Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 5, 2020

Grow Up, Bryson

The Bryson DeChambeau Tour stopped at venerable Detroit Golf Club this week, a private enclave on the north side of the city with two 18-hole routings first laid out by Donald Ross. Okay, it is still officially called the PGA Tour, but a casual fan tuning in to watch some golf as one of the very few live sports available on his or her flatscreen would be excused for thinking otherwise. Since the men’s tour returned to action three weeks ago, the 26-year old DeChambeau has garnered an outsized amount of attention from the golf media, especially CBS Sports, the broadcast network for all four of the Tour’s events since the resumption of play. He’s been the focus because DeChambeau himself has become outsized, having beefed up by twenty pounds during the Tour’s COVID-19 layoff, on top of a similar if more gradual weight gain over the winter. His new look is the result of a supposedly maniacal exercise and diet regimen sparked by DeChambeau’s desire to increase his upper body strength and swing speed, especially off the tee.

The weightlifting and protein shakes have clearly done more than just require DeChambeau to have his sponsor Cobra Puma Golf send him a new supply of shirts in a larger size. He led the field in driving distance at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first event of the restart, and did so again this week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He was also among the driving distance leaders at Harbour Town and TPC River Highlands, and now leads the Tour in this stat for the 2019-20 season. That’s a dramatic change for a golfer who had never ranked better than twenty-fifth in driving distance for a season since turning pro in 2016.

It’s no wonder that the CBS cameras have gravitated to DeChambeau. Network producers know that golf fans love to watch players boom prodigious drives down fairways, and DeChambeau has been happy to oblige these past four weeks. Show him on the tee, his Hulk-like upper body and arms wielding a Cobra driver. Film him taking a mighty rip and let the obligatory ball-tracing technology paint a bright red line on the screen, following the ball high into the air, headed far, far away. Cut to a second camera down the fairway, showing the ball bouncing along at the end of its flight. Cue the announcer to breathlessly tell fans the drive went 350, or 360, or even 370 yards, leaving DeChambeau with just a short wedge shot into the green of what was once thought to be a daunting par-4.

The network has been more than willing to promote what we now know DeChambeau thinks of as his “brand,” through three Tour stops when he lurked around the leader board but failed to finish on top. Still, three straight top-ten finishes justifies quite a bit of attention, though the extensive television time coupled with various fawning stories online and in the print media have also illustrated the pliant nature of much of the coverage of golf. It certainly contrasts sharply with many other sports where dramatic physical changes like DeChambeau’s would immediately spark speculative social media posts wondering whether there was more than protein powder in his shakes. That the speculation would be posted without a scintilla of evidence to support it would of course do nothing to slow down the “likes” and “shares.” That contrast seems rather favorable to the golf media, reminding us that there are times when most members of the press being basically supportive of the athletes they’re covering is not a bad thing.

But that doesn’t make the media an extension of the PGA Tour’s marketing department. DeChambeau finally closed the deal this week, rallying from a three-shot deficit at the start of the final round to win the Rocket Mortgage by three over 54-hole leader Matthew Wolff. Those gargantuan drives led to eight birdies in a round of 7-under 65 and a final total of 23-under par. DeChambeau got an assist from Wolff, who was unsteady through the first half of his round and walked off the 10th green at 3-over par for the day. Wolff’s eventual 71 lost ground to all but three of the top twenty finishers, but his travails don’t change the fact that DeChambeau closed with his best round of the tournament to win his sixth PGA Tour title.

It would be well worth celebrating, except that DeChambeau soured the party before a single ball was struck on Sunday. During the third round he flubbed a sand shot, and angrily smashed his club into the bunker. The same cameras that so lovingly captured his magnificent drives over the last month also recorded this bit of petulance, and then the cameraman on the scene continued to track DeChambeau as he stalked onto the green. This led to a confrontation, which he later explained was because he felt broadcasting his angry outburst would “damage his brand.” He went on to tell the Golf Channel, “I mean, I understand it’s his job to video me, but at the same point, I think we need to start protecting our players out here compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image. I just don’t think that’s necessarily the right thing to do. For that to damage our brand like that, that’s not cool in the way we act because if you actually meet me in person, I’m not too bad of a dude, I don’t think.”

No argument here about the accuracy of his last three words, but the rest of DeChambeau’s comments were those of a self-absorbed and supremely entitled twit. He would do well to learn from other golfers who understand that the media’s job is to report, and in the case of television show, what happens on the course, be it good or bad. Sergio Garcia has flung a club or two over the years, but long ago learned to own his occasional bad behavior. Rory McIlroy endured an epic meltdown in the final round of the 2011 Masters, but the then-21-year-old answered reporters’ questions with an equanimity and grace that won him a legion of new fans. So far, all DeChambeau has done is prove even crybabies can hit 360-yard drives.

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