The U.S. Open prides itself on being the toughest test in golf. It’s the tournament more likely to “lose the course” than see a handful of the world’s best players finish under par. It’s less a test of golfers’ games than their mental agility; who can avoid breaking the longest? And when they do inevitably break, who can turn things around the fastest?
Winged Foot more than delivered on that annual promise this weekend. Just look at the stats: No player hit more than 65 percent of fairways across four rounds, and only four hit more than 55 percent. Patrick Reed led all players in putting during the tournament, but even he flubbed his way to an average of 1.7 putts per hole during his disastrous third round. And after Sunday, only one player in the entire field finished the tournament under par. The famed New York course essentially acted as golf’s version of a Rubik’s Cube, forcing players to strategize how and recognize when to make the right move. At other times, with its foot-long rough and treacherous approaches, it punished guys for doing anything more than making a lateral play to avoid disaster.
Amid all that chaos and confusion, it only makes sense that golf’s most notorious tinkerer, someone who is always thinking 10 steps ahead (for better or worse), would emerge as the winner this week.
Bryson DeChambeau never broke Sunday and earned his first career major, blasting past the rest of the U.S. Open field to finish 6-under par, six strokes ahead of 54-hole leader and second-place finisher, Matthew Wolff. DeChambeau won using the same frustratingly slow, methodical fashion that he’s played at all of his tournaments since becoming a professional in 2016. But this weekend also proved Bryson’s process to be major worthy and forced many of his biggest critics (including announcer Paul Azinger, who called this win “validation on steroids,” and others who doubted his strategy to hit driver on so many of Winged Foot’s holes) to reverse course.
That type of validation is huge for Bryson’s standing in the sport, and at just 27 years old, he’s finally settling into a groove after remaking his game and his body. But don’t expect Bryson to stop tinkering. It’s what he’s been doing his entire life.
DeChambeau has always held a deeply competitive spirit, going back to his team-sport days as a child. But where other kids grow competitive because they want to beat their friends or show off, Bryson’s version was much more self-motivated. He was methodical—seemingly more interested in conquering the game itself than the people around it. That incidentally played out on Sunday as Bryson’s biggest current foe, Brooks Koepka, was notably absent from the field to deal with hip and knee injuries.
“The best way my wife and I explain it,” Bryson’s father Jon DeChambeau told Bleacher Report last year, “is that when we told him to go clean his bedroom, Bryson would grab a mop, a broom brush, a vacuum cleaner, the Pledge for the doors, the 409 [cleaning solution], and three hours later he could come out and go, ‘OK, that’s done,’ and it would be crazy spotless.”
He eventually switched his focus to golf, where that obsessive attitude was a more natural fit. On the course, Bryson could peel back the layers of each hole, analyze the wind speed, green contours, and everything down to which blade of grass might affect his shot. If that sounds like overkill, well, it is. And it’s certainly earned him his fair share of high-profile critics during his short time as a pro (including one major champion who was notably missing from this U.S. Open). But even though Bryson’s antics may be annoying, this win showed his work and gave method to the madness.
DeChambeau has been compiling knowledge for years, evolving from L’Artiste to a faux-physics guru to a bomber who’s been (jokingly, we think) accused of steroid use. Instead of completely overhauling his identity at every turn, though, he deliberately adds to his repertoire, keeping what works and tossing what doesn’t. With each change, Bryson holds on to a part of his past selves, and that showed at Winged Foot.
“Everybody calls Bryson the ‘mad scientist,’” said Mike Schy, a golf instructor who’s been working with DeChambeau since he was 15. “[But] as soon as they see my tent, they tell me I’m the mad scientist. Bryson was the only one who got off the table. He’s the Frankenstein.”
Bryson is currently thought of as a bomber, a player who gets most of his edge from his absurd distance and accuracy off the tee. But this weekend, he hit just 23 fairways across all four days, the lowest number hit by a U.S. Open champion since 1981. Instead, he won because he tapped into his L’Artiste iron skill set, hitting 64 percent of the greens in regulation (which tied for fifth in the tournament), and gaining 6.98 strokes on approach (third) and 5.42 around the green (second). He prioritized having a short iron in his hand over a good lie while attacking Winged Foot’s greens—and he succeeded more times than not.
Bryson this year:— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) September 20, 2020
-Gained a million pounds
-Became the longest in the game
-Fought some ants
-Made a 10
-Called out Koepka’s abs
-Cooked bacon shirtless
-Said he wants to live to 130
-Yelled at a cameraman
-Had his caddie block a
-Berated a rules official
-Won the U.S. Open
His mental calculus, which grates and is less valuable at simpler courses, proved necessary at Winged Foot, where any number of factors could impact each shot, with each day providing its own unique challenges. This wasn’t a gimmicky victory, but one that points to the fact that Bryson seems to have finally put it all together—the science, the artistry, the mental, and the mettle. And he showed himself that he can do it all on one of the game’s biggest stages.
“On 9 is when I first thought, ‘OK, this could be reality,’” DeChambeau said on Sunday. “I thought to myself I could do it, and then immediately after I said, ‘Nope, you’ve got to focus on each and every hole. And I just kept … telling myself, ‘Nope, we got three more holes, we got four more holes, we got five more holes,’ whatever it was, I just had to keep focused, make sure that I was executing.”
Whether we’ll continue to get these types of performances from Bryson remains to be seen, but it does seem more likely than the alternative. After all, considering this win and Dustin Johnson’s recent dominance, the big hitters only seem to be getting started. But regardless of future outcomes, Bryson’s evolution is somewhat revolutionary—and his win at Winged Foot proved exactly that.