PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The Players Championship is inundated with rookies this week, with 20 first-timers preparing to experience architect Pete Dye’s egalitarian masterpiece.
American Bryson DeChambeau and France’s Alexander Levy are among the 144 who will get a chance not only to make history beginning today at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course, but also take a big step toward earning a spot in the Ryder Cup.
As DeChambeau sat in front of the media Wednesday with half of the Players rookies, he was relaxed and calm discussing his successes during the past 10 months, dating to his first Tour victory, at the John Deere Classic in July.
During the revolving door of interviewers from around the world, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan stopped to first present DeChambeau with Tiffany cufflinks, a first-timer tradition, and then pulled him aside for a separate conversation.
At age 24, DeChambeau is one of golf’s shining stars. He further distinguishes himself as more of a Renaissance man who is knowledgeable about many topics. His understanding of the golf swing is evident with his use of single-length clubs, which he parlayed into NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles before he turned professional in 2016.
Since his breakthrough victory at the Deere, DeChambeau, of Clovis, Calif., has racked up five top-7 finishes in the 2017-18 season. He enters the Players Championship (tee times) after placing fourth last week at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., his third finish of fourth or better in his past three starts.
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If Alexander Levy were to make the European Ryder Cup team, he could provide a spark to host France.
“I really think after I finished second at the Arnold Palmer I started to feel like, OK, I could consistently do this,” DeChambeau said of a potential seminal moment in this career. “I finished seventh at the Shriners [Hospitals for Children Open in the fall], played pretty well in some other events. Phoenix, finished fifth. Even at that point in time, I still didn't know that, OK, I could consistently keep it going, but as the year's gone on, you've seen me consistently produce top‑5, top‑10 finishes, and finally now it's gotten to the point where, OK, I'm getting more and more comfortable, and I think that this is something I can do for a long, long time.”
Earlier this year, DeChambeau was not part of the Ryder Cup discussion. He wasn’t even on the weekly top 25 list sent out by the PGA of America.
That changed with his runner-up at Bay Hill, when DeChambeau jumped from 56th to 15th in the standings for the American team. He now stands 12th going into one of the biggest points events of the year.
The successes coming his way have allowed DeChambeau to shift his focus toward the biennial matches against Europe in September.
“Ryder Cup is totally on my radar,” he said. “That's the one thing I want to do this year. If anything, it’s got to be making the Ryder Cup.
“I think I'm a great match-play player. You clearly see it in my match-play record over the course of my amateur career. I think that shines. I know that I can get the job done when it comes time.”
France’s Alexander Levy enters the Players with a recent record that is just as convincing. Since January, Levy has posted four top-7 results on the European Tour, including a victory last month at the Trophee Hassan II, his fifth career triumph on his home tour.
Levy stands ninth on the European points list, but because the players also will be selected from a world points list, Levy sits a de facto seventh. Four from each list will qualify for the team.
“Since we know the Ryder Cup is in France, it's in the part of my mind,” Levy said, “but it's not for that I'm playing well. I just practice harder the last few months to try my best and to be part of this team, but it's not because the Ryder Cup is in France.”
Levy may have his nationality working for him, but England’s Ian Poulter sees a potential key player for Europe.
“Obviously for France it would be huge for a Frenchman to make that team,” Poulter said. “As a player, you want guys that are in form. You want guys that are fresh and ready to go, and if that happens this year, then it would definitely be a boost to the Ryder Cup team. It would be a boost to all the players, obviously, if a Frenchman makes that side.”
Interestingly, DeChambeau and Levy point to one person who influenced their desire to play professional golf.
“Tiger,” Levy said of his childhood influence. “He's the guy who give me why I'm here today. I'm watching a lot on TV when I was young and, yeah, for me it's an inspiration for us.”
While Levy was making that statement, DeChambeau was playing a practice round with Woods, the former world No. 1.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli