As quick as one of his most powerful swings, Bryson DeChambeau brushed aside a question concerning controversy surrounding the upcoming Saudi International.
“So, not a politician, first off,” he said Thursday in a video conference with the media ahead of next month’s tournament in the Middle East. “I’m a golfer, first and foremost, and I want to play where the best golfers in the world are going to play. And that is the end of the story for me.”
It was the only time DeChambeau was curt and agitated during a 30-minute Zoom call with the media ahead of the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.
The tournament is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and has come under harsh criticism by many who think the event and others empowered by Saudis is an attempt to cover up human rights abuses. A piece in the Washington Post said players taking millions in appearance fees are accepting blood money.
The tournament is no longer associated with the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour; it is now a part Asian Tour. Saudi Arabia made a $200 million investment in the tour last year.
Instead of addressing the controversy at length, DeChambeau, 28, who finished in a tie for 18th in 2021 and in a tie for sixth in 2019 in his two previous starts in the Saudi International, enthusiastically spoke to a host of other topics. The world No. 8 and 2020 U.S. champion confirmed he recently became a partial owner of the Professional Long Drivers Association; he will continue to be a major presence on social media to tell his story and offer up tips on how to play the game; he is confident he will get longer on the golf course; and he spoke to his renewed love for the game. He even went deep on why he’s sporting a golf cap these days instead of a tam o’shanter.
“I feel like I’m turning a bit of a page in my life, in my chapter and my book,” he said. “As I’ve always said, I’m always evolving and changing and growing and adapting. It’s just another one of those things. I don’t know if it will be a thing to stay or it pops up randomly. It’s going to be one that is just going to keep you guys on edge, I guess. It just depends on what I feel like and what I’m comfortable with that week.”
DeChambeau’s 2021 was marked by controversy – his social media spat with Brooks Koepka, disparaging his equipment, his questionable stance toward not taking the COVID-19 vaccine, his refusal to speak to the print media, and contemplating a possible departure from the game.
But it also had many highlights, among them his eighth PGA Tour title coming in the Arnold Palmer Invitational; a thrilling playoff loss to Patrick Cantlay in the BMW Championship and finishing third in the Players Championship; a stunning run en route to finishing seventh in the Professional Long Drivers Association World Championships; and his play in the Ryder Cup.
Yet DeChambeau thought about walking away from the game. He said the lowlight of 2021 came when he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to miss the Olympics. After quarantining, he returned at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He explained his reasoning for not taking the vaccine, which was roundly chastised – and he stopped speaking to the print media.
“This once great game that was giving me so much just turned quite a bit on me,” DeChambeau said about that time. “I feel like it’s not worth it anymore. As time has gone on, that has changed. I have grown. I have learned the place that I’m in.
“Is it difficult and frustrating sometimes still? Absolutely, just like anything. But my whole goal is I want to inspire and show off a little bit when I’m able to hit it really far and really straight one day and then chip it and putt it well. That’s my favorite thing to do, and I want to continue to do that.
“That’s what kept me moving in the right way.”
DeChambeau is resting this week to make sure the soreness in his left wrist that forced him to withdraw from this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii is completely gone. DeChambeau, who finished in a tie for 25th in the field of 38 in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui last week, said he will play the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego in two weeks before heading to Saudi Arabia.
Here are other topics DeChambeau addressed, among others.
Growing the game
Bryson DeChambeau signs autographs for fans during pro-am team play ahead of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Cromwell, Conn. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)
“My life, my passion, is to play the best golf I can, number one. Number two, I want to grow the game to a level that’s never been seen before. I want to continue to grow it like Tiger did. I probably won’t have anywhere near the same influence as Tiger, but I want to continue to keep providing golfers and us entertainers out there with a better platform, a better stage to provide everyone in the world, all seven billion, maybe a little bit more now, people an opportunity to see this great game.
“It’s afforded me so many pleasurable and amazing things that I feel it’s my duty to give back in every way possible. One of them is the long drive. I have a passion for it, and I feel it completely aligns with what I want to accomplish in the game of golf. I feel there’s a way to showcase athletes in a light that’s never been seen before.”
Nearly calling it quits
Bryson DeChambeau reacts on the first green during the third round of the BMW Championship. (Photo: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports)
“With everything going against me, whether it was media, the players or whatever it was, it became a lot on a human being. It’s amazing what people can do when they tell you you’re this all the time or that all the time when you know it’s not true personally in the background. You’re doing a lot for charity. You’re doing a lot for people around you, your team around you, and continue to provide the best entertainment for the world of golf, and it becomes difficult sometimes.
“But as time goes on, you have to realize what are you doing this for? Why are you doing it? And how can you continue to improve in that quest in inspiring a next generation or inspiring someone to work harder? I think that’s really where it changed. (Actor) Chris Pratt helped me out a bit through a really difficult time for me. He said play this fictional character for a while. I know you’re not happy, you’re in a very, very difficult spot, but just act like you’re acting for a little bit. As time has gone on, it went away, and I became myself again.
“A lot of it was, people could say, brought on to me by myself. I understand that, but, again, the two things, three things I’m trying to accomplish is inspire and grow the game of golf and be a positive influence for the world. Those are the three things I really want to do. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes I fail at it. Sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everyone else does, we’re all human. The biggest part is I hope people realize we’re all human.”
Green-reading book ban on the PGA Tour
Bryson DeChambeau of the United States reacts on the second hole during the second round of the BMW Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club on August 27, 2021, in Owings Mills, Maryland. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
“They took a process that I’ve done for 13 years and numerous other people have done for a long time and nixed it. It is what it is. The Tour decided that, the PAC decided it, the players decided it, and I respect it. It’s one of those things I’m going to have to learn how to deal with and move on and figure out a way to make more putts without the system that I built, the intellectual property that I have.
“It’s one of those things that I’m always pivoting and trying to figure out the best way to move about it. It is what it is. I can’t say much more about it other than it’s a bit disappointing because I think there’s a lot more traction around the hole now and people are standing around the hole. Whether that has an effect, I don’t know. I’ve got to adapt.”
PGA Tour waivers
Bryson DeChambeau plays his shot from the fifth tee during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
“I don’t know how to answer that fully because, when we sign up for the PGA Tour, we realize we sign a lot away,” he said when asked about needing to receive a waiver from the PGA Tour to play a conflicting event. To play in the Saudi International, the players had to commit to playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the next two to three years. “So our media rights relative to what’s going on that week on Tour, I understand. They want to keep us and have us for that week. So there is a reason for these releases. But I think as time goes on, people are starting to realize that we’re independent contractors and we should be able to play wherever we want whenever we want.
“So it’s a fickle process, and I don’t necessarily know the answer to it, but I think the Tour, as time is going on, is starting to realize that. I hope that they start realizing it’s more player-driven than anything. There’s going to be something different that comes about for me. I don’t know what it is, though.”