As Valderrama proved last year, Bryson has now become an artist

Written by
Mike McAllister
Jul 10 2024
- 4 MIN
Bryson Valderrama STORY image

SOTOGRANDE, Spain – Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau had a bit of fun Wednesday while discussing an approach shot DeChambeau struck on the par-5 17th during last year’s final round of LIV Golf Andalucía.

DeChambeau, in a tense battle with Talor Gooch for the individual championship at Real Club Valderrama, found himself in dire straits after an errant drive left him with a sidehill lie behind trees that seemingly blocked any realistic opportunity to reach the green, especially with water guarding the front.

Opting for an 8-iron from 195 yards, DeChambeau somehow found a workable line, his ball landing on the putting surface before rolling off just short of the back bunker. 

“Pretty special,” Mickelson said in earnest.

Trying to keep a straight face, the Crushers GC captain replied: “What’s funny, I actually played it right off on the tree limbs just to slow it down … That’s something I learned from you.”

Mickelson took the bait. 

“That’s been an effective shot for me throughout the years,” the HyFlyers GC captain said. “Hard to teach. So, well played.”

The shot set up DeChambeau for an up-and-down birdie but ultimately did not lead to victory, as Gooch birdied the last hole from 30 feet for his third win in five starts. DeChambeau settled for second, which at that point was his best result in a LIV Golf tournament. But more spectacular results were on the horizon. 

A month later, he arrived at Greenbrier having found a confidence-boosting weapon in his new Krank Golf driver, and shot 61-58 on the weekend for his first individual title. The next month, in Chicago, he won again.

Of course, this year, he’s been the best performer in golf’s first three majors, with a career-best T6 at the Masters, a solo second (with a 20-under total, a record score for a non-winner in any major) at the PGA Championship, and then a second U.S. Open title, fueled by a bunker-shot-for-the-ages on the final hole last month at Pinehurst.

DeChambeau has been consistent in saying the turning point to his current form was finding the right equipment to fit his unique skills and demands. Thanks to his Krank woods, as well as his 3D-printed Avoda irons that he put into play at Augusta National, he has a bag that he now fully trusts and believes in.

But don’t underestimate his performance last year at Valderrama as a key indicator that his game already was maturing before our very eyes. 

Given his power, it’s easy to assume that DeChambeau’s best opportunities to win come on longer courses with wider fairways that give him room to bomb. Valderrama showed last year, however, that he can compete on tighter courses that demand creativity and variety. Artistry, if you will. A certain flair that befits Valderrama's Spanish roots and its most legendary player, Seve Ballesteros.

“I can see why this golf course is extremely loved here in Spain,” DeChambeau said. “Certainly a golf course that, albeit most think it’s not fitting for me, I think it’s a great golf course.

“It’s a strategy golf course. You’ve got to have your irons dialed in and you’ve got to putt really well. It was a lot of fun last year.”

His recovery shot at 17 last year perfectly encapsulates DeChambeau’s ability to make something out of nothing. Yes, it required tremendous power to pull it off, but also required imagination to think through the shot.

No wonder Mickelson remembered it Wednesday as he offered DeChambeau a heartfelt compliment.

“This golf course is not a course you can just stand up and wail on it and hit it as far as you can,” Mickelson said. “You have to be precise. You have to hit it certain distances to leave yourself a shot in around the trees and so forth.

“For Bryson, who has so much speed, to win a U.S. Open or to win like he has using his length but to play well here, and just miss the playoff had Talor Gooch not made a 30-footer on the last hole, using precision, using shot-making, using his other skills, I think is a real compliment to what a complete player he is. This course identified that.”

DeChambeau’s scientific mindset usually likes things orderly, to fit a pattern that he can identify and rely on. But he also appreciates the challenge that a course like Valderrama offers, being thrown into situations he doesn’t expect. How he responds will determine his place late Sunday afternoon.

“It's about who can stand the test of this golf course and persevere through adversity,” he said. “There's going to be shots you hit between trees and go into weird places. The people that can handle that adversity and move through it and persevere on, is going to be probably the eventual champion.”

DeChambeau will enter next week’s Open Championship seeking to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win both the U.S. Open and Open titles. He’ll be taking on a Royal Troon course that generally rewards shot makers, not big hitters. The last four winners of the Open at Troon are Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997), Todd Hamilton (2004) and Henrik Stenson (2016).

Stenson won his title in a celebrated weekend duel against Mickelson, as both players separated from the rest of the field. In the end, Stenson shot 63 in the final round to shoot 20 under and beat Mickelson by three.

“A fantastic week of golf for both of us,” said Stenson, now a co-captain for Majesticks GC.

“Only time I can remember in my career where I played my absolute best golf and it wasn’t good enough to win,” added Mickelson.

Right now, it’s DeChambeau who seems to be playing his absolute best golf, especially in majors. No longer just a bomber, he’s become an artist. But here at Valderrama, he still has room to grow. Specifically, one spot higher on the final leaderboard.

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