[PHOTO: Michael Reaves]

They yelled his name from start to finish and Bryson DeChambeau reciprocated with a show they had come to see, punctuated by a pirouette off his left foot with his hands reaching for the sky as his final putt disappeared. His celebration was too visceral to be choreographed and the same can be said for the guttural cry that putt produced. While that scene at Valhalla’s 18th hole may have been a surprise for those watching from home, the truth is that had been the sequence all afternoon, the California native and Texas resident turning Kentucky into a home game. As he departed the green and made his way through the human tunnel that was compressing with fans reaching out for a fist bump – many of which he supplied – the indelible, incontrovertible truth is this: golf needs Bryson back.

He didn’t didn’t win, through no fault of his own. Shooting a final-round 64 for a 20-under total, a score that would have tied the previous 72-hole tournament mark? All DeChambeau can do is tip his cap to the man who came out on top.

“I gave it my all. I put as much effort as I possibly could into it and I knew that my B game would be enough,” DeChambeau said. “It’s just clearly somebody played incredibly well. Xander’s well deserving of a major championship and, yeah, emptying the tank, I certainly love to do that and give the fans everything I can.”

While not the champion, DeChambeau was the unquestioned main attraction on the final day.

He not just entertained but galvanised the thousands that followed and they in turn returned the favour. He couldn’t make it more than 10 paces down the hill from the clubhouse to practice green before a “Let’s go Bryson!” was yelled his way, a shout that served as the soundtrack for most of his afternoon. It’s not unusual for crowds to cheer players as they make their trek around the course, but most keep their head down, acknowledging those outside the ropes with a wave only after a good shot. DeChambeau? In-tune with the cries in his direction, because he returned most of them with a nod or audible, “Thank you.” After his third round he took pictures and signed autographs for anyone that asked. For the better part of five years DeChambeau has been known as a divisive figure, yet you would’ve had a hell of a time explaining that to anyone in Louisville.

This hasn’t been the norm. At last year’s PGA Championship, DeChambeau was loudly booed on Oak Hill’s first tee in his Saturday pairing with Brooks Koepka. Fans at the Open Championship the past two years, where the fans are more in tune with the havoc golf’s civil war has wrought and only give forgiveness when it has been requested, have treated him with aggressive indifference. The patrons of the Masters do not have an appetite for the brashness of one who calls Augusta National a par 67. LIV Golf fans… well, three years into the schism it remains unclear if LIV has fans in America. DeChambeau has desperately craved attention since his arrival and, for the most part, the attention has not been of warmth but curiosity. But at Valhalla? Nothing but love.

No, he’s not quite the DeChambeau you remember. The Hogan cap is gone, his once-beefy profile now slimmed to a sinewy figure. His hat and shirt and bag are adorned with a skull and crossbones, the logo of LIV’s Crushers outfit. But the fidgets and mighty lashes and the power are still there. So is the distance; DeChambeau had wedges into greens that his competitors attacked with 6-irons. It begets an aggressive mindset that makes every hole a birdie opportunity. It may not be nuanced or enlightened golf yet that muscle is a magnetic pull for a significant portion of the golf populace.

It’s not just his game. DeChambeau has been mocked for his devotion to his social media brand. That overlooks how big of a brand he has built, with more than 600,000 YouTube subscribers and more than a million followers on Instagram. Such numbers can be bought and fudged, yet walking with DeChambeau and hearing fans yell out the name of DeChambeau’s “Break 50” show underlined there are plenty of real people in those figures. He credits leaning into that world with helping him with this rapport with galleries.

“It’s actually funny, YouTube has helped me understand that a little bit more. When the moment comes, knowing what to do, what to say, how to act is really important,” DeChambeau explained. “You know, when I was younger I didn’t understand what it was. Yeah, I would have great celebrations and whatnot, but I didn’t know what it meant and what I was doing it necessarily for. Now I’m doing it a lot more for the fans and for the people around and trying to be a bit of an entertainer that plays good golf every once in a while.”

Photo: Icon Sportswire

DeChambeau the person is different, too. He seems more at peace with himself and the attention he commands. For years it seemed DeChambeau did whatever he could to gain adulation. He’s now got it, not by pandering but being himself. Some of that comes with age (he turned 30 last September), and part of that maturation has come from his LIV Golf teammates, the lone wolf now part of a pack. Weird as it sounded, perhaps DeChambeau needed to get lost in LIV to find himself.

Ah, yes, LIV. DeChambeau plays an instrumental role in the breakaway circuit. He was not just one of the first formidable players to defect to the Saudi-backed circuit; he was one of the 11 that sued the PGA Tour, the last player to leave the lawsuit and – according to the tour’s antitrust lawsuit – DeChambeau recruited for LIV when he was still a PGA Tour member. Reconciling a theoretical return to tour membership for LIV players remains a thorny question regarding possible unification, especially of those players that filed the suit that put the tour in a vulnerable financial position. That DeChambeau wasn’t exactly the most popular guy in the locker room when he left doesn’t help his case.

And make no mistake, some of the oddities remain. He’s now playing 3D-printed clubs because of course he is. On Saturday he talked about something called “finite element analysis”. His normal actions continue to be meme-able, and look no further than DeChambeau picking up a Masters crosswalk sign last month and carrying it like a backpack. Conversely, golf has long suffered the stigma that many of its players are of the cookie-cutter variety. That includes its best player in Scottie Scheffler, who apparently needed to get arrested to become interesting to some. No matter what you think of DeChambeau, there’s no doubt he’s colourful, and this sport could use some of that in its sea of vanilla. For him to be stuck on a glorified member-guest tour, for him to compete in notable tournaments just four weeks of the year is no good for him or the game.

DeChambeau watched Schauffele’s final hole from the practice range, keeping his body ready for a playoff he believed wouldn’t come. He was right; when Schauffele’s putt disappeared on the driving range’s video, DeChambeau put his head down and marched up the hill towards the Valhalla clubhouse, attempting to escape a disappointment he knew he couldn’t outrun. In that moment, golf’s entertainer very much looked like a battle-worn competitor, understanding that while he didn’t lose another was its victor.

“I got to learn from this and learn a lot about – look, I learned a lot about myself over the past year, and being able to perform at Augusta and being able to perform today shooting seven-under – I’m just rambling, it’s just I’ve got a lot of thoughts in my head going right now,” he said.

With that, the showman was out of sight. Hopefully golf will see him soon.