Validation for DeChambeau: Did it my way

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2017, 4:20 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Watching at home in Dallas, Josh Gregory couldn’t help but smile as his former recruit stole the John Deere Classic with a back-nine 30 on Sunday.

Afterward, he sent Bryson DeChambeau a text: “It’s no longer a dream.”

A game-changing PGA Tour title - and with it, a trip to The Open - was what they’d always talked about ever since they first met, in the summer of 2011. After guiding Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles, Gregory left to become the head coach at his alma mater, SMU. That summer, he called an intriguing high school prospect out of Fresno, Calif., offered him a scholarship, sight unseen, and vowed not to change him. DeChambeau eventually signed with upstart SMU over other powerhouse programs, and the reason he gave Gregory was simple: “You were the only coach that was going to let me be me.”

Indeed, other coaches were convinced that DeChambeau would flame out, that his theories were wacky, that he was too much of an iconoclast for the team-first ethos of college golf. At the airport after signing DeChambeau, Gregory was told by one of his peers: “Good luck dealing with that kid.”

Three years later, using single-length irons and a putter that looked like a chalkboard eraser, DeChambeau won the NCAA title.

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“I knew deep down it would work,” Gregory said by phone Monday. “When you have that much belief in something, it almost has to. It proves there’s more than one way to do it.”

Because of his unorthodox swing, and his unconventional approach, and his visibility on TV, DeChambeau has become an easy target. He’s only partly responsible. For the past three years, the brainy 23-year-old has fascinated local and national reporters, and so each time they ask him what he believes, and why he plays the game this way, he answers openly and honestly and authoritatively, speaking in the language – science – that is most comfortable.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who are just trying to find their footing in pro golf, DeChambeau isn’t afraid to dream big – “There’s an easier way out there, and people just haven’t figured it out yet” – and the attention he garners can lead to both skepticism and jealousy.

Every week, there’s another insult, another slight, another jab at his quirky methods. Just last week at the John Deere, someone in the crowd mocked him: “Go back and get your old clubs.” He says it doesn’t bother him. He says he’ll just remind himself that this is the road he has chosen, that it’s going to be the right move in the end. But almost no one on Tour endures this type of weekly abuse.

“He’s under a lot of pressure,” said Padraig Harrington, who has long bucked convention himself. “There’s no doubt when you do something different, everybody’s watching. I won’t say they’re hoping you fail, but they’re certainly watching and putting pressure and expectation on somebody who’s out there changing things or changing the game. So clearly he’s dealt with that for a long period of time, and it must make you very self-confident. That’s the biggest key to being a good player.”

Even DeChambeau had his doubts. Of course he did. That’s the downside of a trial-and-error approach – not every swing thought or putting stroke works. This spring, while experimenting with a longer backswing to hit the ball farther, DeChambeau missed seven consecutive cuts. “I was trying to understand my swing a little more,” he said, “and was messing around with some things.” But there were consequences to all of that tinkering. Just a month ago, he sat at No. 141 in the FedExCup standings, in danger of being sent back to the minors.

“It would have been easy to say, Do I belong? Can I make it out here?” Gregory said. “But he has the ultimate conviction in his game.”

Once DeChambeau went back to the swing that performed so well in college, the one that propelled him to become just the fifth player to sweep the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year, he has been on an upward trajectory, with three consecutive top-20s. Even when DeChambeau’s straight-armed, one-plane swing gets off-kilter, he believes that he has one of the most repeatable actions on Tour. “There aren’t many moving parts,” he said. Last week, he hit every fairway in Round 1. He hit all but one green with his 7-iron-length irons in the final round. But his ball-striking isn’t the biggest difference-maker.

“Your technique makes very little difference to how you play golf,” Harrington said. “Your technique defines what your potential is. Your mental game defines what use you make of it. I don’t see anything better about his technique or worse than anybody else. But I’m saying that because he’s different technically, he must be strong mentally. And that’s the biggest bonus of being different.”

In the summer of 2015, when DeChambeau was at the height of his powers, a prominent college coach told me: “In five years, Bryson will either be No. 1 in the world or in a straitjacket.” The former scenario is probably unlikely, considering the depth at the top of the rankings. But the latter won’t happen either, not after he proved that His Way is good enough to win in just his 35th pro start on Tour.

“I think this will give him that inner peace,” Gregory said, “and I think this will do a lot for his reputation as a player and as a person. It will give him the confidence that he belongs, but I’ve always told my players that I want them to be inwardly cocky and outwardly humble. Sometimes it’s been the opposite with him. He wants so badly to prove somebody wrong and validate that this can work that it eats at him. It can rub people the wrong way, but he just wants to win so badly.”

And now he has, in spectacular fashion. It’s time to dream even bigger.

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”