News & Opinion

DeChambeau chases Ryder dreams at PGA

ST. LOUIS – There are no two ways around it: Bryson DeChambeau is one interesting dude. It has taken him some to time to get his feet planted on the PGA Tour, but at 24 – he turns 25 next month – he has not yet reached graybeard status. Working his way into success slowly, methodically, piece by piece, is a pattern he followed as a junior and an amateur.

As the 100th PGA Championship gets set to begin today at Bellerive Country Club (tee times), there is a great deal on the line for DeChambeau, now ranked No. 22 in the world. It’s the season’s fourth major, and he hasn't really done anything great in the first three. He wants to make a late-season push to keep climbing in the FedEx Cup rankings (he is sixth). And oh, there’s that Ryder Cup thing hanging in the balance. 

Eight players will qualify automatically for the team on Sunday; DeChambeau ranks ninth in the points table. This week’s PGA winner will receive double points (two points per every $1,000 earned), with every other player making the cut making 1.5 times his earnings in points. DeChambeau trails No. 8 Webb Simpson by 48.95 points, which this week is less than $33,000.

If he doesn’t make the top eight, DeChambeau will be among a handful of players who will be considered for one of Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks. DeChambeau never has competed in a Ryder Cup, but his play – a significant victory (Memorial) and four other top-5 finishes this season – has caught the attention of Furyk and his assistants.

DeChambeau has a style all his own. Having earned a degree in physics from SMU, he uses same-length irons and has earned a reputation as the Tour’s mad scientist in residency. He used to float his golf balls in Epsom salts to make sure that they would roll perfectly, and once prepared for a month to deliver a college speech on proton decay.

What would it do to the Earth's axis if he were to make a Ryder Cup team?

“He’d bring the IQ up significantly for most of us,” Furyk said with a laugh Wednesday. “We always say that you either have to be extremely bright or maybe not so bright to play this game. We know what side Bryson is on compared to the rest of us.”

Beyond the wall of science, though, lies a fierce competitor. When asked Wednesday whether he would be able to compete at the PGA without thinking of Ryder Cup ramifications, DeChambeau smiled and said he’d be lying if he said he could.

“I can definitely say that if I play well this week, it will take care of itself,” he said. 

DeChambeau doesn’t hide his confidence when he thinks about what he could bring to a U.S. team. There is no back-down in him. Beyond all the numbers Furyk will assess in rounding out the team, there will be intangibles, too. As in, Who has guts? Who can thrive in what will be a highly partisan and vocal arena in France? 

“I am a fierce competitor out there on the course,” said DeChambeau, who won all six of his matches to capture the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields and performed well on U.S. Walker Cup and Palmer Cup teams. “Every time that I get into match play, I’m going to try to beat them on every single shot. Not every hole. Every single shot. So, I think that’s what is unique about me, that I will grind out every single shot, no matter what, with a competitive spirit.”

DeChambeau’s first college coach, Josh Gregory, said in December that he thinks DeChambeau has the tools to win major championships. Tiger Woods, who knows a little something about being a fierce competitor, has built a relationship with DeChambeau and admires what he sees in him. 

“He’s fiery, very competitive, and that’s the type of person we want on the teams,” said Woods, who will serve as an assistant captain to Furyk and whose current form makes him a candidate to play on his first team since 2012. “Right now, I think he's sitting at ninth and needs to have a good week to get in automatically. But we want him on that team. He's playing great this year, and he's been very consistent. He’s still got a little bit of work to do to get on the team automatically, but again, we're definitely looking at him as a pick as well.”

DeChambeau shared a childhood memory: His father is cheering wildly from another room in their California home one Sunday years ago. What’s going on? a curious Bryson wants to know. And then his father shows him: Justin Leonard is sinking a 40-footer against Jose Maria Olazabal on the 17th green to clinch the Ryder Cup for the U.S. at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. 

It was 1999; Bryson had just turned 6. 

“It was cool,” he said. “I remember that.”

DeChambeau was one of 20 Ryder Cup players and hopefuls invited to dinner at Furyk’s house in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., during the week of the Players Championship in May. He was thrilled just to be a small part of the evening. Nobody was more excited to be there. 

“It’s a night I will never forget,” he said, “and I hope to have many more.”

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: Twitter: @jeffbabz62