Bryson DeChambeau had forged a close relationship with Arnold Palmer before ‘The King’ died on Sept. 25, 2016. So close that only three weeks before Palmer passed away, he wrote a letter to DeChambeau congratulating him on winning the DAP Championship, a Korn Ferry Tour event, not long after he captured the U.S. Amateur and NCAA Individual Championship.
DeChambeau framed the keepsake, hung it on a wall in his home in Dallas and always keeps it close to his heart. So it was plenty understandable why ‘The King of Distance’ on the PGA Tour had difficulty speaking after he made a 5-foot par putt on the final hole Sunday to defeat Lee Westwood by a stroke and win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
During a post-victory interview with NBC’s Steve Sands, DeChambeau discussed his ties with Palmer and how he had been inspired by a text message he received before the final round from another legendary close friend, Tiger Woods, who won a record eight events at Arnie’s Place, and continues to recover from severe injuries sustained in a single-vehicle accident on Feb. 23 near Los Angeles.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams that I won Mr. Palmer’s tournament,” said DeChambeau, who has replaced the injured Woods as the most exciting player in the game.
“I got Tiger’s text out of the blue; I wasn’t expecting anything. It was obviously personal for the most part, but for him to text me like that was incredible. When I got the text, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing that he is thinking of me when he’s in his tough times that he’s going through right now.’
“One of the things that we talked about was it’s not about how many times you get kicked to the curb or knocked down, it’s about how many times you get back up and keep moving forward. And I think this red cardigan (trademark of Arnold and a replica given to the winner) is not only for Mr. Palmer, but I would say it’s a little bit for Tiger as well, knowing what place he’s in right now.”
DeChambeau reciprocated the well wishes to Woods, saying, “Keep moving forward, keep going forward. You’re going to get through it. You’re the hardest working person I’ve ever met, and you’ll persevere through this.”
After the emotional interview, DeChambeau had a hearty embrace with tournament host Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson, a PGA Tour player who’s been sidelined since 2019 with an injury.
But Sam’s granddad would have loved Bryson’s bravado, brawn and brashness.
“I don’t even know what to say about winning Mr. Palmer’s tournament. It’s going to make me cry,” DeChambeau said.
“It means the world to me and is nothing short of incredibly special. I got the text from Tiger, who obviously had done really well here and was very instrumental in Mr. Palmer’s life, as Mr. Palmer was to Tiger.
“And we just talked about just fighting no matter what happens and play boldly, like Mr. Palmer said.”
The same way Arnie had advised DeChambeau to always sign an autograph legibly so people can read it.
“That’s something that stuck with me, and I’ve done it ever since,” DeChambeau said.
The 27-year old made his decisive putt after Westwood sank a clutch 7-footer for par. He closed with a 1-under-par 71, tying the low round of the day in the most difficult playing conditions of the week (75.5), for a 72-hole total of 11-under 277, one less than Westwood, who shot 73.
DeChambeau’s eighth PGA Tour title moved him to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking, and ended a run of five international winners in Orlando. The SMU product now owns two of the three PGA Tour Invitationals (he won the 2017 Memorial at Jack’s Place). All that’s missing to complete the Invitational Series’ triple crown is a victory at the Genesis, ironically, hosted by that “friend” named Tiger.
Trailing Westwood by a stroke after 54 holes, DeChambeau was seen Saturday evening banging balls into the darkness, and putting under a spotlight. He nearly hit his first drive out of the bounds on the way to an opening-hole bogey but grabbed a share of the lead with a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 4. He added a second birdie on the par-5 sixth hole, highlighted (again) by a fan-thrilling 377-yard bomb over the lake.
DeChambeau’s power poke demonstrated the man nicknamed “The Scientist” for his analytical approach to the game who gained 40 pounds of muscle last year and uses clubs specially designed to his specifications with thicker than normal grips and irons that are all the same length. The shot ended up in a bunker 88 yards from a back flag – and 168 yards ahead of Westwood’s tee shot. When his drive landed, Westwood threw his hands in the air in a playful ode to DeChambeau, and the two then had a classy fist tap.
“Just having a bit of fun with it, you know,” Westwood quipped. “I wanted to reintroduce myself when I got to the green. I thought he may have forgotten who I was.”
After DeChambeau, who finished fourth last year, and runner-up in 2018, rolled in a 49-foot putt on the 11th hole to save par and remain at 11 under, Westwood regained a share of the lead with a birdie on No. 12. But a bogey on the 14th hole, and failure to take advantage of a 343-yard drive on the par-5 16th proved to be the difference makers for the Englishman, a former world No. 1, who hasn’t prevailed on the PGA Tour since the 2010 St. Jude Classic.
“I’m not going to go out there and go blow for blow with him,” said Westwood, a 25-time European Tour winner. “Some people can do that and will do that, but that’s the way for me to play myself out of a tournament.”
Fittingly, when his 5-footer to win dropped, DeChambeau clenched his fists and flexed his muscles, celebrating like the Ultimate Warrior, the wrestler who has been immortalized via GIF. It also was for his fans – and his critics. He has been at the center of golf’s distance debate the past few years as he has pushed the boundaries of equipment and his body. On Sunday he said he didn’t think it was possible to “Bryson-proof” a golf course, as it has become evidently clear that thick rough and tight fairways don’t work (see six-stroke U.S. Open romp six months ago).
No matter what side of the coin anyone is on in the distance discussion, it was hard to deny just how fun it had been watching DeChambeau bash his way around Arnie’s Place, as it is in any of his starts. Despite not hitting driver on many holes, DeChambeau was No. 1 in driving distance at 321.3 yards.
“Golf’s in a healthy place, if you ask me,” Westwood said. “I don’t see the big problem (with distance). It’s great to watch. I like it.
“You can see the shape of him. He’s worked hard in the gym, and he’s worked on his technique to hit it a long way. It’s not easy to hit it that straight as he hits it as far as he hits it. So people are going to have advantages, and his is obviously length. He can overpower a golf course.
“It’s fun to watch.”
Meanwhile, DeChambeau recalled a conversation that he had this week with Saunders, a discussion that made ‘The Champ’ believe ‘The King’ would have approved of his approach.
“I do get myself in trouble sometimes with the length I hit it and where I hit it,” DeChambeau said to laughter. “But I would say that Mr. Palmer probably would like it. Sam talked to me about how he thought Mr. Palmer would love what I was doing.”
DeChambeau then harkened back to what winning Palmer’s event meant to him.
“It solidifies that I’m playing with the best of them, and I can win with the best of them,” he continued. “This tournament has been nothing but class every year I’ve been here, and the best players come to play, and the golf course conditions play like a U.S. Open.
“I know that’s what Mr. Palmer would like, and you have to play boldly to win, and I was able to do that.”
Palmer’s father, Deacon, also likely would have been proud of DeChambeau’s bruising performance.
As Deacon once told his son: “Hit it hard, boy. Go find it. And hit it again.”
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