LOUISVILLE — In the COVID-delayed 2020 U.S. Open, played in September at Winged Foot Golf Club, Bryson DeChambeau didn’t have one of those pure moments of joy in the midst of smothering the rest of the field in a six-shot victory. His champion’s walk up the 18th hole was, unfortunately for him, the quietest for possibly any major winner, with only club members on hand during the country’s dark time.

Imagine, then, how it felt for the 30-year-old DeChambeau to enjoy a genuine and meaningful crowd-pleasing moment in the heat of contending in the 106th PGA Championship. He can tell you: “Exhilarating. I haven’t felt like that in a long time.”

The crowds at Valhalla Golf Club this week already had greeted DeChambeau with warmth and loud cheers. That the eight-time PGA Tour winner forsook his home circuit for the riches of LIV Golf, and that it took him time to find his competitive footing in the Saudi Arabia-backed league, has not seemed to matter one bit. For seemingly many, DeChambeau is a quirky and talented character they are compelled to root for.

Bryson and his following got their seconds of joy on his last shot of the third round at Valhalla on Saturday, when he clipped a perfectly judged chip from just under 33 feet that rolled smoothly into the hole for a closing eagle that polished off a five-under-par 67, pushing DeChambeau into a tie for fourth at 13 under. He will begin Sunday two shots off the pace of Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele on an absolutely stacked leaderboard.

Of the pitch that caused a tremendous roar heard around the massive grounds at Valhalla, DeChambeau said he could only match the moment with the long putt he made at Greenbrier last August in shooting only the fourth top-level 58 in pro golf history to win an LIV golf event.

When Saturday’s shot went in, DeChambeau let out a scream from the gut and lunged forward with a ferocious fist pump. “That was pretty exciting there. I was pretty pumped,” he said.


Patrick Smith

DeChambeau will play the final round in the third-to-last twosome with young tour star Viktor Hovland. Ahead of him are two major champions in Shane Lowry (who shot 62 on Saturday) and Morikawa, and an eight-time winner and Ryder Cupper in Schauffele. And yet it’s highly likely that DeChambeau will supplant the fading Scottie Scheffler as this week’s fan favorite.

Among the most polarizing figures in the game before LIV Golf came along, DeChambeau believes he has made an effort to connect with people on his own terms. He is producing a YouTube show called “Break 50,” and he appealed to the everyman a couple of years ago by competing in and nearly winning the National Long Drive Championship. His LIV playing career got off to a languid start, but last summer he secured two wins to put him back on the competitive radar.

“I’ve worked really hard to have people hopefully understand who I am a little bit better,” DeChambeau said Saturday. “YouTube has been a great platform to help that out. The ‘Break 50’ series are a lot of fun. I love doing it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a challenge that’s never been done nor accomplished without any strokes.

“So it just keeps my brain fresh and in an entertainment mode, and realizing what the game is all about, not just for myself and winning money or winning trophies but entertaining, as well. Obviously we all want to win trophies.”

He admits that his game has been a work in progress (he has four top-10s this year on LIV, but hasn’t sniffed a win), but his outlook changed in the spring when DeChambeau got a set of 3D printed irons that he helped develop with Avoda Golf approved by the USGA. The go-ahead happened early in the week of the Masters, and DeChambeau then opened with a 65 at Augusta National that must have had other players fearing he’d discovered another secret to success.

Alas, DeChambeau went 73-75-73 the rest of the way and tied for sixth. Still, that was his best finish in a major since a T-4 in the ’23 PGA at Oak Hill.

“It’s a slow but steady grind to improving my equipment each and every week … well, now each and every year,” DeChambeau said. “And I’m looking forward to the future on that stuff. There’s a lot to come about on that front.”

This week, DeChambeau opened with a 68 and powered to a 65 on Friday. In both those rounds he suffered only one bogey, and he pulled that off again on Saturday, with his lone blip coming after driving into the trees on the difficult sixth hole.

With Valhalla’s layout stretched further by soft fairways, DeChambeau has, not surprisingly, overpowered it by leading the field with a driving average of whopping 332 yards. That’s put him in position to reach 74 percent of the greens, putting him in the top 10 of the field. It’s helped enormously that he’s No. 2 in scrambling, getting up and down on 12 of 14 occasions.

“The key is iron play this week and haven’t done my best, but got up and down nicely. … Man, I made a couple of clutch shots when I needed to,” he said.

One that he and his faithful will remember for a very long time.

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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com