JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The new piñata has arrived, and its name is Bryson DeChambeau. He’s movie-star handsome, wins more tournaments than J.B. Holmes, and besides, slow play needs a fresh face to serve as its poster boy every now and then. You can’t keep blaming one guy for such a widespread problem. That’s a witch hunt, not a solution. And though DeChambeau obviously isn’t happy about depictions of him as a tortoise, his resistance merely upholds the notion that the world’s best golfers aren’t quite as skilled when landing on the wrong end of the blame game.
That’s what all this has become, really. And the way it has to be.
If the PGA Tour ever finds the tact and temerity to resolve its pace-of-play issues, the indictment of DeChambeau last week at Liberty National might prove to be the point at which traction led to action. This was a renowned player, a young star, getting outed by his fellow tour pros at a FedEx Cup playoff event, not some fly-off-the-handle reaction by a dude on a barstool.
With that in mind, it somehow seemed fitting that Patrick Reed, another big name known to ponder routine shots with the worst of ’em, picked up his first victory in 16 months, by one stroke over Abraham Ancer in the Northern Trust (scores). Since winning the 2018 Masters, Reed had done little more than search for answers to his floundering game and rub his U.S. Ryder Cup teammates the wrong way.
Captain America now has company. Most of the artillery fired by DeChambeau’s colleagues came from guys who either didn’t qualify or weren’t eligible for the 2019 postseason, which does little to harm its credibility. Mainly because it all transpired barely 48 hours after Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, a pair of four-time major champions armed with clout galore, basically threw down the gauntlet on the snail factor during their pre-tournament news conferences.
“I mean, I take 15 seconds and go, and I’ve done all right,” Koepka quipped. “I don’t understand why they’re taking a minute and a half.”
Try three minutes and change, big fella. That’s how long DeChambeau needed to play a 70-yard pitch during Friday’s second round. Add that to the 2½ minutes he spent working on a 10-foot putt at the par-5 eighth, and you’ve got a couple of videos worthy of a social-media brushfire. European Tour fixture Eddie Pepperell, known as much for his Twitter artistry as his playing career, actually referred to DeChambeau as a “single-minded twit,” a British uppercut if one ever existed.
Rich Beem was among those who soon would join the party; Beemer’s tweet featured a rant full of exclamation points and words in all-capital letters en route to suggesting that DeChambeau should have been disqualified for such behavior. And just like that, the longstanding code of pro golfers never saying anything bad about one another had turned into hell breaking loose in a hurry.
Not to worry.
Seriously, it’s about time.
Before we review DeChambeau’s 20-minute response Saturday afternoon, allow me to note that I made the 60-mile drive from southern Connecticut to Jersey City in about 2½ hours that morning. It was if DeChambeau himself had popped the hood and done some work on my engine, but I eventually made it to Liberty National and just happened to have wandered out to the par-4 15th as DeChambeau reached the latter stages of his third round.
He was paired with Dylan Frittelli, who clearly was struggling, which factors into the reason why the 15th hole was vacated altogether for about six minutes. A total of 21 minutes would elapse from the previous group’s departure of that green to the arrival of DeChambeau/Frittelli on the same putting surface. They weren’t just out of position. They were in the wrong ZIP code.
A man can only chat with the marshals and admire the Manhattan skyline for so long. Tom was the name of the guy patrolling the 15th fairway. “Oh, yeah,” he said when I asked if this was the longest gap of the day. “There was something similar to this earlier, but some of those guys were just speeding through.”
It’s a very small sample size, for sure, but apparently a rather telling one. DeChambeau completed his round, signed for a 71, then headed straight to what is called the flash area and began his counterattack with maybe a dozen reporters present. “I hate playing golf. Absolutely hate it. I love competition,” DeChambeau said early on. “It’s the most fun thing in the world for me, but when people start talking about slow play and how I’m killing the game, that is complete and utter you-know-what. That’s not fair.”
The Southern Methodist physics major would explain how there are instances when he’s “sprinting between every single shot because [other] players and caddies don’t walk at the necessary speed.” He would break down the pre-shot process in 20- and 30-second intervals, citing things such as delays caused by longer hitters playing with shorter ones. He also would claim that his only official bad time in 2019 came at the Memorial, which he still disputes.
“People say things behind [other] people’s backs all the time,” DeChambeau said of the latest criticism. “And if they want to talk about it to my face, I’ll gladly explain the whole situation.”
Without question, this is a very bright kid. A deep thinker, fairly articulate, but there is a combative streak to DeChambeau that blurs his perception of reality. He contests the slow-play allegations with greatly exaggerated rebuttals, such as the reference to his sprinting from shot to shot, then scoffs at any subsequent doubt by saying you don’t know because you weren’t there.
In the mind of the so-called Mad Scientist, his word becomes fact, and that’s not how life works. When a half-dozen or so other tour pros go to substantial lengths to call you out, battering your reputation in the process, that’s not some conspiracy orchestrated in a country-club locker room. That’s a revolt from a bunch of guys who want something done.
Bryson DeChambeau is guilty as charged. He can lean on his high level of intelligence and file for an appeal, or he can accept his guilt and transform himself into an essential contributor as pro golf tries to slay its greatest scourge. The kid may hate the game, but the game loves him right back. For all those bad times he says he doesn’t get, this would be an excellent time to recognize that.
John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org