Remember Bryson DeChambeau? A lot of serious golf fans would prefer not to, a wish the Brawny Brainiac effectively granted by sacrificing his PGA Tour membership for the greener pastures of LIV Golf. The only real connection DeChambeau has to the public nowadays comes via the oafish quotes he provides to the fourth estate, an institution with which his relationship might be described as need and hate.
Those comments receive considerable attention not only because they come from deep left field, but from the source itself. Not all that long ago, DeChambeau was the most important golfer on Earth—a human lightning rod who thought differently, acted differently and played differently than any other tour pro. He opened eyes and turned heads with his blithe dismissal of conventional wisdom. He challenged swing gurus with his quirky technique and against-the-grain theories, as if everyone else was going about this game all wrong.
Oh, and he won. Eight times in 140 career starts during his five and a half seasons in the big leagues, including the 2020 US Open by six shots. DeChambeau won at Memorial and won at Bay Hill, two of the most prestigious non-majors on the schedule. He was a force at the 2021 Ryder Cup, where he went undefeated in three matches and lit up the crowds at Whistling Straits with his enormous drives and equally lengthy displays of fist-pumping frivolity.
A lot of iconoclasts die trying. He could be annoying, childish, unreasonable, arrogant and disrespectful, but above all those lovely traits, Bryson James Aldrich DeChambeau was good. Very good. A vastly independent thinker with the power—literally and figuratively—to change the game or at least alter the standard. A guy who drove you nuts but whom you had to watch. Not so much a player who was just getting started, but a polarizing and ultradynamic figure who was driving 90 miles per hour toward the gated community of Full Bloom.
Now he’s gone. On vacation, a competitive sabbatical or whatever you want to call the LIV junket. A substantial number of big names who jumped the Tour’s ship were past their prime, accepting the giant payoff as a de facto acknowledgment that their legacies were basically etched in cement. Not DeChambeau. Although he has failed to return to form since wrist surgery in April, that’s hardly a reason to think his best golf is behind him at age 29.
Five starts into his LIV pilgrimage, however, the Brainiac’s best finish is couple of 10ths. Despite the 48-man fields and an obvious shortage of players with his credentials, DeChambeau has yet to work himself into final-round contention, which leaves inquiring minds to wonder whether that $125 million signing bonus has more to do with his lackluster play than a faulty wrist or quarrelsome back.
It’s not quite that simple, although money like that certainly is capable of compromising a player’s competitive engine. Could DeChambeau be struggling to perform in relative obscurity after driving in golf’s brightest spotlight for so long? With LIV’s streams falling well short of 100,000 viewers per round and little or no interest shown by the public in the actual product, has the bodacious bomber found invisibility to be more painful than criticism?
It really doesn’t matter what he shoots anymore. A guy who once played for keeps is now wealthy beyond belief—all because of what he did before joining LIV Golf. When a man is paid so handsomely for past achievements, the future becomes a much trickier proposition, especially when it involves such a radically different platform. Upfront compensation. Eighteen fewer holes. No cut. It’s an environment that can’t help but hurt those who found success through an acute competitive edge.
It has been said that Bruce Springsteen wrote his best songs back when he was sleeping on somebody else’s couch. However true, the notion that fame changes people certainly works both ways. Beyond simply craving attention, DeChambeau seemed to discover fortified purpose in the negative reactions to his uncommon behavior. He rubbed so many people the wrong way, and, yes, he sure did show them, but now that motivational device is gone.
People aren’t looking because people don’t watch him play anymore. People aren’t responding because his new affiliation has turned him into a moot point.
None of that has gotten DeChambeau anywhere close to the mute button. “I have to look back and thank Tiger [Woods] for this opportunity because he’s the one who ultimately created this,” he recently said while expressing “no buyer’s remorse” for the leap to LIV Golf. It was a goofy thing to say, more innocuous than tasteless, much less an implication that Woods’s greatness is responsible for pro golf’s fractured state.
“I personally think that the team events are only hurting themselves by not allowing us to play, not allowing us to qualify through some capacity,” the Brainiac offered in advance of September’s Presidents Cup. How would that qualifying process work, big fella? You gonna arm-wrestle Kevin Kisner for that last spot on the US squad?
“What LIV Golf has provided is something new and unique, different,” said the man who gave the PGA Tour the exact same thing upon turning pro in 2016. “There’s going to be some disruption, and people aren’t going to like it . And I respect every single person that doesn’t think it’s good for the game of golf.”
Huh? Given how the back half of this one has a certain disingenuous ring, it’s not unusual for DeChambeau to change directions in mid-quote without notice. And for that change of direction to include something he thinks the public wants to hear. Which, actually, makes it disingenuous.
“They’re delaying the inevitable,” he said last week of the Official World Golf Ranking’s reluctance to accredit LIV Golf as a legitimate operation. “We’ve hit every mark in their criteria. To not get points is kind of crazy, as I believe we have the top players in the world.”
You’ve gotta love a man who says what he thinks, even if, factually, it obviously stinks. With all proper respect to the horses who live there, those greener pastures don’t always smell as good as they could.
Editor’s note: Sports Illustrated’s parent company, Authentic Brands Group, has a licensing and endorsement partnership with Greg Norman. Neither SI nor ABG are a party to this deal.
Reader feedback is encouraged here and we may publish your letter (include your name and hometown). Click here to receive all the latest SI Golf news and commentary free in your inbox every morning.