Bryson DeChambeau can feel the mood lightening in the locker room and on the course just one week after the PGA Tour and LIV Golf ceased hostilities.
DeChambeau shot a 67 in his opening round at the US Open on Thursday, leaving the long-hitting 2020 champion five shots behind record-setters Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele, who each shot 62.
This Open at Los Angeles Country Club is the first major since the stunning announcement of the partnership between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. The Saudi Arabia-backed competition attracted dozens of top players — DeChambeau among the most prominent — to its highly controversial endeavour with lavish payouts over the last two years, but last week’s seismic move put golf in flux once again.
Nobody knows exactly what the sport will look like in the near future, with LIV apparently planning to continue its own competitions in some form. But DeChambeau senses that the us-against-them mentality that arose on both sides from the LIV defections is not so prevalent anymore.
“I think it’s a little more lighthearted from everyone,” DeChambeau said after his round. “It’s been good seeing all the players just more like neutral, so it is a little bit more comfortable than before. Not as much tension, I guess you could say, which is a good thing for the game of golf. We want the fans to see us all play together all the time.”
The 29-year-old DeChambeau played aggressively and effectively under cloudy skies on the venerable course adjoining Beverly Hills and Century City, posting four birdies on his back nine. He finished his round to cheers from the Southern California gallery — a big change from the PGA Championship just a month ago near Rochester, New York, where DeChambeau and fellow LIV pro-Brooks Koepka were booed on the first tee at Oak Hill.
LIV players have put up several impressive performances at majors already this year, although opinions vary on whether their pseudo-outlaw status plays a motivational role. Koepka and Phil Mickelson were the runners-up to Masters champion Jon Rahm, and Koepka won the PGA Championship four weeks ago atop a leaderboard featuring DeChambeau in fourth and LIV’s Cameron Smith in ninth.
Dustin Johnson, who finished tied for sixth at last year’s British Open, said Wednesday that he was told LIV will stage events as planned in 2024. No matter what the long-term future holds, the 2016 U.S. Open champion is enjoying every chance to play in big events against the best.
“Not for me,” Johnson replied Thursday when asked if he felt any easing of tensions on tour. “I felt like I’ve always had a good relationship with the guys through it all. (But) obviously now, sure, I could see (DeChambeau’s) point of view, absolutely.”
The partnership between the tours is still largely undefined, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the PGA Tour’s status quo won’t return immediately.
When asked if everything was still business as usual at LIV, DeChambeau said it was. He intends to keep building his four-man team, known as the Crushers.
“We’re looking to hire someone here shortly for the GM position (for the Crushers), and very excited about that,” DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau grew up in Clovis, a suburb of Fresno about 220 miles north of Los Angeles. He had plenty of fans in the California galleries who would love to see more of the polarizing player who has two top-10 finishes in his last three majors.
“I just feel like I prepare a little differently for the major championships, and I feel like my length has a big advantage in these events,” DeChambeau said. “Even at the Open last year, I feel like just being able to have a 230-yard 6-iron is super-helpful on any golf course. You put everybody on a really difficult golf course or a testing golf course, I feel like someone that can hit it far has an advantage, if they’re able to somewhat keep it in play. You could say (I’m) overlooked. I’m not going to say that, but I’m just trying to win a major championship.”
DeChambeau acknowledged he has been spending extra time on the range in recent days, hitting “more golf balls than I would like to, ever.” It’s the final process of his quest to return to his form of 2018 when he won four tournaments and cracked the top five in the world ranking.
“I feel like I’m very close to getting it,” he said. “Because I had it at the PGA for the first two days, and then it kind of faltered a little bit. But I was still able to play really good solid golf, score well. ... If I have what I had at the PGA, I’ll be contending for sure.”
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