Paul Payne: DeChambeau’s breath of fresh air for Pro Golf

Bryson DeChambeau is greeted by supporters after arriving in Nashville for this week's LIV Golf event

Bryson DeChambeau is greeted by supporters after arriving in Nashville for this week’s LIV Golf event

photo courtesy of LIV Golf

COLLEGE GROVE, Tenn. – The past few days have been a blur for Bryson DeChambeau since he won the U.S. Open championship in stirring fashion last Sunday, his sleep-deprived schedule packed with guest appearances ranging from The Today Show to Jimmy Fallon.

DeChambeau is on a high of success and public admiration after his brave bunker shot on the final hole of Pinehurst No. 2 sealed his second US Open title. He recognizes the opportunity – and responsibility – his new platform brings to hopefully bring about reconciliation in a sport that is bitterly divided at the professional level.

During a press conference on Wednesday at The Grove, the site of this week’s LIV Golf tour stop outside Nashville, DeChambeau was candid about his own personal transformation since he was reportedly paid $125 million to join the upstart competition.

“When I was younger, I felt like I was being called to do something in the game,” DeChambeau said. “I’ve done things I shouldn’t have done and said things I shouldn’t have said. I have learned from those mistakes, learned patience, resilience and determination and continue to grow in that capacity. I can finally show my true self and show others what this great game means to me. It has given me so much. It’s time for me to give something back.”

DeChambeau’s jubilant celebration on Sunday was organic: parading through the gallery with the Wanamaker Trophy and signing autographs well into the evening. He became the people’s champion, distancing himself from the self-inflicted vitriol for leaving the PGA Tour and the cocky past reputation that left others eager to see him humiliated.

DeChambeau was light-hearted and engaging on Wednesday. He owned the interview space while offering transparency about his shortcomings and the path he has taken to reconstruct his public persona.

“It was an emotional few days. I haven’t really cried yet, and I don’t want this to be the moment where I cry,” DeChambeau said. “It all makes me humble. I never thought things would be where they are now a year and a half ago. The support is overwhelming.”

DeChambeau had the champion’s hardware with him at the press conference and estimated that “a few thousand” had already touched the iconic trophy.

“That’s what I love the most,” DeChambeau said. “That’s why it was so important that everyone touched the trophy. I wanted everyone to experience it because it wasn’t just for me. It was the turnaround where everyone looked at me and said, ‘Wow, that person is different than I thought.’ It was for them, for those people who saw who I am now. That’s why I wanted people to feel that commitment, that appreciation from me when I said ‘thank you’.”

But despite his newfound popularity and top 10 finishes in all three majors this year, the stark reality of the current rift between LIV and the PGA Tour was on display again this week when DeChambeau was not among the choices for the U.S. Olympic golf team after he had missed the 2020 event due to a Covid diagnosis.

“I have always enjoyed representing Team USA, whether it be the World Team Amateur, Walker Cup, Ryder Cup or President’s Cup,” DeChambeau said. “They have been some of the best moments of my life. Anytime you get a chance to represent your country, I’m all for it.

“It’s disappointing, but I understand the decision I made and the way things turned out. I realize and respect the current state of the game, even if it is frustrating and disappointing. Hopefully 2028 will be a slightly different situation, and it will make it that much more fun.”

DeChambeau’s omission is evidence that Sunday’s Hallmark moment celebration at Pinehurst is not a reflection of the ongoing civil war on the golf course. Negotiations between the PGA Tour and LIV’s benefactor, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, have become strangely quiet after earlier promises that a deal was imminent.

But DeChambeau chose to offer a glimmer of hope during his post-tournament media session on Sunday, when asked if a path to unification could be presented last weekend.

“To be completely honest, I hope we can find out soon,” DeChambeau said. “I hope this can bridge the gap between a divided game. You can say what happened in the past, you know, ‘you were part of the reason’. Let bygones be bygones and figure it out. Let’s bring this great game, which creates so much positivity, back where it belongs.”

It was a bold stand for DeChambeau, considering his role among the PGA Tour’s early defectors. But with his popularity at an all-time high, perhaps his words will resonate among those in power.

DeChambeau’s transformation from a prickly, overly confident opponent has shifted to a humble advocate for finding common ground between the rival leagues. There is something refreshingly genuine about his passion, which was evident from the adoring crowd at Pinehurst.

Let’s hope that professional golf can find a path to reconciliation, where celebrations like we saw at the US Open will once again be the norm.

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Paul Payne can be emailed at [email protected]

Paul Payne

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