LINKS PLAYERS MAGAZINE, 2016 ANNUAL EDITION

BRYSON DECHAMBEAU’S WHOLE NEW COURSE

Start talking golf with Bryson DeChambeau, and he’ll go there with you. After all, the kid’s given his heart to the game since he was, well, a younger kid, even winning the Southern California Regional High School Championship and etching his name on a trophy that includes Masters champions Craig Stadler, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods.

Now 22, DeChambeau captured the attention of the broader golf world in 2015 by winning both the NCAA individual title and the U.S. Amateur. Again, DeChambeau placed himself in remarkable company as only Woods, Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, and Ryan Moore had pulled off that same double. It was a season to remember and to be rewarded. In December, DeChambeau was named the Male Amateur Golfer of the Year by Global Golf Post.

And he’ll talk about all this, alongside his interest in the physics of the game, applied both to his swing and his equipment, which somewhat famously is marked by the unusual trait that all his irons are cut to the same length.

But give DeChambeau a blank slate and a friendly ear, and the story he really wants to tell you comes from the 2014 Western Amateur when, as he says, “something I can’t explain” changed his life. Here is that story.

For much of my life, I was a churchgoer—not a steady one, but enough to tell people I went. But when I left my California home to play college golf at Southern Methodist University, I found myself surrounded with some people who had important things to say to me. I’d heard some of these before from my coach back home, Mike Schy, but I’d never paid serious attention.

In the weeks leading up to the 2014 Western Amateur, and while I was there, I found myself reading a book that one of those influential people had recommended. It was called The Handbook of Athletic Perfection, by Wes Neal, and what it talked about all the way through was how to play sports like Jesus would play sports. It captured the dynamic between being ultra-competitive and being as gracious and kind as possible, and it resonated with me.

When I got to the tournament, I said to myself, “OK, I’m going to give my life to Christ and try to act like him in every single situation and do my best for him in every single situation, whatever comes about. If it’s a bad situation, I’ll look at it as an opportunity for me to show my patience, my resilience, my grace. Or if I do something great, I’m still going to be patient and graceful and kind and respectful to others.”

I said that to myself, but here’s the truth: I expected things to go my way.

What I did not expect were three amazing miracles.

First, I had never been able to eat breakfast on the mornings of a tournament. But that first morning of the tournament, I went and decided to try to have breakfast again. All of a sudden, I could eat, and a full breakfast, too! I said, “What? I can eat? This is crazy!” I don’t know the reason that God allowed me to eat that day—and every day since—but it is a huge part of my being properly nourished for the day.

Second, I had always been super nervous playing big tournaments. When I showed up at the first tee, there were the usual spectators around watching, but all of a sudden it wasn’t about the audience. It was about me doing it for God, doing it as a servant, and trying to hit every shot with as much dedication as possible and with as much grace as possible, knowing that whatever happens happens for a reason. It’s always an opportunity to point others to Christ.

Third, I had never been good with my emotions on the course, and this came out in the way I talked. I would get angry and cuss. But now my emotions were held in check. They were the correct emotions, the emotions that Christ would employ. Sure, I hit bad shots, but now I was gracious and kind and never said anything. I stopped cussing.

Those three miracles represented a huge change in my life. But there was still a big tournament to be played, with the best amateur competition in the world.

The Western Am was played at Beverly Country Club in Chicago that year, and as always the match play was preceded by four rounds of stroke play. I played well, finishing runner-up to the medalist. More than that, in the fourth round I struggled on the front nine, shooting three over par. But for the first time I realized it wasn’t the end of the world. I stayed gracious, and I shot four under on the back nine. I’m not saying God allowed that to happen because I was gracious, but I am saying that the steady emotions and the constant focus set me up to do my best.

When we moved to the match play rounds, my first match was against a fellow Californian, Xander Schaufelle. I followed the same plan: be gracious, be kind, be caring. But when we came to the eighteenth hole and I was one down, I didn’t understand it. I thought I would be winning, that I was supposed to win. I thought all this change in me was about ultimately winning the event.

We both hit our drives on the par-5 into the right rough. My next shot, though, was one of the worst shots I could possibly have hit. It was a pull chunk that went about 70 yards into the left rough. Walking to that ball, I kept telling myself, “I’m done.” I had conceded the match in my mind. But then it hit me: That’s not the way Christ would act. That’s not what he would do. He’d try and do his best on this shot. So I reamped and said, “Look, you’re going to do your absolute best.”

I measured out the shot in my mind. It was 200 yards under some trees, over a bunker, and running up to a very difficult green. But I did it. I pulled off the shot. It bounced onto the green, nearly hit the flag, and rolled off the back of the green, about 40 feet from the hole.

All the while Xander was doing what he needed to do. He laid up to the middle of the fairway, then hit a shot from about 150 yards to 30 feet.

I knew I really had only one chance. I had to chip it in. But for the first time all week, I was extremely nervous. I was walking around and couldn’t hit the shot for maybe two minutes. My caddie finally said, “Hey, dude, you’ve got to hit the shot. I got over it, still extremely nervous, heart pounding, and hit the shot. It bounced once on the fringe, once on the green, rolled, hit the cup, and went in the hole! I high-fived everybody. I was super excited and jumping in the air. I thought, Cool! This is how I’m going to win. He’s going to miss the putt, we’re going to a playoff, and I’m going to win it.

When Xander hit his putt, it looked like it was going six feet by. But it hit the back of the cup, bounced up, and fell in. I lose.

I did all the right things, then. I had my hat off and gave him a hug and shook his hand and was very gracious. I went over and thanked the tournament director and was gracious and appreciative even though I had lost.

But when I went to lunch, I became bitter. I couldn’t understand why it had all happened this way.

To get myself out of my funk, I decided to walk out and hit some chip shots. On my way over, I called Mike, my coach back home. Immediately, when he answered the phone, boom, the Holy Spirit hit me. I finally understood what it meant to be playing golf and why I was here. It wasn’t to play golf to win tournaments, or to be in these cool situations where I chip in to win or do something crazy. It was for the exact opposite reason. It was about the character I had employed in that particular situation. It wasn’t about me winning a trophy, it was about me winning in regards to God’s favor and how he would work things out. I did not win that tournament, but I sure as heck won that day.

There was a time in my life, before that tournament, when I was severely depressed, because golf was consuming my life. Now I had complete freedom. It was by far the best moment in my life, better than winning the U.S. Am, better than winning the NCAAs, anything.

There’s nothing that compares to the feeling that the Holy Spirit gave me that day. I’ve never experienced it since; I don’t think I ever will until I go to heaven. But I’m telling you, there was something that happened, something that I can’t explain, something that I hope everybody can experience one day, because no other feeling compares. That was the change that allowed me to start understanding God’s love for me and Jesus’ love for me as well, and what he truly did by coming down here and saving all of us.

COPYRIGHT 2016 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Bryson DeChambeau

    2015 US Amateur Champion