BRADENTON, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau didn’t see the dramatic ending here at Concession. Didn’t need to, because the roar at 18 told him all he needed to know.
After making birdie on his 71st hole, after wandering around the clubhouse for more than an hour to see if his 8-under total would stand up, after bolting for the practice area because couldn’t bear to watch another second as Washington's Cheng-Tsung Pan charged up the NCAA leaderboard, DeChambeau took his cue from the crowd.
About 300 yards away, Pan’s pin-seeking bunker shot scared the hole and gave the crowd a thrill, but his rally ultimately fell one shot shy.
“That did it,” DeChambeau, 21, said on the range, listening to the polite applause.
The waiting game was mercifully over, and DeChambeau, the eccentric 26th-ranked player in the world, had won the NCAA Championship for the biggest title of his career.
“That’s when the emotions flooded out,” he said.
It’s probably obvious to any viewer that the SMU junior does things his own way.
He majors in physics.
He wears a Ben Hogan-style hat.
He uses a push cart.
He employs something called Vector Putting, which takes into account length of putt, percentage of slope and speed of the green.
He plays with a torque-balanced putter that keeps his stroke square to the plane.
All of his irons, 3-iron through wedge, are the same length (37 1/2 inches). Apparently, it’s easier for him to retain the same posture, which allows him to swing the same way, to keep everything constant.
That’s useful under pressure, and there were plenty of tense moments Monday as a half dozen players took their best shot at him during the final 90 minutes of stroke play at NCAAs.
Vanderbilt’s Hunter Stewart shot 68 but ran out of holes. Illinois’ Thomas Detry had a three-putt bogey on the par-5 13th that derailed his momentum. But it was Pan, the most prolific winner in Washington history, who gave DeChambeau the biggest scare. The diminutive senior birdied six of his last 12 holes.
“I was aggressive,” he said.
DeChambeau played fearlessly too, making eagle on his third hole of the day, the drivable 12th, after pounding a 317-yard tee shot to 3 feet. He also shook off a double on 18 with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 3 and 4.
His decisive blow came at the par-4 eighth. After a smoked 3-wood left him only 105 yards to the hole, he hit a 55-degree wedge to the back of the green, then spun his ball back to within 3 feet.
“He’s the best ball-striker in college for sure,” SMU coach Jason Enloe said. “Possibly top 20 in the world, like, you could put him against any ball-striker playing for a living. He’d be right there with those guys.”
How’d he learn his unique action?
When Bryson was 15, his coach, Mike Schy, gave him a book called “The Golfing Machine.” It’s a teaching manual, with 24 components and 144 variations. A player basically builds his own swing, and it was perfect for DeChambeau’s analytical mind.
“It’s very efficient, steady, not a lot goes wrong with it,” he said of his swing, “and I’m able to repeat my motion quite frequently because of it.”
Enloe wasn’t surprised by this breakthrough. The coach has walked each round with DeChambeau since the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in early March, when he closed with 66. After that, he has only once finished outside the top 5. This was his second victory of the season.
“Sometimes he wonders why he doesn’t win more, and it just hasn’t been his time,” Enloe said. “I was like, ‘Dude, your B-plus game is going to win a lot of times out here.’ His bad is most people’s good.”
And his good, clearly, is more than enough to win arguably the best amateur tournament in the world.