TULSA, Okla. – After a nine-hole practice round Wednesday at steamy Southern Hills, Bryson DeChambeau and his team huddled inside the clubhouse for an emergency meeting.
Just moments earlier, his swing coach, Chris Como, had been asked how his star student appeared in his first action since hand surgery. “His swing looks really good,” Como said, before adding, ominously, “but I don’t know how he’s feeling.”
Inside the clubhouse, they weighed DeChambeau’s next move.
Do you feel 100%? No, he said.
Do you think you can win? No, he said.
Then the answer was obvious: He needed to withdraw from the PGA Championship.
DeChambeau alerted tournament officials at about 5 p.m. local time of his decision. First alternate Denny McCarthy was added to the field. “I had a feeling he was going to pull out,” McCarthy said. “I was ready either way.” He played nine holes each of the past two days in preparation.
“I just realized it wasn’t going to be the right decision for me to play this week – it was going to be a stretch,” DeChambeau said in the player parking lot. Doctors initially told him, after the procedure on April 14, that he’d miss roughly eight weeks after removing a fractured hamate bone in his left hand, an issue that has caused him discomfort all season.
“I want to give somebody else a chance that’s fully prepared and ready to go out here," he said. "Feeling fatigued and tired, four days is a big stretch for me right now.”
And so ends a saga that unexpectedly began late last week while at home in Dallas. The scab on DeChambeau’s surgically repaired left hand fell off last Thursday, allowing him to finally grip a club. A day later, he headed to the range and hit about 40 balls, ramping up his speed each time, feeling great, even hitting 192-mph ball speed. The next day, with no lingering soreness, he practiced for an hour and a half – not quite his usual marathon sessions, but still satisfying. That’s when he decided that he’d fly to Tulsa and try to prepare on-site for the year’s second major.
After limited short-game work on Monday, he logged nine holes each of the past two days. Playing Southern Hills’ back nine on Wednesday, DeChambeau said there was a four-hole stretch in which he felt his hand slowly losing strength and stamina. Because the hamate bone has been shaved down, he said he couldn’t sustain any additional damage – but he could strain the surrounding tendons that aren’t yet strong enough to absorb the impact of his mighty blows.
“When I try to put more force into it, it’s starting to slow down and my body is not responding well to it,” he said. “I just started to feel depleted of energy. It’s not worth it yet. … It was a big push, a huge ask of myself, but I want to be 100% coming back, not 70% and let it linger for a while.”
Currently ranked 219th in the FedExCup standings, DeChambeau said he will reassess his health over the next few days and try to play again next week at Colonial, his hometown event. A more realistic target is the Memorial, June 2-5, which his doctors had initially targeted.
“My season is just gonna be getting started, hopefully,” he said.
The PGA withdrawal was yet another setback in what has been the most frustrating period of DeChambeau’s career. Late last fall, before the charity match with Brooks Koepka, DeChambeau discovered a compression fracture. That issue lingered over the next few months, then he finally shut it down after slipping and falling while playing pingpong with Sergio Garcia and Joaquin Niemann at the Saudi International in early February. Trying to brace himself with his left hand, DeChambeau exacerbated the prior injury and also partially tore the labrum in his left hip, forcing him to miss three scheduled starts, including his Arnold Palmer Invitational title defense and The Players.
At the time, doctors told DeChambeau there was a 95% chance he’d need surgery on his hand. But he postponed the procedure in hopes that it’d improve on his own and he’d be able to play the Masters. Indeed, against his doctor’s advice, he returned in late March, but his game was in disarray and his body wasn’t responding. After an early exit at the Match Play and a missed cut at the Valero Texas Open, he imploded with rounds of 76-80 at Augusta National and scheduled the surgery a few days later.
“From an emotional standpoint, it’s been tough,” he said. “I’ve had some difficult times. The last seven months have been brutal for me, not being able to play golf the way I wanted to. It’s pushing me every day – that’s why I’m out here. I really want to be back out trying to play. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. The goal is to prove to myself that I’m able to come back from an injury and play at the highest level that I possibly can. The frustration is definitely there, but it’s moving me in a positive direction.”
In an interview that aired Tuesday, when he was still hopeful of playing in the PGA, DeChambeau sounded reflective while discussing his time away that has “not been fun.” It’s been a turbulent year-plus, both on the course and off – from the “Brooksy!” drama to the injuries to the Saudi league rumors – and he seemed genuinely excited about the next phase of his career.
“I think everybody deserves a second chance,” he said.
Asked a day later what he meant, DeChambeau said: “Second chances for me, whether it’s with the media or the people that believe a certain thing about me – in life, we all need second chances at some point, no matter who they are.
“It’s definitely been a personal reset on my end. A lot of things have happened in my life that I’ve had to mature on and grow up on. We all have issues, and everybody needs to realize that we’re all just human at the end of the day.”