Bryson DeChambeau goes from petulant pro to man of the people during his US Open triumph

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — It was late on Saturday night at the U.S. Open when Bryson DeChambeau, having hit a few last balls on the practice range in preparation for one of the biggest rounds of his life, could have headed home and gotten some much-needed rest.

Instead, he marshaled a bunch of kids who had stuck around past sunset to one end of the range, and made sure everyone who wanted a picture or autograph — in some cases, a second picture when the first didn’t turn out — got exactly that.

The once-petulant young player with a sizeable ego and bigger swing had become a man of the people.

It carried over to the final round on Sunday, too, when thousands of fans lining the fairways under the Carolina pines seemed to be carrying him around Pinehurst No. 2. And when Rory McIlroy, himself one of the biggest fan favorites in the game, missed two short par putts to squander his chance at a long-awaited fifth major, DeChambeau gave the crowd encircling the 18th green one more reason to roar with a save every bit as memorable as Payne Stewart’s on the same hole 25 years ago.

From the fairway bunker, with a sand wedge in his hands and 55 yards to the hole, DeChambeau took a big swipe and knocked it close. And unlike McIlroy, he made the short putt, before letting out a roar of his own at his second U.S. Open victory.

“I haven’t really let it sunk in yet,” he said in the immediate aftermath, standing on the 18th green and addressing the fans, after posting 6-under 274 to edge McIlroy by a single stroke in a duel for the ages.

“Tonight,” he said, “I want all of you guys somehow, I want you guys to touch this trophy, because I want you to experience what this feels like for me. You were a part of this journey this week, and I want you to be a part of it for the after-party.”

It turned out to be some party.

DeChambeau paraded the silver trophy through the masses, allowing them to put their own fingerprints on it. Just as many reached out to touch him, rubbing his head and slapping his back in a genuine show of hard-won affection.

It wasn’t so long ago that DeChambeau was loathed by many in the golf world.

Four years ago, after he had bulked up to add distance to his game, DeChambeau showed up for the Masters and brazenly proclaimed that his power had rendered the par-72 Augusta National a par 67, because he could reach the four par-5s in two and the short, par-4 third hole was reachable off the tee. (It took until this year for him to break his “par,” by the way.)

There was also the feud with Brooks Koepka, which smacked of chauvinism run amok. And three years ago at the British Open, DeChambeau ripped his own equipment manufacturer after a particularly poor day off the tee.

Two years ago, DeChambeau helped to dig the current rift in golf when he was among the first to sign with the Saudi-backed breakaway LIV Golf league. Many fans still have a hard time reconciling the fact that the game’s best play against each other only at the majors, and they point to DeChambeau and others joining LIV as the biggest reason why.

All of which makes his transformation all the more incredible.

“I mean, my mission is to continue to expand the game, grow the game,” DeChambeau said. “YouTube has really helped me accomplish some of that. Consequently, I think people have seen who I am on YouTube, which has been fantastic, ’cause then I get to play off of it. It just feeds itself out here. They just say things that make me interact and engage.”

Even in the pressure cooker of the U.S. Open. At one point during the week, DeChambeau stopped to sign the flag of a kid who was wearing the type of hat he once wore himself. At another point during the final round on Sunday, DeChambeau pulled out a marker and signed the hat for a fan in a wheelchair as he walked from the green to the next tee.

More than once, he walked down the rope line giving high-fives to anybody who wanted one.

“It’s direct conversations to people that truly engage with what I’m doing. It’s such an awesome, awesome platform for me to show who I truly am,” DeChambeau said late Sunday. “Those fans out there really helped push me out there today.”

It’s not just fans who have had an about-face, either. He has started to win over some once-skeptical peers.

Matthieu Pavon certainly had nothing but good things to say. He played with DeChambeau on Sunday. The two had never met before the Masters, which Pavon had qualified for after winning at Torrey Pines, but DeChambeau made a point of finding him at Augusta National and congratulating him on the biggest win of his career.

“This is the type of thing you never forget,” Pavon said, “because for me, in the golf industry, I’m nobody, and when you have a major champion and a guy like him, very well-known from everybody worldwide, when he just comes to you and has some very simple words like this, it’s really meaningful.”

DeChambeau left plenty of meaningful moments during his winning U.S. Open trip around Pinehurst No. 2.


AP golf:

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