ORLANDO, Fla. — Golf is slow to embrace different, which explains Ben Hogan’s indifference toward Arnold Palmer. You know, the Iceman practically wrote the book called Fairways and Greens, and then Arnie showed up, all slashin’-’n-smashin.’ AP hit bombs and holed them, too.
“How’d he get in the tournament?” Hogan asked a lunch companion on a weekday in April in Eisenhower’s first term, with Arnold in earshot. Imagine that one on Twitter. Arnold heard it, there in the Augusta National grill room. “He never used my name,” Arnold told many people over the years. “It was always, ‘Fella.’”
Beat that for cold.
And now we have this Bryson fella on the 1st tee, here at Bay Hill, Sunday afternoon. He was wearing his Ben Hogan racing cap and his Arnold Palmer golfing shoes, with the King’s famous signature stenciled on their heels. Yeah, sure, somebody is paying Bryson to wear those shoes. Still, a nice gesture, and they must have Extra Stability Foundational Soles registered trademark, or something like that, given the slug the guy gives it.
(They’re Pumas, by the way, speaking of registered trademarks. Somewhere, Walt “Clyde” Frazier must be smiling. If you want a lesson in style, check the man out. He wasn’t “branded” Clyde. He was Clyde.)
OK, Bryson and Hogan: Bryson went to college in Dallas, at SMU, where golfers still get a heavy dose of the ultimate Texas golf legend, dead now 25 years, or close to it. For method, Hogan and DeChambeau could not be more different, but they share one significant thing: Hogan thought for himself, which is why his actual swing-theory bible (Five Fundamentals) is the best-selling golf book ever and by far. DeChambeau is an original thinker, too. Witness the same-length irons, the Moe Norman takeaway, the fat grips, the graphite-shafted putter, the nightfall practice sessions, the beef-and-shakes diet. The weirdness, when you get right down to it. That’s meant as praise.
As for Arnold: DeChambeau first met Palmer in Latrobe, Pa., as a Walker Cup golfer in 2015. He made his first appearance in the event that wrapped up here on Sunday, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, as an amateur in 2016, the last API that AP saw, at least from earth level. Asked that week five years ago what impressed him most about Palmer, DeChambeau said, “How giving he is. I hope that one day I can do the same.”
(Good stuff, as Johnny Miller used to say, when he manned the NBC booth here. Arnold was always an NBC guy, like Bob Hope and John Chancellor. Arnold could be a badass and an outlaw, but he venerated tradition, too.)
Arnold and Bryson both loved the idea of the drivable par-4. As for the drivable par-5, that’s a more recent development, courtesy of Bryson A. DeChambeau. (B.A.D., on the cover of his yardage book.) You know Arnold’s giggling at the very notion, driving a par-5. Why, if you’re quiet and bend an ear, you might hear him cackling right now.
If you follow this game closely enough to be reading this report, you of course know that Bryson DeChambeau won the 2021 API on a cool and windy Sunday, by making a five-footer on the last, finishing one shot ahead of Mr. Lee Westwood, 47-year-old bearded English golfer and Ryder Cup star.
And what a pleasure it was to see Lee in Sunday’s final twosome, on this occasion trying his best to stay with DeChambeau, who outdrove him by half a football field, now and again. There were 5,000 fans on hand, most of them masked, most of them following the final twosome. When DeChambeau smashed a drive on the par-5 6th hole almost within spitting distance of the green, he raised his hands, Rocky-style. When Westwood followed, in spirit but not remotely in length, he raised his hands, too. He was having himself a good time, his girlfriend-caddie smiling beside him. He earned $1 million for finishing second. And that’s rounding it down.
Bryson made that winning putt on 18, and he shook the ground right through his Pumas. The connection to Arnold was complete. How many golfers have won the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus’ tournament (the Memorial) and Arnold’s tournament? TWO! Tiger and Bryson. That’s some club. Bryson said that Tiger sent him a text Sunday morning.
Now here’s something you may not know about DeChambeau’s Sunday. He nearly lost the event on his very first shot of the day. He hit a crazy slice in a slice wind with a driver as his opening salvo, a shot so bad that DeChambeau’s caddie tossed him another ball, on the assumption he would have to reload, what with that fussy O.B. rule and all.
Bay Hill is a suburban development, really, and Bryson’s tee shot was perilously close to a Bay Hill backyard. His ball settled in such lush rough that spectators stopped to snap a photo of his divot hole once he had cleared the scene. On the other side of a net fence, in the backyard of a greenish-yellow house with a hammock and driveway hoop, a dozen people watched the spectacle with the joy that comes from watching an Arnold Palmer, a John Daly — and a Bryson DeChambeau. Generational talents. He made bogey. It could have been worse.
“Man, after that drive on 1, I was thinking, ‘Uh-oh, this is not going to be a great day,’” DeChambeau said about five hours later. He was wearing a red cardigan, emblematic of API victory, so you know it was, in fact, a great day, for him and for modern golf. Also, another nail in the coffin of ye olde game.
It would be easy to just go on and on was about Bryson the Basher. The fact is, he putts beautifully. It’s not beautiful to look at, the whole method, but he does putt the heck out of that golf ball. His birdie putt on the 8th was about 25 feet, downhill, into the wind, with the flagstick waving this way and that, with a lake beyond the hole and a scoreboard beyond the lake. But the man of the hour has singular focus! The fun thing is to watch him with his eyes closed at interesting times during the round. It’s sort of next-gen Jason Day/Tiger Woods stuff.
“I think that’s a very underrated aspect of my game,” DeChambeau said of his putting. Indeed — indeed it is!
Bryson’s dream foursome has five players in it, he said Sunday night. (There he goes again, breaking the rules again.) Hogan, Arnold, Moe Norman, Bryson’s father and Bryson his own self. That’s five. For all of his reverence for Hogan, Bryson knows and accepts that Hogan couldn’t relate to Palmer’s style of play, and he knows there are people in the game that can’t relate to his style of golf.
“It happens every 20 years, in every sport,” Bryson said. “People come around that are changing things, and one generation can’t relate to the next.”
But what would you do, Bryson? What would you do if you were hanging with Hogan and Arnold? Could you broker a peace? And if so, how?
“I would say, ‘Relax, it’s just golf,’” the winner said. “That’s what everybody tells me. [But] I’m my own worst psychologist.”
He laughed. His new cardigan could barely contain him.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com.