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As slow-play spotlight dims, DeChambeau races to Safeway lead

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NAPA, Calif. – Bryson DeChambeau is glad to have the attention back on his play at the Safeway Open.

For much of the summer, discussion regarding DeChambeau focused more on a stopwatch than a scorecard. DeChambeau became the focal point of a slow-play discussion at the Memorial, where he first explained that his quick pace in between shots should be factored into overall pace, and doubled down on those comments as the season progressed.

Matters escalated at The Northern Trust last month, when video documented DeChambeau taking more than 2 minutes to hit a 10-foot putt. That particular incident created a social-media firestorm, and in part led the Tour to escalate larger discussions about pace of play.

Through it all, there wasn’t much mention of DeChambeau’s birdies and bogeys. While he ultimately tied for seventh at the Tour Championship, a runner-up finish at the 3M Open in July was a rare bright spot during a summer in which he missed the cut in two majors and failed to factor in the others.

But that has changed this week in Napa, where DeChambeau vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with a second-round 64. He leads Nick Watney by two shots, sits three clear of a group that includes Justin Thomas and has yet to make a bogey through 36 holes.


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Ever the tinkerer, DeChambeau spent about 90 minutes on the range following an opening-round 68 while working on swing path, right-arm position and other “biomechanics stuff.” He missed the cut two weeks ago in his season debut at The Greenbrier and entered this week somewhat under the radar as he approaches the one-year anniversary of his last PGA Tour victory.

But DeChambeau credited an equipment change for his sudden surge at Silverado, noting that the wedges in his one-length set now have a stiffer shaft that he affectionately calls “Texas Rebar.” The tweak has led to greater control, and DeChambeau has responded by leading the field in strokes gained: approach through two rounds.

“This past week we just tried some shafts in my wedges on the range on Monday and Tuesday and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a completely different me,’” DeChambeau said. “That’s honestly what gave me the confidence to go out there and shoot a low number and be confident that I could lay it up and hit it close.”

Granted, the topic of slow play and its ancillary effects are never far away when it comes to DeChambeau. When asked to reflect on his maturation process as he enters his fourth season on Tour, he pointed to early struggles and missed cuts after first turning pro. But he also mentioned the impact external forces have had on his psyche and results.

“I’ve had some struggles, some times with difficulty and people saying this, people saying that,” he said. “I’ve done some things I shouldn’t have, but it’s about growing up and learning how to be a true professional. That’s what I think I’m doing and will keep striving to do.”

Rollins: Wedge-shaft fix makes Bryson a 'dominant force'

John Rollins looks at Bryson DeChambeau's recent shaft change and what it could mean for his wedge play.

DeChambeau admitted the brief offseason helped quiet some of the noise, as fan comments this week haven’t been replete with slow-play barbs like they were at the BMW Championship. It also gave him a chance to further analyze the numbers, taking a peek at ShotLink data and other proprietary information supplied by the Tour regarding pace.

Two-minute videos aside, DeChambeau reiterated his stance that he’s not part of the problem when it comes to slow play.

“There’s data out there now that shows that I am not the slowest player at all, by any means,” he said. “I’m definitely not in the top 10 percent. I’m not close to that. That’s from Shotlink data, we have that. So I can say that, I know I can say that without a shadow of a doubt.”

But at the halfway point in Napa, DeChambeau has put any lingering controversy to the side and is playing more like the guy who won three times in a five-start stretch last fall. And should the wedges continue to cooperate, the putts continue to fall and the bogeys continue to stay off the scorecard, it could be a long weekend for those trying to keep pace with the Tour’s top scientist.

“It’s always fun to come out and play to the potential you know you can,” he said. “As the week progresses, I feel like I just keep getting better usually, when I’m playing well. So that’s always fun.”