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PGA Tour’s most influential golfer reloads for Riviera

Bryson DeChambeau 2021 Saudi International
Bryson DeChambeau returns to the PGA Tour this week at Riviera, making the Genesis Invitational golf's version of a must-see event.

Bryson DeChambeau, making his 1st full-field start on PGA Tour in 3 months, brings can’t-miss attention to Genesis Invitational

Life just hasn’t been the same without having Bryson DeChambeau around to aim his blowtorch at the old school. Three long months have passed since the Brawny Brainiac last appeared in a full-field PGA Tour event. He did show up for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where all 41 contestants got paid, and the Saudi International earlier this month, where he probably got a million bucks just to stick a peg in the ground. So, this week’s Genesis Invitational near Los Angeles qualifies as DeChambeau’s first start in a real tournament since the 2020 Masters.

Without question, Dustin Johnson is the world’s best player right now. Tiger Woods will remain the most popular one, at least for the next decade or three, but DeChambeau has somewhat swiftly emerged as the most important golfer in the game. One needn’t look any further than at the USGA/R&A’s recent proposal to reduce the maximum length of a driver shaft to recognize the profound impact he’s imparting on the competitive element.

Woods’ extraordinary dominance of Augusta National Golf Club at the turn of the century ultimately led the late Masters chairman Hootie Johnson to “Tiger-proof” the course; those changes were unveiled in 2003. Twenty years later, DeChambeau essentially is doing the same thing, only to a greater extent. If he’s not the only reason the governing bodies are moving quickly to impose a 46-inch limit on drivers (instead of 48), it’s primarily because those powers don’t want to attribute the decision to a single source.

It would make them look overreactive, perhaps even untenable. By adding 20 yards off the tee last year, DeChambeau used his physical strength to transform himself into a bureaucratic power. In this day and age, it’s hard to get more important than that.

Beyond merely changing the rules, however, the brash and bratty Bryson has as much to do with his significance as does the burly Bryson. He is a tour pro of rare and extreme character. Childish at times, brilliant at others, so unconventional in method that his budding greatness seems certain (eventually) to alter how his fellow competitors go about shooting lower scores.

Every time DeChambeau opens his mouth, news seems to fall out, not all of it good. Even before winning the U.S. Open by six shots in September, he was 2020’s boldest and most persistent presence, a headline machine not seen in pro golf since Woods’ compulsive winning yielded to pathological sinning more than 11 years ago. Granted, DeChambeau can’t come close to Woods in terms of mainstream reach, but within golf’s cultural and competitive boundaries, he commands massive attention and elicits intense reaction.

Other than Brooks Koepka, a slight exception, none of the game’s biggest stars rocks the boat or makes it float steadier than DeChambombastic. Like it or not, he is the most important golfer on earth for now, the Straw That Stirs the Drink, even if that beverage bears a strong resemblance to a Molotov cocktail.

Three months. That’s a long time to go without a little noise in the room.

You would think that DeChambeau might be a bit perturbed by the proposed driver-length cutdown, seeing how he was the one who had taken the initiative on using a 48-incher sometime soon. Not so. Or so he claims. “I think it’s going to be difficult for [other players] to gain [clubhead] speed easily,” he said two weeks ago. “They are going to have to work really hard, just like I have. For me right now, I feel like it’s a pretty good advantage.”

It was one of those statements with a lot going on inside it. A proclamation of confidence and bravado, with a dash of put-down directed at everyone else. A declaration you never would hear from Johnson or Rory McIlroy, a message delivered by a guy whose sense of superiority has become one of his strongest assets. DeChambeau does not always play nice, but he does play very hard – sort of like a dude who used to wear a red shirt every Sunday.

When you look at Major League Baseball, which has struggled to hold its audience without the benefit of an ultra-identifiable public figure – or men’s tennis, which never has quite recovered from John McEnroe’s retirement – it’s easier to understand how relevant DeChambeau has become to golf’s future health. He is the type of player who generates widespread interest, capable of selling tickets (when tickets once again are sold) or more importantly, luring people to the television on weekend afternoons.

Many will want to see him succeed. Many will want to see him fail. Everyone will want to see him, however, so long as DeChambeau continues to win big tournaments, drive it ridiculous distances and drive a lot of golf fans crazy with his unique theories and polarizing brand of self-preoccupation. In an era of shortened attention spans and a lack of accountability, when some folks should continue wearing facial masks after the death of COVID-19 simply to hide their identity, there is a breath of fresh air to be had whenever the Brawny Brainiac is on the grounds.

Welcome back, big fella.

I think.

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