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From The PGA Championship: Bryson DeChambeau On The Prowl At Oak Hill After 66, Massive Weight Loss

Andy Lyons. Getty Images.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Rory McIlroy tried to warn us. On Tuesday, McIlroy compared this week's host venue, Oak Hill, to Winged Foot's West Course. The comparison wasn't just a geographical one—both courses are located in the state of New York, if 300+ miles apart—but a stylistic one. Oak Hill, like Winged Foot, has narrow fairways and very penal rough that does not allow players to control trajectory or spin. And Oak Hill, like Winged Foot, doesn't have many forced carries coming into greens. If you're in the rough, chances are you'll be able to run a shot up through an opening onto the putting surface and, because most greens slope from back to front, have it stay on. That differentiates both courses from, say, The Country Club, where forced carries over greenside bunkers render it nearly impossible to hold greens coming out of the cabbage. 

Bryson DeChambeau took advantage of Winged Foot's design during The Great Bludgeoning of 2020, when he won the U.S. Open by six shots despite hitting less than half his fairways. He was still above average in that stat that week, however. Everyone missed fairways, and when everyone misses fairways there's a huge reward for being closer to the green. Especially when the course allows you to run it up the gut. Rory immediately saw the similarities between that U.S. Open and this PGA Championship. 

"I think it's quite similar to what we faced at Winged Foot in 2020 in terms of long golf course: long rough, pretty narrow fairways, but there's a lot of openings into the greens," McIlroy said in his pre-tournament press conference. "You can run the ball up. The fairways are pretty firm and those aprons are certainly running.

"There's two different trains of thought of how to play that. It's playing from the fairway and being able to get a little closer to those tight corners, or you can just get it up there as far as possible and try and run it up the front of the green, which basically most greens allow you to do. Obviously there's a certain style of play that worked pretty well in 2020 at Winged Foot, and I guess, as I said, it remains to be seen what sort of golf wins this week."

Through one round, McIlroy's comparison is looking rather prescient. The same, albeit much thinner, man stands near the top the leaderboard: Mr. DeChambeau, who shot a four-under 66 to match his best-ever round in a major championship. He sat one behind Eric Cole, a 34-year-old PGA Tour rookie with 54 mini-tour wins, when play ended due to darkness on Thursday evening. 

"It's a fantastic round of golf at Oak Hill," DeChambeau, one of LIV Golf's prized signings, said Thursday. "It's a prestigious place. Very difficult golf course. As I was looking at it throughout the week, I'm like, man, I don't know how shooting under par is even possible out here on some of the golf holes. But, luckily, I was able to play some really good golf, hit a lot of fairways, did my job and made some putts."

His game's been a major work-in-progress this year—partly due to hand surgery last year, partly because he's adjusting (again) to an entirely new body. DeChambeau came to the truly stunning discovery sometime last year that guzzling down half-a-dozen protein shakes and looking like the Michelin Man wasn't, in fact, good for his gut or his body, and so he's on a new diet that cut out a bunch of foods that caused inflammation. How it took so long to try that is anyone's guess, but he said coming into this year that he's felt the best he has in years. The game, however, has lagged. He missed the cut at the Masters and failed to post a single top-15 in his first five LIV Golf starts until a better showing last week in Tulsa. 

"I took a Zoomer peptide test, which essentially tells what you inflames your blood when you eat it," DeChambeau said. "I was allergic to corn, wheat, gluten, dairy. Pretty much everything I liked, I couldn't eat. I took that out. Started taking it out in August and over the course of time I've lost all this inflammation, lost a lot of fat and slimmed down like crazy. I lost 18 pounds in 24 days. It was crazy. It wasn't fat. It was all water weight. You know how I looked before. I was not skinny. So a lot of changes in that regard. Obviously having the hand injury was no fun and then learning to play golf again with a new hand.

"It's been a while. So nice to come back and start to finally figure out what's going on with my golf swing. As I've told you guys before, I've struggled with my driving. You see me out there on the range. That's something I don't want to do. I don't want to be out there all night, but I've had to to figure out what I did so well in 2018 and what made me so successful then."

He's referenced that year a lot. Twenty-eighteen. That was before the bulk-up, before the Brooks feud, before the jump to LIV Golf. But Bryson was a world-class player before all that drama—he, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods remain the only men to win the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, he won five times on the PGA Tour in a 16-month stretch from July 2017-November 2018, he made a Ryder Cup team and got as high as No. 4 in the world with the old body. 

Yes, he's back to looking like that he did five years ago, but the swing still looks positively 2020-ey. He hasn't lost much (if any) speed through the slimming-down process, and his driver remains an overpowering weapon when it's cooperating. He hit 9 of 14 fairways on Thursday, gained over 2.7 shots on the field off the tee (best in the field) and ranked fourth in driving distance. Again, Winged Foot-esque. Only this time he did it with a TaylorMade driver, along with Ping irons and his own logo on his hat. DeChabmeau's massive contract with Cobra/Puma expired at the end of 2022, and with LIV Golf's plans to sell team-wide sponsorship deals once existing individual ones run out, DeChambeau's an equipment free agent. So the Cobra clubs and the Puma clothes are gone. So is the old Ben Hogan-style hat. Call it Bryson 3.0, just with Bryson 2.0's speed. 

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"The fast twitch stuff is still there. I built that, engrained that in. Long drive is more fast twitch than anything. Yeah, you have to build a muscle system that can support it. You see a lot of guys that are just lanky and they just hit it really far. It's because they are fast twitch. You can train it. It's not easy to train. It hurts, but you can do it."