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First on the Tee

First On The Tee: The Joy of Proving Others Wrong … Or Yourself Right

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Bryson DeChambeau celebrates his U.S. Open title Sunday at Winged Foot. (GETTY)

Oh, what it must feel like to be Bryson DeChambeau this morning.

Can you imagine? To go against the grain of the culture of the world you live in, to absorb the slings and arrows while you put in the work to transform yourself and your approach … and then you dominate on the biggest stage?

If only we all could get a taste of that once in our lives. To do more than just silence the doubters, to shove it in their faces.

But is that actually what’s going through DeChambeau’s head right now, as he revels in his revolutionary six-stroke victory in the 120th playing of the U.S. Open? I tend to think not.

Our newest men’s major champion had every opportunity to show defiance on Sunday at Winged Foot Golf Club, but instead all we saw was pure joy. (Once he got done thanking his sponsors, that is. Shout out to Veritext.)

Watching the bulked-up Bryson glow like the rising moon in the New York twilight, posing with the U.S. Open trophy, made me realize that positive, internal motivation should be our goal, not the desire to defeat some external force.

DeChambeau hammered that point home in a manner akin to his driving technique when a reporter asked him about his approach to 2020, which has been a stumbling block for so many of us.

“I felt like it was an opportunity, not a lost year at all,” he said. “I felt like it was an opportunity to do something great — change my lifestyle, make it healthier, make it better — and I hope it inspires everybody else to do the same. When you have time, when you have that little free moment, don’t squander it. Look at it as an opportunity to make yourself better.”

How can you not get jacked up about your life after reading that quote?

So many in golf have taken a cynical, pessimistic view of how DeChambeau has transformed his body and his game, but the reality is that this man a) took a significant risk in shifting gears this dramatically, and b) didn’t do anything that almost any player on the PGA Tour couldn’t have done with a similar training plan.

Still, there will be dissenters, or at least competitors who are bewildered about what they just saw. In their defense, Winged Foot is arguably the most difficult course in America, and DeChambeau just defeated it like no one has in a major championship held there.

That he technically hit the fewest fairways ever by a U.S. Open champion since 1981, the year that stat was first tracked, doesn’t mean his title is less legitimate. The goal of golf remains to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes, not play the way most of us agree is desirable.

“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does,” said Rory McIlroy after finishing T-8 at plus 6. “Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just — it’s not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It’s kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.”

Those kinds of passive-aggressive comments will continue to roll in, especially if Bryson continues to win.

McIlroy, whose candor I always appreciate, to be clear, also said DeChambeau was “taking advantage of where the game is at the minute.” I’m not sure how he meant that, but it’s easy to construe that as downgrading the accomplishment of adding massive distance.

But, again, it doesn’t seem like DeChambeau is taking any of this personally. Perhaps it’s just the thrill of victory, but he turned down the opportunity to stick it to the haters, at least verbally. Maybe his history as a young iconoclast — the tam o’shanter cap, the single-length irons, the overall scientific approach — has hardened him against external sniping.

That 6-under total is the best retort, of course.

“Not everybody has to do it my way,” he said. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying in general that there are different ways to do things. If you can find your own way, find your passion — like Arnie said, swing your swing. That’s what I do. That’s what Matthew Wolff does. That’s what Tiger does. That’s what Phil does. That’s what everybody does, and we’re all trying to play the best golf we can.

“Hopefully, my way inspires people.”

You know how I feel about players who hit it long. It’s a legitimate skill like any other in golf. So maybe I’m a little more inclined than some to buy into what Bryson is talking about.

As he alluded to above, though, there’s a unique way each of us is wired, and it’s on each of us to figure out how to make the most of those talents and predilections. And, like it or not, there will often be resistance when our way is a little (or a lot) different from the typical way.

That’s the message I’m taking away from Bryson’s year-long journey. Not a ‘screw you’ type of thing; rather, it’s a pursuit of a more perfect self. Or, to put it like the champ, “Make today’s garbage better than yesterday’s garbage.”

That striving is the beauty of golf. It’s the beauty of life.

DOWN THE FAIRWAY 

• As far as my other takeaways from our first fall U.S. Open in about a century …

I was excited to see 21-year-old Matthew Wolff continue to show up in the biggest events. Looking forward to more from a guy who might as well have ‘swing your swing’ embroidered on his bag.

I was disappointed that Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy couldn’t hang with the Big Golfer. Sure, DJ and Rory scored top-10 finishes, but they were basically non-factors for the biggest tourney of 2020.

I was intrigued by the revitalized Winged Foot, highlighted its Gil Hanse-adjusted greens that are as attention-grabbing and complex as anything this side of St Andrews.

I should’ve been resigned to the fact that this track might’ve been too much to chew for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but that didn’t stop me from pulling for them for 36 holes anyway.

And … I was morbidly curious about what leads to this:

• Pretty sweet to see Pennsylvania’s own Jim Furyk join Arnold Palmer and Bruce Fleischer as the only players to ever win their first two starts on the PGA Champions Tour.

Furyk, 50, edged Jerry Kelly in a playoff at Pebble Beach in the Pure Insurance Championship. Honestly, the guy could still win on the PGA Tour, where he was first in driving accuracy during the 2019-20 season, but I definitely get giving the senior tour a legit shot as well.

• Hope you caught last week’s In The Arena, featuring some insight into the annual Palmer Cup matches at Latrobe Country Club. I wasn’t able to make it out to Arnie’s place this year, but ideally I correct that next year.

As for the rest of the local golf scene, today is the Tri-State PGA’s Tour Championship, featuring only the best competitors from this COVID-interrupted season. Thirty-six holes is on the docket at the Country Club in Meadville.

• A couple of reminders before I sign off: If you’re a high school coach, player or parent, please send me your team’s scores for our running WPIAL scoreboard! Email me at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

Also, you can advertise your business on Pittsburgh Golf Now! Join the likes of Sunset Golf and Butler’s Golf Course as Eagle Sponsors on our directory pages. Again, email me.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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