Bryson DeChambeau is golf’s ultimate enigma. He drives the ball farther than anyone in PGA Tour history, covering distances previously reserved only for long drive competitors. His mentality off the tee is equally entertaining and strategic, as fans cheered when he switched from iron to driver on one hole Sunday.
His ball-striking is something to behold. He takes a mighty lash at every shot and hits high, towering bombs nearly all the time. His skill on the greens doesn’t get as much publicity, but it is equally important as his 350 yard drives. When he’s on, his complete game is tough to beat.
Beneath DeChambeau’s game lies a personality that certainly irks some, if not all—he’s refused to talk to print media since his controversial comments about the COVID vaccine when he returned from quarantine in Memphis. He analyzes and overanalyzes every aspect of every single shot, attempting to calculate every single possible variable, leaving nothing to chance.
As you would expect from the most technical player in the history of the game, DeChambeau always lets you know what he’s feeling on the course. He tells you exactly what he thinks—the keyword is thinks—is going on.
But he didn’t account for golf’s silent assassin, Patrick Cantlay, who defeated DeChambeau on the sixth playoff hole to win the BMW Championship and move to the top of the FedEx Cup standings heading into next week's Tour Championship.
Perception is not always reality for DeChambeau, and it certainly wasn’t Sunday. DeChambeau immediately said “be good” after striking his approach into 14, but his shot came up 40 feet short. This came on the heels of hitting it in the water at 11 and 12 Saturday, the first of which DeChambeau said he hit perfectly before coming up well short.
It happened again on the 16th Sunday when DeChambeau’s second shot with a 6-iron came up 35 yards short of the green at the par-5. He seems perplexed after every shot that doesn’t have the perfect distance, as if nothing is his fault, because in his mind there’s no way his calculations could possibly be incorrect.
It’s as if DeChambeau is trying to become a robotic golfer. When he’s hitting fairways like he was Sunday, he often looks superhuman. But no matter how hard he tries not to be, he is indeed human. He was in the driver’s seat after draining his birdie putt at the par-5 16th as he got up and down after the poor 6 iron to lead by one with two holes to play.
DeChambeau once again failed to control his distance at the 71st hole, hitting the ball in the rough short of the green, giving him no choice but to chip after he putted from off the green all day long. It seemed inevitable that he would fail to execute what looked like a simple chip shot, making a bogey to keep Cantlay in it even after he hit his tee shot in the water and made a bogey of his own.
The two went to a playoff after DeChambeau had a de-facto putt to win on 17 and a putt to win on 18. He had three more on each of the first three playoff holes, but they all came up begging.
Cantlay made clutch putt after clutch putt down the stretch, but the tournament felt like DeChambeau’s to lose the whole way. Just as Cantlay looked dead after his tee shot at 17, DeChambeau looked defeated after his tee shot found the water as the pair played the 18th for the fourth time. But he pulled a rabbit out of his awkward looking hat and knocked his third shot stiff before burying the par putt to extend the playoff.
Playing the 17th for a second time in the playoff, DeChambeau muscled a pitching wedge 190 yards inside 10 feet, but Cantlay stepped up and knocked it inside of him, to gimme range. The pair continued to match each other shot for shot, this time halving with birdies. Cantlay finally prevailed, draining a putt that looked nearly identical to the one he made on 18 in regulation before DeChambeau’s downhill putt to stay in it slid by.
It was a battle for the ages between two players who could not be more different. DeChambeau with his odd mannerisms, lengthy discussions with caddie Brian Ziegler, and club twirls. Cantlay never blinked even though he played from at least 30 yards behind DeChambeau on every hole, remained his soft-spoken self, and stuck his tongue out after every shot. DeChambeau wants to let everyone into his bubble. Cantlay's key to winning was staying in his own little world, as he put it.
Just as it seemed inevitable for DeChambeau to struggle with his chipping, Cantlay looked automatic on the greens, draining putt after putt no matter the length.
The two barely spoke to each other all day, but it seemed Cantlay played with a chip on his shoulder after the 14th hole, when DeChambeau called him out for moving as he was about to putt.
That personality difference resonated outside the ropes as well. DeChambeau’s feud with Brooks Koepka has dominated the headlines in golf for the past few months, and he has been the subject of endless ridicule from fans of late.
Even the most casual of golf fans know the name Bryson DeChambeau, who seems to make headlines everywhere he goes. Cantlay is a bit unknown to those same fans, who have little reason to know that he even exists. Those fans may not be aware that he just became the first player with three wins this season.
Diehard golf fans know Cantlay as the stoic California kid who seems destined to rip a few European hearts out at the Ryder Cup next month. DeChambeau’s game is certainly more entertaining, but Cantlay proved Sunday that there is more than one way to play golf. The scorecard doesn’t care how far you hit it, the name of the game is knocking down flagsticks and sinking clutch putts.
Caves Valley is a new PGA Tour venue this year and measured out at 7,542 yards—long even by PGA Tour standards. Cantlay is sneaky long off the tee, but he doesn’t even come close to matching the firepower of the game’s best drivers.
Length has become irrelevant on the PGA Tour, and it has become clear that the pros are going to eat up any soft golf course. DeChambeau became the first player to shoot at least 27 under for 72 holes and not win the golf tournament, and seven players finished 20 under or lower. On a week where the USGA came under fire for potentially shortening the maximum length of drivers, it seemed fitting that the game's longest hitter fell short.
Cantlay said after the round that the fans dubbed him “Patty Ice” as the day went on. What a perfect nickname for a player who isn’t going anywhere any time soon.