From the ridiculous to the sublime, this was just another day in the life of Bryson DeChambeau. “You know me – a lot of fireworks,” said the big American, almost apologetically, as if the only way to get around St Andrews is nurdling it in a suit, tie and R&A blazer.
That, of course, is not really DeChambeau’s style. The 28-year-old has a history of going against the grain, whether that is joining the LIV tour or going into the research and development lab to work on his latest driver amendments.
Surgery to mend a dodgy wrist earlier this year has curtailed his power of late but DeChambeau reckons he’s back up “to 97 to 98% now. There’s every once in a while where my hand gets tired, fatigued still. I’m going to start speed training here again. I’m like around a 190mph ball speed. I can get it to 200mph, but it’s just not worth it out here.”
His length off the tee is well documented and much like watching Chris Gayle launch a six into the stands or Julian Dicks take a penalty, there is something to be admired in the raw athleticism of the man, particularly when viewed in the flesh. Some fans at St Andrews have even taken to booing DeChambeau when he doesn’t (sensibly) take driver, apparently unaware that this isn’t a driving range.
“Look, I’m trying to win a major, so I’m trying to play where I can have the best opportunity to make birdie,” said DeChambeau. “It’s fun. I know I’m going to get booed. I have no problem with that whatsoever. If anything, it’s good banter.”
For all DeChambeau’s power, there is also subtlety, a belying touch that occasionally comes to the fore. Despite his putting action having all the fluency of C-3PO cradling a newborn, DeChambeau can be dangerous with the short stick, as he (largely) was here, rolling in a 32-footer for eagle at the turn. He remained bogey-free until he reached the 16th.
From thereon in, every shot was either veering wildly towards a hazard, or nestling beautifully next to the hole. The former was certainly true at the 16th, a double-bogey brought about by a wild, wayward tee-shot, and four disastrous putts.
Immediate and unlikely redemption lay at the Road Hole at 17. The hardest hole at St Andrews was made more difficult on Saturday by both a pesky wind off the right, blowing over the Old Course Hotel towards the rough, and the toughest pin placement of the week, tucked horribly behind the famous pot bunker at the front left of the green.
DeChambeau repeated the trick from 16 of hooking wildly, but went so far left that he flew into a deep bush. Crucially, this was behind a television tower and a scoreboard. A lucky free drop then, but more trouble lay ahead. DeChambeau crushed his approach over the bunker, over the green and onto the road, setting up maybe his most difficult shot of the week.
But from the asphalt, DeChambeau found some magic, pitching his ball against the bank, and perfectly trickling it onto the green.
“I was trying to have some loft but still bounce it into the bank and hopefully hit it in a good spot where it doesn’t hit dead and doesn’t hit a hot spot either,” he explained. “I hit it perfectly. Bounced up and rolled over beautifully. I was very lucky.”
Another combination of outrageous fortune and touch followed at the 18th. A wild tee shot with a 4-iron – taken because DeChambeau is worried about driving through the green with anything bigger – skewed all the way across the 1st fairway into a fence, affording the California-born hitter another generous drop. “The out-of-bounds stakes were past that”, said DeChambeau with a smile. “Kind of nice.”
From there, DeChambeau took his opportunity, flighting an expert wedge to within a foot for his birdie. At six under par, he is unlikely to take the Claret Jug back to Texas, but a history of final-day Open heroics should not be completely discounted.
“I want to be one of the best golfers in the world, if not the best, at one point in time in my career but I don’t think I’ll ever know how to play this golf course fully,” admitted DeChambeau. “Every day it’s different. It showcases a unique golf course each time the wind pops up. You can’t ever really conquer it. You can’t ever really control it.”