Bryson DeChambeau, drawing inspiration from Payne Stewart, in contention for second US Open title

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — For inspiration this week, Bryson DeChambeau only needs to glance over at his golf bag.

Snapped to the side is a Payne Stewart hat, a tribute to his childhood hero who won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in dramatic fashion a quarter century ago.

“It makes me think of him every time I’m walking on these grounds,” said DeChambeau, who chose to attend Southern Methodist after seeing a mural of Stewart on the walls of the university’s athletic department.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he went to SMU?’” DeChambeau said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, didn’t you know?’ I was like, ‘No, I didn’t know he went here.’”

DeChambeau has positioned himself to match Stewart’s feat after 36 holes.

On the same 18th hole where Stewart made a 15-foot par putt to beat Phil Mickelson in 1999, DeChambeau knocked an approach from the middle of the fairway to within inches of the cup and tapped in for birdie on Friday for a 69, leaving him at 4-under 136 and in contention to win the U.S. Open for the second time in five years.

“I’m excited for the game that I have right now,” DeChambeau said. “I feel pretty confident and ready to get after it this weekend. I feel good about where I’m at.”

As well he should.

DeChambeau has been as hot as the Pinehurst sun at majors this year, finishing in the top 10 on the leaderboard after nine of his last 10 rounds.

This week’s effort comes after finishing tied for sixth at the Masters and second at the PGA Championship last month, where he shot 20-under par, one shot behind Xander Schauffele.

DeChambeau’s driving has long been his calling card and it’s what he relied on to shoot 67 on Thursday.

But on Friday, the big man proved again he can roll the ball, too.

About the same time USGA officials were posting a weather advisory for fans with the heat index approaching 100 degrees, DeChambeau was heating up with the putter — the same one he’s used since 2018.

He made clutch birdie putts from about 20 feet on Nos. 12 and 13, the latter punctuated by a emotional first pump.

He didn’t need any such dramatics on the green on the par-4 18th, where he nearly holed out from the fairway — drawing a huge roar from the crowd. DeChambeau responded with a smile and a wave of the cap.

He was all smiles after the round, too.

“If I can get everything going together … driving, iron play, putting down, even chipping around the greens, (I’m) going to play really good golf, obviously,” DeChambeau said.

But he knows it won’t be easy.

The Pinehurst No. 2 course is continuing to dry out under the scorching sun and the greens are getting harder and firmer, meaning it could be quite an adventure to stop the ball on the green over the weekend.

DeChambeau went as far as to say the course could be “diabolical.”

When asked if he’d be happy playing the final 36 holes in even par, DeChambeau paused several seconds to ponder the question before replying, “if I had a crystal ball, I could say 4-under is going to have a really good shot” at winning.

“I’d like to get to 6- or 7-under,” he added. “I think that would be a position where I’d feel a little bit more comfortable.”

If American fans still have any resentment toward DeChambeau for leaving the PGA Tour to join the Saudi-backed LIV Tour a couple of years ago, it doesn’t show. A huge throng of fans at least 10 deep lined up along the ropes in the morning wave to gawk at DeChambeau’s length off the tee and cheer him on.

“Go win it, Bryson!” one fan shouted.

Maybe he will, just like his childhood hero did.


AP golf:

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