ORLANDO, Fla. – Arnold Palmer could have given Bryson DeChambeau some mocking looks. You might have wondered about DeChambeau’s single-length irons and the wild diet and all the science talk. Surely, he would have made fun of Ben Hogan’s cap.
But the late namesake of the tournament DeChambeau won Sunday at Palmer’s beloved Bay Hill Club would undoubtedly have given his thumbs up to the way the reigning US Open champion is playing the game.
Palmer would have loved the bravado. He would have loved the muscles. He would have loved the cheek.
DeChambeau fought his way to victory Sunday, igniting the first sizable gallery of the pandemic era by launching kickoffs into orbit. Then he went and found them. And he made enough putts to contain 47-year-old Lee Westwood at the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his eighth PGA Tour win.
Palmer, the seven-time Major League Baseball champion who made Bay Hill his home since falling in love with the place in the 1960s, was known to go all out once or twice. He loved the power play and made fun of those who thought he should control it. He was the first to admit that some tournaments got away because his audacity got the better of him. But he never apologized.
Now, here is DeChambeau trying to drive a par 5 over the water (Arnie could have moved those tees back) and he continues to hypnotize the golf world about how he has transformed his game and his body over the last 18 months.
“It’s great to see it,” said Westwood, who will turn 48 next month and is 20 years older than DeChambeau. “I like it. You can see the shape of him. He’s worked hard in the gym and worked on his hitting technique a lot. It’s not easy to hit him as directly as he hits as far as he hits. So people are going to have advantages, and his is obviously long. He can dominate a golf course. It’s fun to watch. ”
Westwood, who has 24 European Tour victories and more than 40 professional victories, could only tease himself on the sixth hole, a 555-yard par-five designed to play around a huge lake.
DeChambeau has been talking for weeks about trying to drive the green, a shot that would require a carry of 330 yards or more. On Saturday, DeChambeau celebrated like he had won the tournament when he cleaned up the water. It doesn’t matter that you missed the green about 70 yards to the right. His ball traveled 370 yards.
On Sunday, the drive advanced 377 yards into a bunker. Both days, DeChambeau made a birdie.
When it was Westwood’s turn to strike, the television cameras weren’t set up to keep going; He pointed too far to the right, in the way the hole is intended to be played. Westwood had a mock celebration after his drive hit the street.
“I just had a little fun with it, you know,” Westwood said. “I think he was out there like 310, just 70 or 80 behind him, right?
DeChambeau’s 71 under par was one of two under par scores in the top 70 on a cold and stormy day. It helped him win a tournament that he had hoped to capture ever since he met Palmer here when DeChambeau was still an amateur.
It was during that meeting that Palmer gave DeChambeau some advice: Sign an autograph legibly so people can read it.
“That’s something that stuck with me, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.
Palmer, who drove the first green in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills and birdied his only victory in that major championship, would have been in awe of DeChambeau’s six-shot victory at Winged Foot in September.
However, after that breakthrough, DeChambeau has struggled. He entered the Masters in November as one of the favorites; it was never a factor and tied for 34th. That was not an outlier. He hasn’t really competed since the US Open win at Winged Foot. Last week at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession, he started with 77.
But the search continues. DeChambeau has experimented with more drive shafts, optimal turning speeds, and launch angles. Although the goal was to gain weight, he thought he was too plump; so he sought to reduce the volume of food and eat a little healthier.
Still, he plans to take the same approach at Augusta National next month: hit hard, hit away. Being closer to the green has its advantages. Getting the ball into the hole from there is the key to success.
In his early days playing at the Masters, Palmer was told that his low ball flight would not be successful. He remained stubborn and played his game. Won four green jackets. Palmer wasn’t going to back down just because someone said he should.
This week, DeChambeau had a conversation with Palmer’s grandson and Korn Ferry Tour pro, Sam Saunders. That discussion made DeChambeau believe that The King would have approved of his approach.
“Sometimes I get in trouble with how long I hit him and where I hit him,” DeChambeau said. “But I’d say Mr. Palmer would probably like it. Sam talked to me quite a bit about how he thought Mr. Palmer would love what he was doing.”