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Man Of His Word

Masters 2024: Bryson DeChambeau makes good on his threat

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J.D. Cuban

April 11, 2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Once upon a time, in the days when he was transitioning from man into Mack Truck, Bryson DeChambeau made a declaration about Augusta National that even by his standards was bold. When the assertion fell short, he was mocked for his audacity.

On Thursday at the 2024 Masters, Bryson's prophecy didn't seem so much false as premature.

After calling Augusta National a par 67, DeChambeau did two better in the first round to take the Masters clubhouse lead.

"It's always great getting off to a hot start," DeChambeau said on Thursday afternoon after a seven-under 65. "I knew it was going to be a tough day today with the wind and even tomorrow. So a lot of patience is required around this golf course and making sure you're just stroking on your line, putting it good, hitting good iron shots and driving it well. In order to win major championships, you've got to … especially out here, you've got to do everything well."

The numbers, for those scoring at home: 10 of 14 fairways, 15 greens hit. He birdied his first three and eight on the day, a bogey at the ninth his lone mistake. DeChambeau got the better end of the draw, the course left vulnerable in the morning following late-night storms, and he finished by the time the wind started to get mean. Still, it took many of the folks here by surprise. LIV Golf’s failure to resonate with the public has made DeChambeau somewhat of an Augusta afterthought, so the sight of him in person has trigged an inadvertent, visceral, “Oh yeah, Bryson!” response from patrons this week. But though he now maintains a lower profile, he has been playing well. According to DataGolf, DeChambeau’s been the eighth-best player in golf over the past six months. He had two wins on LIV last year, one of which was highlighted by a final-round 58.

Conversely, the shock lies further than recent play. DeChambeau has history with this club, and not the kind coated in a warm, carmel glaze. It was November 2020 that DeChambeau came to Augusta on a question that doubled as an existential crisis to this course, tournament, and to an extent, the game: Could DeChambeau, fresh off conquering Winged Foot through a manner only he believed to be true, “break” Augusta National? It was asked again the following spring, DeChambeau marked as a tournament favorite after a win at Bay Hill and a T-3 at TPC Sawgrass. DeChambeau did not shy away from such speculation and instead leaned in, going so far as to call Augusta a “par 67” to his strength.

A lot has happened since. DeChambeau defected to a Saudi-backed circuit and proceeded to sue his former employer. Meanwhile, Augusta appeared to break his psyche. In that 2020 Masters he finished two under—or 18 over Bryson par—finishing a shot behind Bernhard Langer despite Langer giving up 35 years and some 60 yards to DeChambeau. The following year wasn’t much better, finishing T-46. He played the 2022 Masters against doctor’s orders after suffering a hand injury but missed the cut by miles. He failed to make the weekend last year, too.

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J.D. Cuban

In fact, since that U.S. Open triumph, DeChambeau’s contended in just one major in his last 11 appearances. The uncomfortable reality is that the paradigm shifter has become just another guy.

On Thursday, DeChambeau returned to what he once was. The Hogan cap is gone, his once-beefy profile now slimmed to a sinewy figure. His hat and shirt and bag are adorned with a skull and crossbones. But the fidgets and mighty lashes and the power are still there. So is the creativity and guileless self-belief. He aired his drive to the right on the 15th, seemingly blocked out by the loblolly pines. The smart play, the only play, was a punch-out lay up. Only DeChambeau answered with a mean cut that had enough juice to make it through a clipped pine unscathed, the shot coming to rest on the left side of the green some 230 yards away that underlined the artistry he’s still capable of.

Yes, he still has a penchant for saying crazy things. He also doesn't consider himself infallible, calling those par-67 comments a mistake. "You know, you mess up. I'm not a perfect person. Everybody messes up," DeChambeau said. What makes Bryson’s words interesting is that his game always has plenty to say. And though anyone can have one good round, it’s worth noting he has enjoyed windows of success here, making a nice run as an amateur in 2016, co-leading after Day 1 in 2019 and turning in a Friday 67 three years ago. There's a tradition in tournament golf to not talk about the next step until you've climbed the one in front of you, yet to consider Thursday an aberration is to ignore the obvious.

The thing that was missed by DeChambeau’s past declarations was their connotation. He wasn’t arrogant when he told golf a revolution was coming and how it would come, or that this course, when he was at his best, could not contain him. These claims were not threats. To Bryson, it was merely his conviction in what would come. For one day, at least, that Augusta threat is looking like a promise.

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