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Bryson DeChambeau, the next American golf superstar

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Working with competitive junior golfers has been a cornerstone of my business for a quarter century. Consequently, I’ve been fortunate to have either coached or been exposed to innumerable great young golfers over the years. Many of them have ultimately gone on to play collegiately and professionally.

Part of that exposure comes from the fact that for two decades, my club has hosted one of the premier junior golf tournaments in Northern California, with players coming from around the region to test their mettle against some of the best. With so many good, young players coming through our facility over the years, I like to think I’ve developed a pretty keen insight into the differences between those who ultimately become the great ones and those who don’t. And while I’ve seen a lot of really good kids come and go, there are a handful who left an impression that still stands.

The first time I saw this one particular kid was about a decade ago. I was out checking on a few students who were playing in that big junior tournament when I came upon a group of younger kids approaching our 15th hole, a tough par-4 with an incredibly difficult green that might be appropriately described as an escapee from Pinehurst No. 2. For some strange reason, I decided to wait just behind the green for their approach despite the fact that the group was more than 150 yards away and they were kids from the boys 10 and 11 division, a group unlikely to hit the green from that distance even if they had it teed up with a driver. The last kid to hit was easily a gimme putt short of 5-feet tall, but the longest off the tee. When he played his approach, I remember thinking, “Great swing.” “Wow,” I said a few moments later as the ball dropped softly on the green and rolled up to within 3 feet. That kid went on to win the event comfortably that day. His name was Bryson DeChambeau.

A decade later, DeChambeau has stormed onto the golf public’s consciousness in a way that few promising young golfers have in recent memory. Armed with ample personality and an NCAA Individual Championship — as well as a U.S. Amateur Championship in 2015 — the kid from Clovis, California, plays unconventional irons cut all to the same length, wears a throwback Hogan-style cap and models his swing after theories put forth in “The Golfing Machine” (an out-of-print book from the 1960s written by a Boeing engineer who didn’t even play the sport), DeChambeau hopes to impact the game in a way similar to a couple of guys named Arnie and Jack.

Now some roll their eyes at comments like that, but DeChambeau is backing it up. In just a couple of weeks, he’s gone from the quirky reigning U.S. Amateur Champ to one of the most talked-about players in the game thanks to an impressive finish in the Masters. And if not for a couple of successive head-scratching drives on No. 18 on Friday, he might have found himself playing in the final group on the weekend and threatening to be the first amateur to ever win The Masters.

And what did he do for an encore? Well, just turn professional, sign mega endorsement deals with Cobra/Puma and Bridgestone, and make his professional debut in the RBC Heritage Classic at Hilton Head, finishing in fourth place despite putting poorly throughout the event. It was an impressive debut to say the least, but if he made as many putts inside 15 feet as eventual winner Branden Grace did, he could have won his first career start as a professional outright by five shots.

A lot has been said already about DeChambeau’s mad scientist approach to the game (he majored in physics at SMU), his big personality (have you seen his Carl Spackler from Caddyshack impression?) and his old-school sense of style, but somewhat lost in all of that is the fact that there is at least as much substance to the kid as style, and at the moment, he’s navigating near-uncharted waters competitively.

Only four players have previously won an NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year: Ryan Moore, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. That’s walking in tall cotton. And how did each fare in their first Masters? Only Moore bested DeChambeau’s tie for 21st, finishing in 13th place, but he was never in contention. Mickelson and Woods finished 47th and 41st, respectively, and the esteemed Mr. Nicklaus actually missed the cut.

What about their professional debuts? Moore tied for 51st in the 2005 Westchester Classic and took more than a year to crack the top-5 in any event. Mickelson debuted with a 68 in the ’92 U.S. Open, but followed that up with an 81 and missed the cut. Tiger, while earning a win fairly quickly (his fifth start in Las Vegas), finished an uninspiring 60th at the Greater Milwaukee Open in his first event as a pro. And Jack? Nicklaus finished in a tie for last place out of all 50 players making the cut at Rancho Park in the 1962 Tour opener, making a whopping $33.33.

If you’re paying attention, this means DeChambeau has done nothing less than kick off his professional career in a fashion that didn’t just eclipse the only other four to have accomplished what he did last year by winning the NCAA and U.S. Amateur in the same season, but in a far better fashion than Mickelson (one of golf’s biggest superstars of he past two decades), as well as Woods and Nicklaus, the two players who are arguably the best the professional game has ever seen.

Now with those competitive credentials, DeChambeau arrives on the scene with plenty of credibility, but it is really his story, his personal style and his ample personality that sets him apart from the hordes of good young automatons who come along in our sport each day. And whether or not the golf-consuming public realizes it, we crave creativity, personality, individuality, and story, especially when it is backed up with substance, but often even when it isn’t.

We admired Jack, with his nerves of steel and incredible record, but we loved Arnie and his wild lash at the ball and swash-buckling style. We marveled at Woods and mostly cheered his dominance, but never warmed up to him the same way that we did (and still do) to Mickelson with his bewildered smile, amazing short game and ever-present potential for a train wreck. We love (and hate) Bubba, with his name, his pink driver, his home-made swing, prodigious drives and penchant for putting his foot in his mouth now and then, too. And now and then we even still cheer for John Daly, maybe not as loud, but far more than we would for any other player with a similar playing record because of his colorful persona.

Now if you need one last bit of proof, then look no further than another young player who arrived on the scene a few years ago with plenty of personality and style — DeChambeau’s Cobra/Puma stablemate Rickie Fowler, who garnered far more of the spotlight and far bigger galleries at every Tour stop than you could argue his playing credentials merited until his win at The Player’s Championship just last year.

Now of course, all this doesn’t mean young Bryson won’t have his ups and downs, and this is only the beginning of his young story. We’ve seen time and again that the golf world often dubs someone the next Jordan, the next Nicklaus, or the next Tiger, and the pressure becomes an unwelcome burden that stunts, stalls or even kills a career. So I caution us all to temper our enthusiasm and not only enjoy what he’s doing at the moment, but to let him enjoy it as well without being hyper-critical.

dechambeau

Most 22-year-old kids aren’t in a position to charter a private jet home after their first week on the job (DeChambeau did), and he’s bound to make a few missteps here and there. And since he hasn’t even won his first event yet, predicting that he is going to be the next this or that may sound a bit premature… but consider the following. If you’re not sold yet, and I think you just might start to agree with why I think we are witnessing the the next big chapter in professional golf.

You see, I forgot to mention it to this point, but there’s one more thing we like in players: humility.

About half dozen years ago, I was posting scores on the scoreboard during that same premier junior event when I was handed Bryson DeChambeau’s scorecard. An 81. I was more than a little surprised. And so was he. He was a much more accomplished player by that point, fresh off playing in the Junior World Championships, and it wasn’t the type of score he was used to shooting.

Now, my club is an extremely challenging golf course, and I’ve been witness to more than a few accomplished young players coming through here and shooting rounds that didn’t quite meet their expectations. These are the kind of rounds we call “trunk slammers,” where players turn their scorecard in with a perfunctory thanks, throw the clubs in the trunk and storm off in a huff not waiting around to even see who won.

What did the kid from Clovis do?

While obviously a bit disappointed in his performance, he hung around and chatted with all the other players, sympathizing with them on how tough the course had played that day, and was nothing short of polite and approachable to everyone. It may have been just a little thing, but it sticks out when you’ve been around as many good young players as I have in the past quarter century.

All of that is why I think when people look on these past couple of weeks in pro golf, they’re not just going to remember them as the downfall of American golf’s current superstar, Jordan Spieth, when he gave away the Masters. I think they’re going to look back and remember the birth of the next American superstar, a kid from Clovis, California, named Bryson DeChambeau.

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Mike Dowd is the author of the new novel COMING HOME and the Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life series. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. BrentF

    Apr 23, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    Comments on this site are ridiculous. BD has a great game…he’s better than everyone that posts here…the article was interesting…go to the range and practice and stop being so judgemental and snide.

  2. scot

    Apr 23, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    seems the author is more concerned about making a case for his greatness than the potential of BD

  3. Dj

    Apr 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Dechambeau is a cocky kid, thinks he’s better than everyone else and just wants to be different for the spot light. It’s working, but not for long.

  4. Matthew Bacon

    Apr 23, 2016 at 10:07 am

    He seems like a nice guy but no.

  5. Christosterone

    Apr 23, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Remember when Hal Sutton was the next Nicklaus? Yeah, me neither….but he was…not
    The only next Jack is Tiger….Phil is Tom Watson….Vijay is Johnny Miller….Dustin Johnson is Tom Weiskopf…..Zach Johnson is Larry Nelson….nobody is the Next Palmer because he was the coolest man to ever hit the links
    -Christosterone

  6. Mark

    Apr 23, 2016 at 5:28 am

    Ah yes this year’s model. Our Pro is convinced his swing will destroy his back. He comes across as a great bloke and is waaaay more intelligent than a lot of his peers (apologies to Jimmy Walker). But, and it is a huge but, is there are so many brilliant non Americans arriving on the scene every year that Bryson is not guaranteed success.

    • Scott

      Apr 25, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Your “pro” should really look at what is happening in his swing before making such a ridiculous statement. Bryson has removed all of the torque on his lower back. His swing and back should last a long time. You should probably just look for a “pro” that pays attention.

  7. RG

    Apr 23, 2016 at 1:49 am

    Way to go out on a limb. If I had not read this article I wouldn’t even know who Bryson DeChambeau is. So he’s pretty good huh? Unconventional you say. I didn’t know. Well way to make a call, I had not heard that we should expect great things from him or that he was anything special. Very informative.

  8. Jordan Speeth

    Apr 22, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Seems like I’ve heard this somewhere before….oh yeah, about Bryson deChambeau, by every golf writer on earth. Can’t we wait until he actually accomplishes something? I know his amateur record well, but that means not much right now unless he adds to that with a professional record. He is the same age as Jordan Spieth, and without doing a thing other than place well in some professional tournaments, he’s already the greatest thing that ever came along. I hope he does well. I hope all of them do well, but to hear this over and over when nothing’s happened yet is a joke. I also find his swagger to be annoying without anything to rest on. You hardly see Rory, Jordan, or Ricky behaving this way. I think it was Einstein who said that the truly brilliant minds are the ones that are able to explain complicated things in simple terms that everyone can understand. Bryson seems to want to complicate everything about his playing/swing philosophy to make himself appear smarter than everyone around him….kind of like his mentor, Homer Kelly. BTW, he’s about to miss his first cut. Can we at least please hold off on the coronation until he wins a Tour event…anything?…. I’m not even asking for a major.

  9. Mike

    Apr 22, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Nice article. Stat on Ryan Moore is incorrect. He finished T2 in his 5th PGA Tour start as a pro in the Canadian Open, not a year like the article states.

  10. Mike Dowd

    Apr 22, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    I definitely appreciate (and agree with) the sentiment of those who think we should see a little more from the “Prince” of pro golf (as Tom W. called him) before we crown him the “King” of anything. One of the biggest points I was actually making was how we too often tend to fall in love with players with “style” before they show us much “substance” and Rickie was a prime example of that. Now I do think the fact that he’s done something that only 4 players have done previously (even if that was as an amateur), does give him just a bit more credibility than most as he arrives on the professional scene, but, as Ty said, we definitely need to see how this plays out. I like his chances, though, and if he’s getting more eyeballs (like Bryan’s) who weren’t terribly interested or inclined to tune in then he’ll be good for golf, and it’s been just about 20 years since we’ve been able to say that about anyone.

  11. Chuck D

    Apr 22, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    And anoth’a thing, cut that driver down to 6 iron length and THEN I might show some interest!

  12. Chuck D

    Apr 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Really?! Can this next “Nicklaus” please win a significant amount of tournaments before we induct
    him into the “unqualified” status of potential Hall of Flames, Urrrr, I mean Fame?! This premature
    anointing of unproven talent is about to drive me from being interested as a fan to this sport. This obsession of immediately awarding these clowns elevated status because they finished 16th at major,
    or simply because they were amateur champions is flat out ridiculous! Media….please stop the nonsense and hype machine at once! I know, I know, it’ll never happen.

  13. snowman

    Apr 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    He could be great for the game if he can balance his unconventional/flamboyant style/personality and sincerely project some humility and not come off as cocky. Gotta win more than Rickie has so far or it will be just another marketing sideshow.

  14. Mbwa Kali Sana

    Apr 22, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    Why turn youngsters into superstars ,when they haven’t acheived anything valuable yet!
    BRYSON DECHAMBEAU is good looking , Plays a good golf game ,but nothing extraordinary .
    Hé certainly has a very good public relations Man working for him .
    Now ,it’s. Not with his single plane swing and évén length irons That hé will come to the top .
    Nô GREAT champion ,except eccentric MOE NORMAN has won a major with a single plane swing and same shaft irons ..

    • Tom

      Apr 23, 2016 at 6:30 am

      Better question is can you even name another pro who played SL irons other than Moe Norman?

    • Sam

      Apr 24, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Ummmmm……Moe Norman never played in the US Open, Open Championship or the PGA Championship and got cut from the Masters the one time he played.

  15. Blake

    Apr 22, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Please please stop talking about this guy. His whole persona is tiring and the media constantly shoving him down our throats does little for him.

  16. birdy

    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    bryson played in several pro events leading up to his first ‘official’ pro event. comparing his finish to others in their true first round little misleading. other than that good article and have no doubt he’s the real deal.

  17. Joe

    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    I like the kid, he has a really good game. As far as humility, he doesn’t have much. However, very few outstanding players in any sport have much humility. When you think you are one of the elite thinking you can leap tall buildings in a single bound is normal.

    We will see how it goes.

  18. Moo

    Apr 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Or the next ‘Tommy Two Gloves’.

  19. Ty Tryon

    Apr 22, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Someone said this about me one time.
    Golf is a sport where things are earned not guaranteed. Let’s all just see how this plays out

    • Forsbrand

      Apr 22, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      No way! Ty I wa only checking out your swing from the US Open a couple of years ago. Amazing swing!

      You will have your chance Ty don’t you worry you are too good not to succeed. Perhaps you don’t realise that enough yet?!

      You are right let Bryson develop on his own, the media is too keen to promote with one hand and then smash you the following day with the other.

      All the best Ty

    • Forsbrand

      Apr 23, 2016 at 7:58 am

      Hey M Sizzle what’s the M short for? Mug?!!

  20. Emb

    Apr 22, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Humility? Clearly you haven’t been paying much attention to the kid if you think he has anything approaching humility. DeChambeau is right up there with Mickelson as King of the phonies.

    • MarkB A

      Apr 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Well you may not like him the kid has game and plays the modern game of golf. Phil can still play it at times. Tiger can no longer play with the modern players. Golf has passed him by. The future belongs to young plays like DeChambeau

    • Mike Dowd

      Apr 22, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      Well I think there can be a fine line between projecting confidence and arrogance and it is most often in the eye of the beholder. Confidence is paramount in golf and things a player says, especially to the press following a round, are often as much to protect their own sense of belief and self-confidence as anything and can come off to the casual observer at times as arrogant. Additionally, we are so used to so many players that are so milk toast and bereft of personality that when someone comes along who has a little it invariably rubs some people the wrong way. Ultimately, we are in an entertainment business and, love him or hate him, this kid is an entertainer. And finally, actions speak louder than words, and for now at least, I can only go on the actions I’ve seen firsthand, rather than a few comments I may hear second-hand to the contrary. At least until, as Ty says, the kid’s got a bigger body of work to draw from. Thanks for your views!

    • Al Czervik

      Apr 22, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Thank you… This is the exact impression I got from watching him during the post round press conferences. Give him a few years and I have a feeling he’ll dethrone Mickelson as “King”.

  21. McLovin

    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:08 am

    i like that he copied Vicki Hurst’s choice in golf caps

  22. Bryan

    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Not saying he is the next Tiger Woods of golf…but he might be…His use of SL irons might spark an industry change in iron design and we may actually start seeing major OEM manufactures putting out SL irons. Of course a lot of this rides on how well he does as a pro.

    However; to compare him to three of the greatest golfers of all time, one being Tiger, I don’t think it is far fetched to say, he could be the next Tiger Woods of golf…

  23. Tom W.

    Apr 22, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I like DeChambeau’s flair he’s the “Prince” of pro golf.

    • Bryan

      Apr 22, 2016 at 11:05 am

      As of right now I’ve never had interest in following pro golf, not even Tiger when he came out. However; this kids use of SL irons has sparked my interest to follow pro golf, much like millions of people did when Tiger came on scene. His style of hat may become the next fad lol…

      • Double Mocha Man

        Apr 22, 2016 at 2:48 pm

        I’m off to buy a Kangol cap right now…

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