He brings eyeballs to TV sets — especially when he has a driver in his hands.
He has also become the most polarizing player in the sport.
His pace of play is appalling most of the time, and the fault always lies somewhere else when things go wrong — the wind, his caddie, the golf gods. He’s too smart and too talented to be responsible for a bad shot. Just ask him, if you can — he stopped talking to the print media in Memphis last week.
He’s also been involved in a silly feud with four-time major champion Brooks Koepka over — who knows what? The two just keep sniping at one another, and even though Koepka might not be the best-liked guy among fellow players, he’s Arnold Palmer and Davis Love III compared to DeChambeau, who has become a pariah in the locker room and even with the relatively benign golf media.
There was even a kerfuffle about his tendency not to yell “fore” when he hits a drive offline. DeChambeau insisted he does yell fore; video evidence was produced of him not doing so.
Most of this is much ado about not much. Tiger Woods spent years not speaking to fellow competitors during a round and often blowing off the media if he wasn’t in the right mood. Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy — both media darlings — have stalked off after bad days. Mickelson’s nickname in the locker room when he was a young player was “Eddie Haskell” — the “Leave It to Beaver” character who would charm grown-ups and then lead Beaver and big brother Wally into trouble.
Now, though, DeChambeau has gone to a new level — one with potentially dangerous implications. Just before the Olympics, he tested positive for the coronavirus and had to be replaced on the U.S. team by Patrick Reed. When DeChambeau first spoke to the media after being cleared to play in Memphis last week, he admitted he had not been vaccinated and said he didn’t intend to change that anytime soon.
It was his excuse that left people shaking their heads. He claimed he wasn’t getting vaccinated because he was afraid he might take a dose away from someone who needed it more. As everyone knows, there is more than enough vaccine to go around, and with the surge of the delta variant, health officials are begging the unvaccinated to get one of the three vaccines currently available.
DeChambeau also said the vaccine wasn’t a guarantee against getting the virus, which it’s not. But the chances of getting it — and getting very sick — go way down if you are vaccinated. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 percent of those hospitalized with covid-19 in recent months were unvaccinated.
Those are facts — health-related facts. They have nothing to do with politics. DeChambeau claimed that because he’s young and strong he can “handle” having the virus. That’s fine. But what about the people he comes in contact with as a public figure? What about kids too young to be vaccinated?
And what about his Ryder Cup teammates? Ryder Cup captains always talk about the importance of the team room, the bonding that is so important to a team’s chances for victory.
It was no coincidence that the United States consistently lost to Europe beginning in 1997, when Woods and Mickelson sat on opposite sides of the room and ignored one another. Teams with both Woods and Mickelson playing went 1-7 against Europe. It was probably not a coincidence that the only two American wins in this century came in 2008 — when Woods was injured and didn’t play — and in 2016, when he was an enthusiastic vice-captain.
DeChambeau isn’t Woods or Mickelson by any stretch. But he should be one of the team’s leaders. Vaccine aside, that’s already an issue for U.S. captain Steve Stricker. He certainly can’t pair DeChambeau with Koepka. When Hal Sutton tried to put Woods and Mickelson together in 2004, they never spoke to one another for 36 holes and lost twice; Mickelson was still complaining about the pairing as late as 2016.
So, with whom does Stricker pair DeChambeau? Chances are good none of his players are going to volunteer. Jordan Spieth will play with his buddy Justin Thomas; that’s about all we know for sure.
But the problem now goes beyond the perennial issue of personalities. Now, who is vaccinated and who is not might become a serious problem.
So what do Stricker and the PGA of America do? Simple. If you want to play in the Ryder Cup, caddie in the Ryder Cup, work at the Ryder Cup or attend the Ryder Cup as a spectator, you show up with a vaccination card. This will be a minor inconvenience — if an inconvenience at all. Everyone has to go through a security check; you just hand over your vaccination card with your phone.
If people — players included — want to scream that their rights are being violated, let them. The PGA of America is not the government; it is a private business that has the right to mandate who can and cannot come into a venue it controls. It is no different than a restaurant requiring shoes and a shirt or, nowadays, a mask indoors. It is less a violation of freedom than what we all go through to get on an airplane. Almost no one complains about that, because we understand it is a public safety issue.
So is this.
DeChambeau and any other potential Ryder Cuppers who are unvaccinated should get their first shots today — the matches begin on Sept. 24, a little more than six weeks from now. Of course, that’s not happening. The PGA has said nothing on the subject other than a gobbledygook statement about continuing to monitor the situation. Not helpful.
Beyond all that, DeChambeau needs to grow up. He needs to learn the phrase, “I’m sorry.” He needs to sit down privately with Koepka and agree to stop publicly sniping at one another. He needs to understand that the media’s job is not to promote him but to report on him.
It isn’t that hard to go from pariah to popular, especially if you are willing to admit you have a problem. Mickelson and Woods have, in recent years, completely reinvented their locker room images and in Woods’s case his public image. It can be done.
The first step is saying, “I’ve got a problem.” DeChambeau isn’t close to that right now. It’s long past time for him to take step one.