HAVEN, WISCONSIN | No matter how many red-draped grandstands are situated across the man-made dunes at Whistling Straits nor the fact that Lake Michigan defines the eastern edge of this Ryder Cup setting, there is a sense of the great wide open here.
Cornfields and dairy farms, already showing the yellow tones of fall, surround the property that serves as the center of the golf universe this week – the pull almost magnetic after three years without the most emotionally compelling event in the game.
It is an ideal setting for Bryson DeChambeau to turn into a Paul Bunyan-like version of Uncle Sam. This could be the moment when DeChambeau, whose summer turned into a long ride on a rutted road, changes directions.
He needs it, and so does U.S. captain Steve Stricker and the 11 other American players tasked with taking the Ryder Cup back from a European side that has practically owned it for the past 25 years or so.
The Ryder Cup is about men and moments.
Ian Poulter making five straight birdies on a Saturday night at Medinah, single-handedly changing the course of the matches nine years ago. Justin Leonard slam-dunking a putt that ignited a celebration and a controversy in 1999. The match-play perfection of Francesco Molinari three years ago in Paris.
“Look, I’m not trying to change anybody’s perception. All I’m trying to do is showcase what I can do for the game of golf.” – Bryson DeChambeau
Maybe this will be the moment when DeChambeau becomes more than the odd outlier he is.
This week, DeChambeau is one of 12 – a strange concept for someone so intent on going his own way, but he is not alone in adjusting to playing collectively instead of individually. It’s a different way to play golf but if DeChambeau has mastered anything, it’s the comfort of being different.
“Look, I’m not trying to change anybody’s perception. All I’m trying to do is showcase what I can do for the game of golf,” DeChambeau said Tuesday morning as a chilly wind whipped across the Straits.
“Whether people like it or not, that’s their interpretation of it. For me, again, I’m going to keep providing people with the best entertainment I possibly can. And some people may not like it, some people love it.”
The feuds that have ensnared DeChambeau this summer – the social media scrap with Brooks Koepka that turned DeChambeau into a dart board and his refusal to talk to the media after being criticized for his comments about the COVID-19 vaccine – have been laid to rest.
DeChambeau said he had dinner with Koepka in the team room Monday night and even hinted at “something fun” coming soon involving the two of them. That would be a pleasant change.
The game is hard enough without all of the extra elements DeChambeau has dealt with recently. Some he brought on himself, others he didn’t.
Had one more putt fallen at the BMW Championship he lost to Patrick Cantlay in a playoff three weeks ago, DeChambeau would have put himself in position to be the PGA Tour’s player of the year.
“There are times where it’s not comfortable, but there’s also times where it fuels me. I think this week is going to be an amazing example of it, and it’s going to be fun to be able to have the crowd behind us and pump them up and show them what I can hopefully do and what we can do as a team more importantly,” said DeChambeau, who went 0-3 in his only previous Ryder Cup.
“I’m not going to make this about me again. This is about a team event. I’ve got a brass chest. I’ve taken a lot of heat. But I’m okay with it, and I understand I’m in the place where I’m at, and it’s going to be that way moving forward.”
DeChambeau is the most fascinating figure in the game. Next week he will tee it up in a world long drive contest because he’s addicted to distance and his prep work for that sparked a brushfire last week when a story quoted him saying his hands were “wrecked” from all of his training.
“You name it, there’s a whole list of holes where (length is) going to be a huge advantage I hope if I’m hitting it in the fairway.” – Bryson Dechambeau
As it turns out, DeChambeau said, that work was done before the FedEx Cup playoffs, not last week, and he’s fine. Still, his power could be a distinct advantage at Whistling Straits where the fairways tend to be generous and the rough is more bothersome than penal.
Playing the 348-yard first hole Tuesday, DeChambeau drove it hole high to the right of the green then pitched it to tap-in range for a birdie. He doesn’t expect to hit drivers on all 14 par-4s and par-5s but he didn’t come to the Ryder Cup to lay up.
He talks about ball speed – he hopes to hit 204 mph this week – the way street racers talk about horsepower.
“You name it, there’s a whole list of holes where it’s going to be a huge advantage I hope if I’m hitting it in the fairway,” DeChambeau said.
As for who will pair with DeChambeau – and which formats he might play in – it seems the answer to the American game plan is hiding in plain sight.
DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler went out with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in a practice session and they were grouped in the four-player interview pod Tuesday morning.
Look at the other groups – Xander Schauffle, Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa in one; Harris English, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger in the other – and Stricker’s approach seems clear.
DeChambeau and Scheffler, who have grown up playing golf against each other, provide an easy solution to a potentially thorny problem. They seem a natural pairing for four-ball matches. Whether Stricker sends DeChambeau out in alternate-shot foursomes play remains an unanswered question.
“I think everybody has an opinion on him. I have an opinion on him, as well. I think he’s a fantastic guy,” Scheffler said. “I think sometimes people take little tidbits of what he says and try and beat him down a little bit, and I think that’s kind of what happens in sports is people get built up and then they get torn down once they reach the top.
“Fantastic guy, he’s got a heart, and I really have nothing but good things to say about him.”
Not everybody feels the same way about DeChambeau, at least not at the moment. Can this week change some hearts?
“I’m going to try to get as many points as I can, and I think yeah, that could potentially change it for sure,” DeChabeau said. “There’s always going to be people saying things no matter what it is.
“If I make a hole-in-one on every single hole out here, there’s always going to be people saying something. I’m not worried about it. … This isn’t about me. This is about the team going and winning the Ryder Cup.”
Find that man a star-spangled top hat.
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