at the cost of his own happiness.

“I want to be just stable now,” he says. “I’m tired of changing, trying different things. Yeah, could I hit it a little further, could I try and get a little stronger? Sure. But I’m not going to go full force.”

Of course, Bryson will never be able to outrun the parts of his personality that allowed him to become a hulking, ball speed-chasing megajock. He’s still obsessed with nutrition and health. He still carries every swing change with the seriousness of a heart attack. On the course, his move isn’t far off from the one that torched a U.S. Open field at Winged Food by six strokes.

On Thursday at the PGA, it was striking how similar Bryson looked to the long drive contestant of 2021. Things fell apart after that moment of harmony, and who’s to say they won’t again? Nobody, not even Bryson.

“You’ve got to be willing to jump over failure to get to success,” he said. “It’s just about giving yourself hope every single day.”

On Thursday at the PGA, his hope is that the work was worth it. That two years after standing atop the golf world, he can return to it again better than he was before. Different too.

“It’s a bit of an addiction,” he said with a grin.

It’s as if he knows that’s everyone‘s hope — to be better than we were the day before. Of course, that doesn’t mean he — or any of us — achieves it.

But there sure is honor in trying.

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