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Some People Will Never Understand Bryson DeChambeau

DeChambeau enters the Masters injured, rusty, and fresh off an Augusta National filming session with Dude Perfect. Yet the 28-year-old just seems happy to be here, even if his path—this season and across his career—has been anything but typical.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

If you’re ever at Augusta National and want to make a golf fan gasp, there are at least two proven ways to do so. You could hit a beautiful and unlikely approach shot onto the fabled azalea-and-pimiento-scented course’s 13th green during the annual Masters tournament, a time-tested and golfer-approved method. Or! You could hit up that same hallowed Amen Corner a few weeks before the early April competition, with some rowdy/wholesome guys from a YouTube channel called Dude Perfect, to record a goofy video (featuring Jim Nantz!) in which everyone’s bags are filled not with irons or woods, but with hockey sticks, whistling Nerf Vortex Howler footballs, frisbees, pool cues, and the like. An “All Sports Golf Battle” is what Dude Perfect calls it, and that’s the option that eccentric 28-year-old golfer Bryson DeChambeau recently went with.

In a golf world long accustomed to a certain decorum, it was a dramatic choice. Is … is that a volleyball floating in the Rae’s Creek tributary off 13? Was that a tennis serve off the 11th tee?! ARE THEY DEPLOYING CROQUET MALLETS ON THAT GREEN?! In a pre-Masters press conference on Monday, golfer Collin Morikawa was asked about the video and joked that he “can’t even wear shorts yet!” at the famously fusty golf club. In his own Monday presser, DeChambeau said “everybody” was surprised that Augusta said OK to all this—even the Dude Perfect dudes themselves. “I cannot believe we’re walking across Hogan Bridge right now,” one of them says during the 11-minute video, which was released over the weekend and has upward of 6 million views. “What an iconic hole, not to mention the hole where Tiger seized his lead in the 2019 Masters! This is just special.” (Soon afterward, DeChambeau is shown throwing a Foxtail Sport Ball™ out of a sand trap toward the 12th green—though he is, at least, wearing long pants.)

In his Monday Q&A with reporters, DeChambeau was asked about his current injuries (he has a torn labrum and a messed-up hamate bone in his left hand that have mostly kept him from playing this spring) and what they’ve done to his swing (not good things) and whether he’s talked to Phil Mickelson lately (nope; “he went dark,” DeChambeau said, ever since Mickelson’s controversial remarks about forming a new splinter golf league with the help of Saudi Arabian money went public in February). He was also asked, more than once, about the Augusta-sanctioned shenanigans with Dude Perfect.

“I’m glad that we were able to show the game of golf in a little bit of a different light,” DeChambeau said. “Some people don’t think it’s, um, you know, what should be done. I think it’s a great thing.” That sentiment may have been about a silly video project. But it also sounded a lot like how DeChambeau has described his own strange quest for perfection over the years.

In 2015, when DeChambeau was still a student at SMU, he gave Golf Digest some fun facts about himself: that he “once rewrote an entire physics textbook in high school,” that he would become the no. 1 golfer in the world someday, that he had taught himself to sign his name backward and left-handed just because he liked the challenge. “Some people might think of me as this mad scientist type, given my love of physics,” he said. “But you’d be surprised to know I’m an artist, too. I’m into stippling drawings, a style of art in which you use thousands of tiny ink dots to create images. I recreated the iconic Hy Peskin photo of Ben Hogan at Merion using this technique.”

Overlooking DeChambeau’s creative side isn’t the only thing “some people” have gotten wrong about him over the years, according to DeChambeau. In fact, his entire career arc can be traced via his preemptive defenses to disagreements, both perceived and overt.

“I have my irons cut to the same length,” he said in that Golf Digest piece in 2015. “I do it for accuracy so I can consistently swing on the same plane. I’m sure some people would question that, but it worked in 2015, right?” (That year, DeChambeau won both the NCAA and the U.S. Amateur titles.) This fixation on physical and bodily minutia—ball speed targets; compression ratings; player parental status—would soon become something of a trademark, though he sometimes spoke as if he felt no one noticed. In 2018, a couple of years into his pro career, DeChambeau told reporters that “people don’t realize how hard I work to try and get a better understanding of my biomechanics. I’ve never really been super talented. People would disagree with that, but I’ve always had to work twice as hard as everybody growing up.”

Earlier that same year, in an interview with Avid Golfer, DeChambeau complained about the reaction he’d received after playing a round with then-President Donald Trump. “I had some people try to give me some flak for playing with him, but I don’t care who it is, Obama or Clinton or whoever, it’s an honor to play with the president of the United States and you have to do it,” he said. In 2019, When the hyper-deliberate DeChambeau found himself the target of widespread criticism and derision for how long it sometimes took him to just go and hit the ball, he lectured that everyone was looking at it all wrong. “This is not always how some people view it,” he said during the Northern Trust tournament, “but the time to hurry is between shots.”

In June 2020, speaking with The New York Times, DeChambeau further sought to distance himself from the masses. “Most people are afraid of failure,” he said. “I love failure because it tells me where to go next.” Over the next few months he tied for fourth at the PGA Championship and then won the U.S. Open, his first (and, to date, only) major. “I hope I can inspire some people,” he said after the tournament. “I hope that inspires people to say, ‘Hey, look, maybe there is a different way to do it.’”

Last April in Augusta, DeChambeau’s “different way” of doing things certainly caught the eye of golfer Vijay Singh. In ambient footage from a practice range session that made the rounds on social media, Singh gawked as Bryson worked through one of his repetitive “speed training” drills. With his hulking shoulders and his heated, hectic motions, DeChambeau more closely resembled a pitcher amping himself up in the bullpen, or a powerlifter in front of a mirror, than a golfer on an off-day. At one point, all Singh could do was laugh. Narrating the footage on the Golf Channel, one commentator cracked that DeChambeau “hit more balls in the last minute than Fred Couples did in an hour out there!”

The video was a perfect encapsulation of both what makes DeChambeau so successful and what makes him easy and tempting to rib. Golfers are, in general, an idiosyncratic group of sun-and-tiny-pencil-warped humans. But before DeChambeau had even joined the tour, he was already intent on distinguishing himself, even in relation to his peers. He was 13 when he saw an old-timey driving cap in a golf pro shop and had to have it; it reminded him of Hogan and Payne Stewart. (“My dad was like, don’t do it, don’t do it …” DeChambeau told the podcast Full Send last October. He wore that style of hat for the next 15 years until recently, when he quietly changed over to a baseball cap.) For his whole career, he has been quite willing to talk people’s ears off about his sometimes unorthodox, always extremely technical opinions on how to hit a golf ball as far as he—as anyone!—humanly can.

Take speed training, one of DeChambeau’s biggest enthusiasms. He is so enamored of the school of thought that he even bought a stake of, and has dabbled in, the Professional Long Drivers Association circuit. (“You know, a lot of people initially thought that I was going to try and make it a freakshow,” he told Rick Shiels on his podcast about the long drive league. “No, I wanted to grow it because it has the opportunity to grow the game of golf.”) Trying to push the limits of how fast one man can swing a club and propel a ball, DeChambeau’s training sometimes leaves him on the verge of passing out, a commitment to the bit that is half compelling and half concerning.

When he’s not injured, DeChambeau has done things off the tee that defy imagination. In 2020 and 2021, he led the Tour in driving distance, averaging 322.1 and 323.7 yards per drive. Some of his particularly memorable efforts included driving back-to-back greens on a 382-yard par 4 at TPC Summerlin in 2020, dogleg left be damned; a 423-yard bomb at the 2020 Memorial; and a rather saucy, and successful, attempt over a lake at the 2021 Arnold Palmer.

Often, though, his talent can be overshadowed by—or at least seen as merely a sidekick to—some of his more meme-worthy antics. He has celebrated victory by drinking, out of a champagne flute, what is either chocolate milk or a protein shake. He has tussled with a cameraman and had such palpably tense interactions with Brooks Koepka that it makes televisions seem like they’ve developed extra static. He is almost impossibly earnest, which makes him a very powerful kind of troll. (He often tells a story about some advice given to him by his buddy Chris Pratt.) He has referred to having a “brass chest” that is impervious to criticism, and he has said, of buying a new ping-pong paddle to bring with him to Paris: “I needed a new rubber.” He once thought it would go over well to roast the condition of Koepka’s abdominal muscles.

Last May, after footage of Koepka rolling his eyes at DeChambeau (for unrelated—but also not unrelated in the grand scheme of things—reasons) went viral, another meme spread IRL: Fans at tournaments began heckling DeChambeau by shouting “Brooksy!” after his shots.

“To most people,” DeChambeau insisted after things got particularly obnoxious during the 2021 Memorial, “they think it’s a distraction. But I grew up learning how to deal with that stuff.” Last fall, at the Ryder Cup, DeChambeau tried again to make it sound like he’d found peace, saying even “if I make a hole-in-one on every single hole out here, there’s always going to be people saying something.” But really, the reason so many people say things about DeChambeau is that the guy is always giving them so much to say.

And he still is. Recently, DeChambeau started going into more detail about the injuries that have kept him mostly idle this winter and spring. DeChambeau’s hand injury, a fractured left hamate bone, is one that often crops up in baseball players, and that ailment—combined with a torn labrum in his hip—led to speculation that perhaps DeChambeau’s high-octane training strategy and bulky size could be to blame. “People are going to say it’s off of speed training and all that,” DeChambeau said in late March, “and, sure, some of the things have been a part of that, just abuse and working really, really hard.”

But he has explained that there is more to the story: that it was a game of ping-pong in Saudi Arabia with Sergio Garcia and Joaquin Niemann in February that really set him back. (That rubber wasn’t prophylactic, so to speak.) He reiterated this on Monday, painting an almost-suspiciously-specific picture of what caused him to withdraw in the middle of a tournament and play only a few times since. They were playing on a marble floor that had been recently cleaned. He was lunging for a ball. And then, he said at Monday’s press conference in Augusta, “I Charlie Brown’d myself and went horizontal.”

A lifetime of careful planning—right down to the synapses in a muscle and the dimples on a golf ball—all swept into chaos by a silly, sloppy gesture involving a sporting good most commonly found in a rec room? It sounded like something that might happen in a Dude Perfect video, to be honest. And it has left DeChambeau still operating at only around 80 percent of his capabilities, he estimates, on the eve of the tournament he most wants to win.

DeChambeau’s return to competition a few weeks back didn’t exactly go smoothly—his first tee shot rolled into a tent—and after missing the cut last week at the Valero Texas Open, there’s a good possibility that he’ll wind up having a very short stint this year in Georgia. But as he told reporters, between “coming off of injury, not being really fully ready, or not having won recently or whatnot, it’s kind of been nice going into this year’s Masters, just peacefully going about my business.”

There’s nothing peaceful about that swing, though, especially when it’s being unleashed via a broken hand. Typically, these sort of injuries take a good four months to heal, DeChambeau said; for him, it has been only two. His medical team told him he’s taking a “huge risk” to be at the Masters. “The doctors recommended that I don’t come back for awhile,” DeChambeau said. But the way he saw it, “I’m like, man, this only comes around once a year, and I gotta give this a go.” So here he is, back again—this time with actual golf clubs in his bag—ready to do all the things that some people will never understand.