HARTFORD, Conn – Bryson DeChambeau had forged a close relationship with Arnold Palmer before The King died on Sept. 25, 2016. So close that only three weeks before Palmer passed away, he wrote a letter to DeChambeau congratulating him on winning the DAP Championship, a Korn Ferry Tour event, not long after he captured the U.S. Amateur and NCAA Individual Championship.
DeChambeau framed the keepsake, hung it on a wall in his home in Dallas and always keeps it close to his heart. So it was plenty understandable why The King of Distance on the PGA Tour had difficulty speaking after he made a 5-foot par putt on the final hole Sunday to defeat Lee Westwood by a stroke and win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
Then during a post-victory interview with NBC’s Steve Sands, DeChambeau discussed his ties with Palmer and how he had been inspired by a text message he received before the final round from another close friend, Tiger Woods, who won a record eight events hosted by The King and continues to recover from multiple severe injuries sustained in a single-vehicle accident on Feb. 23 near Los Angeles.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams that I won Mr. Palmer’s tournament,” said DeChambeau, who has replaced the injured Woods as the most exciting player in the game. “I got Tiger’s text out of the blue; I wasn’t expecting anything. It was obviously personal for the most part, but for him to text me like that was incredible. When I got the text, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing that he is thinking of me when he’s in his tough times that he’s going through right now.’
“One of the things that we talked about was it’s not about how many times you get kicked to the curb or knocked down, it’s about how many times you get back up and keep moving forward. And I think this red cardigan (trademark of Arnold and a replica given to the winner) is not only for Mr. Palmer, but I would say it’s a little bit for Tiger as well, knowing what place he’s in right now.”
DeChambeau reciprocated the well wishes to Woods, saying, “ ‘Keep moving forward, keep going forward. You’re going to get through it. You’re the hardest working person I’ve ever met, and you’ll persevere through this.’ ”
After the emotional interview, DeChambeau had a hearty embrace with Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson who now serves as tournament host but couldn’t play this year because he is recovering from a compound fracture of the clavicle that incurred in a motorized skateboard accident that is expected to sideline him 4-to-6 months.
But Sam’s granddad would have loved Bryson’s bravado, brawn and brashness.
“I don’t even know what to say about winning Mr. Palmer’s tournament. It’s going to make me cry,” DeChambeau said. “It means the world to me and is nothing short of incredibly special. I got the text from Tiger, who obviously had done really well here and was very instrumental in Mr. Palmer’s life, as Mr. Palmer was to Tiger. And we just talked about just fighting no matter what happens and play boldly, like Mr. Palmer said.”
And just as Arnie had advised DeChambeau to always sign an autograph legibly so people can read it.
“That’s something that stuck with me, and I’ve done it ever since,” DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau, 27, who has committed to play in his sixth consecutive Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on June 24-27, made his decisive putt after Westwood sank a 7-footer for par. DeChambeau closed with a 1-under-par 71, tying the low round of the day in the most difficult playing conditions of the week (75.5), for a 72-hole total of 11-under 277, one less than Westwood, who shot 73.
DeChambeau, whose previous victory was in September in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., earned $1,674,000 and 550 FedExCup points to move to first in the standings, which could bode well for DeChambeau. Woods is the only player to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational and go on to capture the FedExCup in the same season (2009).
DeChambeau’s eighth PGA Tour title moved him to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking, ended a run of five international winners and came in one of three tournaments with elevated status, offering a larger purse ($9.3 million) and a three-year PGA Tour exemption. The 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational was the last event completed before a three-month suspension of the PGA Tour season due to COVID-19.
DeChambeau spent the night before banging balls into darkness on the range and putting under a spotlight and trailed Westwood by a stroke entering the final round. He nearly hit his first drive out of the bounds on the way to an opening bogey but grabbed a share of the lead with a 35-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole. He added another birdie at the dogleg-left, par-5 sixth hole to get to 11 under after he thrilled fans again by cutting the corner of the dogleg-left, 565-yard lakeside hole with a 377-yard drive.
DeChambeau’s power poke demonstrated the man nicknamed “The Scientist” for his analytical approach to the game who gained 40 pounds of muscle last year and uses clubs specially designed to his specifications with thicker than normal grips and irons that are all the same length. The shot ended up in a bunker 88 yards from a back flag – and 168 yards ahead of Westwood’s tee shot. When his drive landed, Westwood threw his hands in the air in a playful ode to DeChambeau, and the two then had a classy fist tap.
“Just having a bit of fun with it, you know,” Westwood quipped. “I wanted to reintroduce myself when I got to the green. I thought he may have forgotten who I was.”’
After DeChambeau, who finished fourth last year, rolled in a 49-foot putt on the 11th hole to save par and remain at 11 under, Westwood regained a share of the lead with a birdie on No. 12. But Westwood bogeyed the 14th hole and failed to take advantage of a 343-yard drive on the par-5 16th where DeChambeau saved par after hitting his drive into a buried lie in a fairway bunker. His failure at No. 16 proved to be the last chance to make up ground for the Englishman, a 25-time winner on the European Tour who hasn’t prevailed on the PGA Tour since the 2010 St. Jude Classic and will be 48 next month.
“I’m not going to go out there and go blow for blow with him,” Westwood said. “Some people can do that and will do that, but that’s the way for me to play myself out of a tournament.”
Fittingly, when his 5-footer to win dropped, DeChambeau clenched his fists and flexed his muscles, celebrating like the Ultimate Warrior, the wrestler who has been immortalized via GIF. It also was for his fans – and his critics. He has been at the center of golf’s distance debate the past few years as he has pushed the boundaries of equipment and his body. On Sunday he said he didn’t think it was possible to “Bryson-proof” a golf course, as it has become evidently clear that thick rough and tight fairways don’t work (see six-stroke U.S. Open romp six months ago).
No matter what side of the coin anyone is on in the distance discussion, it was hard to deny just how fun it had been watching DeChambeau bash his way around Arnie’s Place, as it is in any of his starts. Despite not hitting driver on many holes, DeChambeau was No. 1 in driving distance at 321.3 yards.
“Golf’s in a healthy place, if you ask me,” Westwood said. “I don’t see the big problem (with distance). It’s great to watch. I like it. You can see the shape of him. He’s worked hard in the gym, and he’s worked on his technique to hit it a long way. It’s not easy to hit it that straight as he hits it as far as he hits it. So people are going to have advantages, and his is obviously length. He can overpower a golf course. It’s fun to watch.”