SUGAR GROVE, Ill. — For all the superficial differences between traditional tournament golf and the product LIV is putting on display, the real separator is the team competition that runs simultaneous to the individual battle.
It hasn’t happened often in nearly two full seasons of play, but there’s always the chance that teammates will collide at the top of the individual leaderboard. Awkward, yes, but also good for the team since multiple members would have to play well for that to occur.
Something like what happened in Sunday’s final round at Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago.
Crushers GC captain Bryson DeChambeau shot an 8-under 63, birdieing three of his final five holes to snatch victory from teammate Anirban Lahiri by a single stroke. His 14-foot birdie putt on the par-4 third — his final hole due to LIV’s shotgun-start format — ran out of energy three inches short, leaving both him and Lahiri level at 13 under.
But, 10 minutes later, Lahiri couldn’t get up and down from the front fringe on the long par-4 18th, dropping him a tie for second with Ripper GC’s Marc Leishman, who had his own last-ditch birdie chance come up short just 400 yards away on the par-4 first.
Lahiri angrily tossed his putter at his bag while walking off the 18th green, but he was quickly consoled by DeChambeau, who initially lowered his head when Lahiri missed the 8-footer that would’ve set up a playoff.
“I feel so bad for ‘Baan,’ ” DeChambeau said. “I couldn’t be happier that I won, but I wanted to go to a playoff with him. I wanted to battle with my brother and end it the right way.”
Six weeks after his record-tying 58 to win going away at the Greenbrier, DeChambeau successfully rallied from eight shots behind the pace set by 36-hole leader Sebastián Muñoz. The 2020 U.S. Open champion has now won twice on LIV, both times going deep on Sunday to get it done.
“I knew that I could have the chance to go low, just with the way I’m driving it and hitting it, putting it, as well,” DeChambeau said. “It just felt like such a unique week because it wasn’t like I putted super-great or hit it really great, I just kept it in play and hit it in the right places, and I feel like I took advantage when I needed to.”
DeChambeau fell to even par for the tournament midway through Saturday’s second round, shockingly missing what he called “a one-footer” to seemingly kill his chances as contention. However, he reeled off five birdies in his final nine holes to climb to 5 under entering Sunday at this meaty, 7,400-yard layout in the Illinois corn belt.
Then, channeling his late-summer form — top 10s at London, D.C. and Spain preceding the West Virginia breakthrough — DeChambeau started following a familiar formula: Drive it miles down the fairway, wedge it close and make a ton of birdies. Over his final 27 holes, he drew 14 circles on his scorecard; only the 75-foot birdie bomb he made on the 12th Sunday would qualify as fortunate.
“When he gets the club in the slot, he does some things we just don’t see out here,” said fifth-place finisher Talor Gooch, himself a three-time winner on LIV in 2023.
DeChambeau had just a couple of wobbles in the final round, bogeying the par-4 ninth and requiring a 10-foot par saver on the 15th after his tee shot found the wrong tier of the tricky green.
“I think honestly Bryson is just scratching the surface,” said Crushers teammate Paul Casey, who shot 3 under Sunday to produce a counting score that helped the Crushers claim the top spot on the team podium.
“I don’t want to blow smoke, but he’s got an unbelievable level of ability,” Casey continued. “There’s talent, but then it’s hard work and the thought process and everything behind it. We’re just along for the ride, the three of us. We’re just tagging along. But it’s great to be part of that and help in a certain way.”
Ah, yes, the team competition. Perhaps easing Lahiri’s pain from missing out on a career-altering victory was the fact the Crushers — who also include steady veteran Charles Howell III — edged the Abraham Ancer-led Fireballs GC by three for their second win of 2023.
“No,” Lahiri said with a knowing smile. “No. I mean, I think all four of us would agree that you’re trying to win the tournament outright first. At least that’s how I look at it. Anyone else who says otherwise is lying.
“But yes, the team win is something that we all knew that we needed to pull off, and we knew we should pull off. If you look at the last three, four events, I don’t think we’ve been off the podium, and we’ve had one or two bad days.”
Indeed, the Crushers moved into second place in the season-long team standings, 10 points behind last year’s champ Four Aces GC with just one ‘regular-season’ tournament remaining before the team championship next month in South Florida.
DeChambeau (third in the individual standings), Lahiri (sixth) and Howell (10th) are all playing well and will be on Crushers next year barring something unforeseen, but Casey (35th) will likely hit free agency this winter due to finishing outside the top 24.
Not that it matters if he can get his game together by the team championship.
“This is why I love what we’re doing,” Casey said. “It’s the individual and the team element, and it’s the individual element is rewarding to a certain level, and the team element is rewarding to a whole other level.
“They’re different. You can’t compare them, but boy, does it feel good to play good with these guys.”
For you trivia fans, DeChambeau has now won three times in the Land of Lincoln, counting his 2017 victory at the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic just 90 minutes west of here, and his 2015 U.S. Amateur triumph at nearby Olympia Fields.
He’s also made a heck of an argument (like someone else did) that he’s first on the list of Ryder Cup snubs by Team USA captain Zach Johnson and staff. Only Brooks Koepka will travel to Italy next week among the eligible LIVers.
“If you look at it, it would have been nice to at least just have a call,” DeChambeau said, turning from smiling to serious. “There’s numerous people that I think Zach should have called out here, and we didn’t get that. I understand, I get it, but we’re nothing different. We’re still competing. We’re still working super hard to be the best we possibly can be.
“Brooks is obviously going to kill it for Team USA next week, but it definitely does sting a little bit. I personally think that given the way I played this week, I could have definitely racked up some points for Team USA. … It would have been nice for them to consider us more because we’re pretty damn good out here.”
Well, if Bryson needs a shoulder to lean on, he can simply look to Lahiri, who is building up his own near-miss frustration. Sunday marked his seventh second-place finish since joining LIV last year, and considering how the day played out, it might be the most painful.
Prior to DeChambeau’s clinching rally, Lahiri staged his own comeback, as he was three behind Muñoz starting the round, but led by two as he started the back nine.
But a stretch of three birdies in the first five holes gave way to a bunch of lackluster swings on the way in. He three-putted the par-3 15th to cut his lead over Muñoz to one, and couldn’t manage another birdie as DeChambeau snatched the graphite-tinted trophy.
“Today was one of those days where I played really bad, to be honest,” Lahiri said. “I was fighting my swing the whole day. I missed so many fairways right. I wasn’t turning on my backswing very well.
“But I just kept grinding it out. Even though I wasn’t hitting it good, I wanted to make sure I take the big numbers out of play, take the 5s and the 6s out, which I’ve done really well this week. I kind of did that. I hung in there.”
No doubt he took it to the wire — again — but Lahiri missed out on what would’ve been the most significant pro golf win ever for his home nation of India.
One might argue it would’ve meant a lot more for him than for DeChambeau to cash in another. But, that’s not how golf works, and that’s not how sport works … even if LIV provides a chance to still triumph even in moments of individual disaster.
“If it was frustrating, I wouldn’t be working as hard as I am,” Lahiri said, as DeChambeau put a champagne-soaked arm around him.
“Do this again next Sunday and again the Sunday after that and again the Sunday after that and just keep doing it, because there’s only so many times before I break that door.”