SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – It wasn’t the day Bryson DeChambeau might have wanted, but it was the day he needed.
What he wanted, deep down in that oversized heart of his, was to play both sessions on Day 1 at Whistling Straits, pace an American team that enjoyed a historic start and salvage a Ryder Cup legacy that appeared doomed from the start. What he got was a hard-fought tie.
You know what they say, your first half-point at a Ryder Cup is the hardest.
It could have been better. It should have been better. But the European tandem of Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton did what Europeans do in these situations and eked out a half-point with a birdie at the final hole.
Despite the tie, which Rahm said felt like a victory considering the Europeans never led in the match, DeChambeau seemed to sense that his performance alongside Scottie Scheffler was transformative.
“I'm glad I got something for the team,” DeChambeau said. “It was frustrating, but we fought hard. They are an amazing team, the Europeans, and Jon Rahm and Tyrrell were great competitors.”
This was more than a half-point. This was some much-needed breathing room for a player who has had increasingly little air the last few months.
That he went round a blustery Whistling Straits in full “Bryson” mode only gave credence to the notion that DeChambeau needed this Ryder Cup more than the Ryder Cup needed him.
He was on from the raucous first tee after his wild 330-yard drive clobbered a poor Midwesterner in the leg, a chip to 20 feet and a birdie putt to start.
The highlight came at the par-5 fifth hole when DeChambeau unleashed the type of drive that becomes Ryder Cup lore and a meme, a towering shot that travelled 417 yards across a massive water hazard and set up a deft 70-yard chip and kick in eagle.
“It was a back-and-forth match, and quite an unusual one, when you have Bryson do things like what he did on 5, you know you're going to have a couple holes where a halve is going to be a very good score just because of the tee shots he can hit,” Rahm conceded.
For DeChambeau his drive at the fifth hole, which was his longest this season, was a question of math and physics, not emotion or competitive advantage.
“I knew if it was a little downwind, I could take a unique line, and I luckily was able to have that wind today. It was 20 [mph]-plus, and I said to myself, all right, I have to aim at the green, so I did,” he shrugged. “I just aimed at the green and bombs away.”
“Bombs away.” It sounds like something DeChambeau would have printed on a pillow and exactly why he should be the perfect fourball partner for anyone who is willing to play defense, but that wasn’t the case two years ago in Melbourne or three years ago in Paris.
He’s hardly the first American to struggle in team competitions but, by the same logic, he wouldn’t be the first American picked to turn the tide for the U.S. side. It’s likely why he rode the bench for the morning foursomes frame, a format that may never be a good fit for Big Bryson. The only time he’s played alternate shot as a pro was at the ’18 Ryder Cup when he and Tiger Woods were steamrolled by Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, 5 and 4.
But fourball play? That feeds whatever makes the 28-year-old such a curiosity. This week he’s bonded and broke bread with his teammates, even Brooks Koepka, and embraced, however awkwardly, the role of cheerleader, but at his core he’s an individual and a showman and the best-ball format is DeChambeau’s jam.
His play on Day 1 went beyond the simple act of adding to the U.S. team’s 6-2 lead. For DeChambeau, the individual, it was a chance to face a question that’s been building for a few weeks.
For all his accomplishments this season, if recent history is any guide he hadn’t been his best when the pressure was on. He started the final round of the year’s final World Golf Championship in Memphis two shots back and played his last nine holes in 6 over to tie for eighth. At the second playoff event, he closed with a 66 to force overtime but was outlasted by Patrick Cantlay in a six-hole playoff. Getting back in the nervy mix and delivering, even a half-point, is a reason to exhale.
But most importantly Friday was a chance to see that DeChambeau can be a team player.
In the past, he hadn’t shown a penchant for playing well with others. In two team starts as a professional – the 2018 Ryder Cup and ’19 Presidents Cup – he is a combined 0-3-0 in team play. He only played one team session in Melbourne and looked lost alongside Woods in Paris.
But on Friday there were smiles and high fives even in the most heated of moments. A half-point on Day 1 at Whistling Straits won’t make DeChambeau the new Captain America, but it will make whatever comes next a little easier.