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Bryson DeChambeau has become the most interesting man in golf

Bryson DeChambeau watches his drive during the third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. (Carlos Osorio/AP)
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In case you haven’t been paying full attention lately to the PGA Tour, it now features a player with the devotion to weightlifting — not to mention some of the all-around game — of prime Tiger Woods, the jaw-dropping driving distance of Rory McIlroy and the villainous aura of Patrick Reed.

Yes, Bryson DeChambeau has become the most interesting man in golf.

The 26-year-old California native put his burly physique to good use over the weekend, muscling his way to a career-best 23 under par and a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit. Along the way, he became the first PGA Tour player since 2004 to lead a tournament in strokes gained both off the tee and while putting.

While DeChambeau showed bulk can be beautiful, he also got into a spat with a cameraman that was far from his best look. That occurred Saturday, when he was filmed taking an angry swipe at the sand after a displeasing bunker shot.

Simply taking issue with someone whose job requires him to film elite golfers playing the sport for which they are so handsomely rewarded would have been bad enough, but DeChambeau made matters worse for himself by complaining that the episode was harmful to his “brand.”

“He was literally watching me the whole entire way up after getting out of the bunker, walking up next to the green. And I just was like, ‘Sir, what is the need to watch me that long?’ ” DeChambeau said (via Golf Channel) after the third round. “I mean, I understand it’s his job to video me, but at the same point, I think we need to start protecting our players out here, compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image. I just don’t think that’s necessarily the right thing to do.”

DeChambeau reportedly described his reaction to the bunker shot as “dumb,” but he added: “I feel like when you’re videoing someone and you catch Tiger at a bad time, you show him accidentally doing something, or someone else, they’re just frustrated because they really care about the game. It could really hurt them if they catch you at a potentially vulnerable time. We don’t mean anything by it; we just care a lot about the game. For that to damage our brand like that, that’s not cool in the way we act, because if you actually meet me in person, I’m not too bad of a dude, I don’t think.”

Some speculated DeChambeau was still bothered by an incident at the 2018 British Open, when TV analysts discussed footage of him reacting with immense frustration to an errant shot at the driving range. Others, though, including former basketball player and coach Matt Doherty, said DeChambeau simply needed to “grow up.”

In contrast to his occasional fits of pique, DeChambeau is also known for a methodical approach to golf. That has manifested itself in slow play, much to the chagrin of high-profile rivals such as Brooks Koepka, and in a highly analytical process for improving his game.

That DeChambeau is well aware of his “mad scientist” reputation — or as it might also be called, his brand — was manifested in a shirt he wore during Saturday’s round. It featured mathematical equations tucked into tight stripes as part of what the manufacturer is calling its “optimized variables” golf polo.

DeChambeau’s devotion to experimentation, including an unusual, custom-made driver shaft, was never more evident than when the PGA Tour returned last month from a three-month, coronavirus-related hiatus. DeChambeau showed up with what he described as 20 more pounds of muscle than earlier in the year, when he already weighed 20 pounds more than in 2019, which was meant to help him gain ball speed and thus hit longer shots.

That it has done: He leads the Tour in driving distance at an average of 323 yards. In Detroit, he paced the pack with a mind-numbing average of 350.6, which reportedly broke a record for average measured driving distance at any PGA Tour event, one that had been set by Woods (341.5) at the 2005 British Open.

All that bashing of Bridgestone balls also helped DeChambeau set a tournament record with an aggregate score of 265, giving him the sixth victory of his PGA career. It was his first of the season, but it only put a capper on what has been a stellar showing since February, when he finished fifth, second and fourth before the pandemic scrambled the sports schedule worldwide. In the four events he has played over the past four weeks, DeChambeau has gone third, eighth, sixth and now first, by three shots Sunday over another long hitter, Matthew Wolff.

That only hints at DeChambeau’s recent dominance. At one point during Sunday’s final round, his total score since the Tour resumed play was at least 20 shots better than anyone else’s.

After pummeling the field into submission, DeChambeau declared the triumph was “a little emotional for me because I did do something a little different.”

“I changed my body, changed my mind-set in the game, and I was able to accomplish a win while playing a completely different style of golf,” he said. “And it’s pretty amazing to see that. I hope it’s an inspiration to a lot of people.”

To some, the game’s biggest bopper, and his newfound philosophy that longer hours pumping iron in the gym mean shorter irons into greens on the course, may well be an inspiration. To others, he will evidently remain a major source of irritation.

What few could disagree with, however, is that there is no figure on the Tour more compelling right now than Bryson DeChambeau.

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