16 June 2021: Bryson DeChambeau is the defending champion this week in the 121st U.S. Open. But on Tuesday in his pre-championship interview at the South Course at Torrey Pines in San Diego, he talked about defending more than just his title.
He still finds himself defending his role, however small it might be, in a feud with two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka, one that seems captivating or churlish, depending on one’s point of view. Let’s face it, Jack vs. Arnie this isn’t.
Though together they have won three of the last four National Opens – Koepka taking back-to-back crowns in 2017 and ’18 – the two headstrong competitors have yet to square off head-to-head in any major, let alone the U.S. Open. Their rivalry has mostly played out on social media, as well as in the more traditional media outlets.
“I think it’s fun,” DeChambeau said of their bickering byplay. “There’s a point where it’s great banter. I personally love it. I think that, as time goes on, I hope on the weekend we can play against each other and compete. I think it would be fun and would be great for the game.”
“I think it’s good for the game. It’s pretty much been on every news channel. Pretty much everything you look at online, it’s got this in the headline, or it’s up there as a big news story,” Koepka said. “To me, that’s growing the game.”
Having generally taken the high road, DeChambeau, a native of Clovis, Calif., would rather talk about another high finish this week at a course where he doesn’t have the greatest track record. What he does have is that impressive six-stroke triumph last September at Winged Foot, where he finished at 6 under par with his much-publicized power game.
He’ll bring the same strategy, if you can call it that, to Torrey Pines.
“I try to be as aggressive as possible,” said DeChambeau, 27, meaning he’ll swing for the fences where feasible. “I feel like it’s a little bit similar to Winged Foot, albeit the grass and the rough is a little thicker. It’s a different type of grass, so you can’t get through it as easily. For the most part, I’m going to be trying to bomb it as much as possible and try to gouge it out when I don’t hit it in the fairway.
“If I can keep hitting it to the front of the greens, two-putting when I get into trouble, I’m going to give myself a great chance this week,” he added. “When I hit it in the fairway, I have to take advantage of those holes, have to take advantage of the par 5s out here.”
The winner earlier this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where his long game – surprise – was the talk of the tournament, DeChambeau said that he has worked on a few elements of his game that have placed him on the same foothold in confidence and performance as his winning efforts at Winged Foot and Bay Hill.
Like Dustin Johnson, who got to enjoy his green jacket for only five months after winning last year’s Masters in November, DeChambeau didn’t have a full year’s possession of the U.S. Open Trophy he won in September. He lamented that circumstance, brought on by a reshuffling of the golf schedule due to the pandemic, but at least there was a championship to win, and he did that.
All will be right with the world if he simply takes the trophy right back.
“Almost a year. I wish I would have had it for a year,” he said. “But I’m blessed to have won this championship, and I think that from my perspective, touring it around a little bit, taking it to fun places and having some fun with it was great. I was nice enough to bring it back in good shape, no dinks, no dents, so that’s what I was proud about. Hopefully, I can take it back again this week.”
Dave Shedloski on the USGA website