Bryson DeChambeau turns attention to Players Championship after winning Arnold Palmer Invitational

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Edgar Thompson, Orlando Sentinel
·5 min read
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Bryson DeChambeau’s last visit to the Players Championship was 12 months, 40 pounds and, in essence, another career ago.

The world has changed in innumerable ways during the time since the PGA Tour pulled the plug on its showcase event last March 12 and joined the sports world in quarantine.

DeChambeau and his path forward in the game will never be the same following his remarkable physical transformation. Many wonder whether golf will be forever altered, too.

The Bryson Show took Orlando by storm last week during his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where DeChambeau manhandled and outmuscled Bay Hill’s brawny layout.

DeChambeau and the world of golf now turn their attention to vexing TPC Sawgrass, where the 27-year-old’s power game might be mitigated, if not contained, by a course demanding precision and patience while favoring no style of play.

Looking more like Dick Butkus these days than Jack Nicklaus, the beefed-up DeChambeau was weighing Tuesday how to tackle TPC.

“I do have a different body,” DeChambeau said. “So it’s going to be a little different this year figuring out where to hit it and what to hit.”

DeChambeau’s game and game plan are far more sophisticated than, “See ball. Hit ball. Find ball.” Yet with his new body and mindset, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound behemoth often aims to blast his way over trouble and out of trouble.

The formula added up to a 2020 U.S. Open win by six shots at fearsome Winged Foot and a gutsy final-round performance at Bay Hill. Blustery conditions yielded three scores under par by just a single stroke — one of them DeChambeau’s Sunday 71.

But at TPC Sawgrass, course designer Pete Dye forces a player to make more club choices off the tee than usual, potentially removing DeChambeau’s Cobra King Tour driver from the equation on many holes.

DeChambeau, a physics major at SMU, will be calculating his options all week.

“I don’t know how many times yet. Probably not as many,” he said of his choice of driver. “There’s a lot of cross bunkers and water that crosses the fairway and places where you kind of just have to hit it into a certain specific area. I would say, for the most part, driver will be taken out of play a numerous amount of times.

“I can’t just bomb it out there.”

Yet, DeChambeau also cannot help but think of the possibilities if he were to pull out the big dog and play a little caveman golf.

At one point Tuesday, he considered a whole new approach to dealing with the lake running down the left side of the par-4 18th hole. The body of water has drowned the chances of golfers over the years and repeatedly led many to bail out on the right side of the fairway, where trees then block a player’s approach shot.

The 310-shot carry left of the lake would be a piece of cake for DeChambeau. At Bay Hill, he led the field in driving distance at 321.3 yards and managed a 379-yard poke over a massive water hazard on the sixth hole.

“I have thought about sometimes on 18 going left into (No.) 9,’' DeChambeau said. “It just gives you a better shot into the green where you can just hit it a little long and you’re always going to be OK. But we’ll see.”

The PGA Tour soon made DeChambeau’s decision for him, installing an internal out of bounds to ensure fan safety.

The move is a sign of DeChambeau’s impact on the game and his soaring popularity.

Taking angles on holes no player would consider and making club choices that would be comical for anyone else, DeChambeau has attracted crowds wondering what he will do next.

During the API, he at times turned the area surrounding tee boxes into mosh pits, even though a pandemic-restricted crowd totaled just 5,000.

DeChambeau, however, ultimately won the late Palmer’s prestigious tournament because of his distance control with his irons, his short game and a red-hot putter. From 15 feet and closer, DeChambeau sank 69 of 79 putts — for an amazing 87.3%.

“I think that’s a very underrated aspect of my game,” DeChambeau said after the win.

With three victories since the 2020 shutdown and eight overall on Tour, DeChambeau and his golf game rate near the top of the food chain.

The world’s sixth-ranked player now sets his sights on capturing another one of golf’s biggest prizes, along with its richest winner’s check at $2.7 million.

DeChambeau has broken par during seven of eight rounds on the par-72 layout, but has finished in the 60s just twice to tie for 37th place (2018) and 20th (2019). But this week he arrives a different player with a different approach and different expectations.

The scientist, golfer and entertainer in DeChambeau was eager Tuesday morning to get to work and hatch a game plan for TPC Sawgrass only he and no one else in the field even could contemplate.

“I love it,” he said. “I think it’s a cool aspect of the game that not many people have the opportunity to do. For me it’s an intriguing aspect that I’m always trying to find a little advantage on.

“It’s pretty fun to do.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com.