PINEHURST, N.C. — Bryson DeChambeau swept up a pile of sand in his hand and placed it in the U.S. Open trophy for safe keeping. A short time earlier, he’d punched his second shot at the 18th hole into a sandy lie in the North Carolina Sandhills, 55 yards from the hole location where one of his childhood idols, Payne Stewart, had rescued par in dramatic fashion to win the national championship 25 years earlier.

The long bunker shot is widely considered the hardest shot in golf. But not for DeChambeau, who thought back to all the times as a kid at Dragon Fly Golf Club in Madera, California, where he dropped the ball in the worst possible lies and lived for the challenge of getting the ball in the hole in the fewest shots possible. And then there was the voice of his caddie, Greg Bodine, reminding him that he’d seen him get up-and-down from worse spots.

“I’ve seen some crazy shots from you from 55 yards out of a bunker,” Bodine said.

“You’re right; I need a 55-degree, let’s do it,” DeChambeau said.

“You’ve done this before. You can do it again,” became his mantra and he thought of his dad, Jon, who had passed away in 2022 from diabetes, and how he always pushed him towards greatness, and how Stewart had served as a source of inspiration all those years ago, had been the reason he wore a Ben Hogan style newsboy cap and attended Southern Methodist University like Stewart whose image was embroidered on the 18th hole flag.

“I wanted to do it for them,” he said.

DeChambeau, 30, summoned a brilliant bunker shot that hit in the upslope of the green and fed toward the back-right hole location as if guided by satellite. His ball stopped 4 feet below the hole and the putt rolled straight and true.

“That bunker shot was the shot of my life,” DeChambeau said.

It closed out a final-round 1-over 71 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s No. 2 Course and a one-stroke victory over Rory McIlroy, who missed two short putts and made bogey on three of the final four holes, enduring more major championship heartache in pursuit of his first major in nearly 10 years. He became the fifth player to finish second at the U.S. Open in back-to-back years.

“I don’t know how you get through this thing,” said NBC’s Brad Faxon, who doubles as McIlroy’s putting coach. “It’s really tough.”

On a sweltering afternoon with only a lazy breeze, DeChambeau began the day with a three-stroke lead but he didn’t make a birdie until the 10th hole and struggled off the tee after damaging the face of his driver on the practice tee and having to change heads before the round. He maintained a judicious balance between boldness and good sense, and kept scrambling for pars, including at No. 8 after shoving his drive wide right. He pumped his fist and yelled, “Yeah, let’s go,” as the gallery went wild.

NBC’s Jim “Bones” Mackay went so far as to call it, “One of the 10 best (par rescues) I’ve seen.”

McIlroy, who began three strokes behind, started making a dent into his deficit by canning a 20-foot birdie putt at the first. His charge began in earnest at the ninth with his first of four birdies in a five-hole stretch, which had the fans lustily chanting “Rory, Rory.” He led by two strokes at 8 under after his final birdie of the day at 13 and by one after a tidy up-and-down at 14. Even DeChambeau was beginning to worry if he was going to fall short as he had at the PGA Championship, where Xander Schauffele birdied the last to clip him by one.

“After (Rory) made birdie on 13, I knew I had to drive the green. I knew I had to make birdie on that hole,” DeChambeau said.

He did just that but then made his first and only three-putt of the tournament at 15 shortly after McIlroy had bogeyed the hole before him. McIlroy watched in disgust as his ball caught the cup, half circled it and spun out from 3 feet at 16. They were tied again at 6 under.

Pinehurst No. 2 stood tall all week and it proved a stern test to the end. Missing was the usual U.S. Open fortress of rough known to gobble balls hit marginally off line. Instead, native areas with wiregrass and scrub brush inflicted the proper amount of punishment and indecision. First McIlroy and then DeChambeau drove left at 18 into the native area. McIlroy punched out leaving a 30-yard pitch and hit a beauty to 4 feet. Watching things play out on the green in front of him, DeChambeau said, “After my tee shot, I was up there going, ‘Man, if he makes par, I don’t know how I’m going to beat him.’ I just really didn’t know. Then I heard the moans. Like a shot of adrenaline got in me. I said, OK, you can do this.”

McIlroy’s putter had betrayed him yet again, his knee-knocker rimming out the right side of the cup. He had gone 69 holes without missing a putt from inside five feet and then he missed two in the last three holes.

“That element of doubt came in. He started backing away, which he never does. He took a little more time over the putts, which he never does,” said Golf Channel’s Paul McGinley, an Irishman who has seen all the ups and occasional downs of McIlroy’s career. “That’s pressure and he succumbed to it.”

McIlroy declined interviews presumably too shattered to speak and departed quickly, gunning the engine from the parking lot. DeChambeau, who signed for a 72-hole total of 6-under 274, said he expects McIlroy, a four-time major winner, to win multiple major championships. “There’s no doubt,” he said. “I think that fire in him is going to continue to grow.”

For a time, there were concerns whether DeChambeau’s previous major title at the 2020 U.S. Open might be his lone triumph. He had bulked up and learned to hit prodigious drives but also had become injury prone. When he broke his hand in 2022, he said he was concerned his career might be over. He was an outsider, a golf nerd that the clicky top players didn’t connect with; but people who underestimate him usually regret it.

Joining LIV Golf with its team concept gave him three teammates in Charles Howell III, Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey who have helped him grow as a person.

“I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to life than just golf,” DeChambeau said.

His longtime coach, Mike Schy, witnessed the team bond at LIV Golf Greenbrier event last year and went up to Howell and thanked him.

“You are so good for him,” Schy said.

That week, DeChambeau used a Krank driver in competition for the first time and posted rounds of 61 and 58 on the weekend to win the title. “I’m like, OK, Bryson’s here again. How do I turn this into major championship golf now?”

DeChambeau finished T-6 at the Masters and runner-up at the PGA Championship. Bodine has witnessed his transformation to being a golfer with the mental fortitude to close out another major title. DeChambeau chopped out his second shot at 18 from over a Magnolia tree root and under an overhanging branch to set up his heroics from the bunker.

“This is not breaking news, he has beat himself before,” he said. “That’s what I said to him on the 18th green, you just never gave up.”

Thanks to the shot of his life, he’s the U.S. Open champion again and a winner for the ninth time on the PGA Tour.

“That’s Payne, right there, baby,” DeChambeau exclaimed on the final green, grasping a commemorative pin with Stewart’s likeness on his cap and then pointing to the heavens.

DeChambeau’s celebration was just getting started and he confirmed he’d be drinking chocolate milk out of the trophy, just as he had done in 2020, only first he needed to find a baggie for a prized memento.

“There’s some sand in here so we got to clean it out first, though,” he said with the smile of victory etched on his face.


Source: Golfweek