ORLANDO, Fla. — Arnold Palmer might have given Bryson DeChambeau a few quizzical looks. He might have wondered about DeChambeau’s single-length irons and the wild diet and all the talk about science. Surely, he would have made fun of the Ben Hogan cap.
But the late namesake of the tournament DeChambeau won Sunday at Palmer’s beloved Bay Hill Club would have undoubtedly given his signature thumbs-up to the way the reigning U.S. Open champion is going about playing the game.
Palmer would have loved the bravado. He would have loved the brawn. He would have loved the brashness.
DeChambeau powered his way to victory on Sunday, firing up the first sizable gallery of the pandemic era by launching tee shots into orbit. Then he went and found them. And he made enough putts to hold off 47-year-old Lee Westwood at the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his eighth PGA Tour victory.
Palmer, the seven-time major champion who made Bay Hill his home since he fell in love with the place in the 1960s, was known to go for broke a time or two. He loved the power game and scoffed at those who thought he should rein it in. He was the first to admit a few tournaments got away because his boldness got the best of him. But he never apologized.
Now here is DeChambeau trying to drive a par 5 over water — Arnie might have moved those tees back — and continuing to mesmerize the golf world has he has transformed his game and his body over the past 18 months.
“It’s great to watch,” said Westwood, who turns 48 next month and is 20 years older than DeChambeau. “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.”
Westwood, who has 24 European Tour victories and more than 40 professional wins, could only poke fun at himself at the sixth hole, a 555-yard par-five that is designed to play around a huge lake.
DeChambeau has been talking for weeks about trying to drive the green, a shot that would require a 330-yard or so carry. On Saturday, DeChambeau celebrated like he won the tournament when he cleared the water. Never mind that he missed the green about 70 yards to the right. His ball traveled 370 yards.
On Sunday, the drive went 377 yards into a bunker. Both days, DeCheambeau made a birdie.
When it was Westwood’s turn to hit, the television cameras were not set up to follow his drive; he was aimed too far right, in the way the hole is intended to be played. Westwood had a mock celebration after his drive found the fairway.
“Just having a bit of fun with it, you know?” Westwood said. “I think I was out there about 310 — only 70 or 80 behind him, wasn’t it?
DeChambeau’s 1-under 71 was one of just two scores under par among the top 70 on a blustery, cool day. It helped him win a tournament he had hoped to capture ever since meeting Palmer here back when DeChambeau was still an amateur.
It was that meeting when Palmer gave DeChambeau some advice: Sign an autograph legibly so people can read it.
“That’s something that stuck with me and I’ve done it ever since,” he said.
Palmer, who famously drove the first green in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills and made birdie for his only win at that major championship, would have been in awe of DeChambeau’s six-shot victory at Winged Foot in September.
Following that major breakthrough, however, DeChambeau has struggled. He entered the Masters in November as one of the favorites; he was never a factor and tied for 34th. That was not an outlier. He has not really contended since that U.S. Open win at Winged Foot. Last week, at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession, he opened with 77.
But the search goes on. He has experimented with more driver shafts, optimum spin rates and launch angles. Even though the goal was to add weight, he believed he got too pudgy. So he sought to cut down on the volume of food and eat a bit healthier.
Still, he plans to take the same approach at Augusta National next month. Swing hard, hit it far. Being closer to the green has its advantages. Getting the ball in the hole from there is the key to success.
In his early days playing the Masters, Palmer was told his low ball flight would not succeed. He remained stubborn and played his game. He won four green jackets. Palmer was not going to back off just because somebody said he should.
This week, DeChambeau had a conversation with Palmer’s grandson and Korn Ferry Tour pro Sam Saunders. That conversation made DeChambeau 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. “But I would say that Mr. Palmer probably would like it. Sam talked to me quite about it about how he thought Mr. Palmer would love what I was doing.”