ATLANTA — Bryson DeChambeau has made a considerable amount of news lately, much unrelated to his actual play inside the ropes, and made worse by a good bit of negative fan behavior directed at him.
Rory McIlroy stepped up to defend him Wednesday, saying, “It’s pretty tough to be Bryson DeChambeau right now.”
DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion who has transformed his body and his game over the past two years but has been the subject of myriad issues over the past several months, has taken to not speaking to the media in recent weeks.
He was the subject of plenty of taunting last week when he lost a six-hole sudden-death playoff to Patrick Cantlay at the BMW Championship. This week, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced a fan behavior policy that could see spectators ejected for unruly behavior — including shouting “Brooksy” at DeChambeau, an obvious taunt related to the golfer’s ongoing feud with Brooks Koepka.
“I certainly feel some sympathy for him because I don’t think that you should be ostracized or criticized for being different, and I think we have all known from the start that Bryson is different and he is not going to conform to the way people want him to be,” said McIlroy, a two-time winner of the Tour Championship, which begins Thursday at East Lake Golf Club. “He is his own person. He thinks his own thoughts, and everyone has a right to do that.
“There are certainly things that he has done in the past that have brought some of this stuff on himself. I’m not saying that he’s completely blameless in this. But at the same time, I think he has been getting a pretty rough go of it of late and it’s actually pretty sad to see because he, deep down, I think, is a nice person and all he wants to do is try to be the best golfer he can be. And it just seems like every week something else happens.
“And I don’t know if anyone else on tour has spoken up for him, but I definitely feel for him a little bit. … I think he’s trying to become better and he’s trying to learn from his mistakes, and I think everyone should give him a chance to try to do that.”
DeChambeau has had a series of issues since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March for his eighth PGA Tour win.
An unaired TV interview in which Koepka showed his disgust for DeChambeau at the PGA Championship went viral, leading to the two players sniping at each other. Fans taunted DeChambeau at the Memorial Tournament, where a handful were ejected. He shot 44 over the closing nine holes at the U.S. Open after leading. He split with his longtime caddie the day before the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He blamed his driver for a poor opening-round performance at The Open.
And then DeChambeau was knocked out of the Olympics due to a positive COVID-19 test. Upon returning at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, DeChambeau disclosed that he had lost nearly 10 pounds with COVID-19 and that he was not vaccinated. He then explained — erroneously — that those more in need of the vaccine should be given it before him.
That week, while in contention on the final day, DeChambeau got a good bit of heckling. And it has continued throughout the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“I heard some things last week — and I’m not going to say it — that were just inappropriate, and it wasn’t right,” Collin Morikawa said. “So it’s an unfortunate circumstance because this is what our game is. Our game is about respect. … I get it, the world is changing, but that does not mean you can just go out and start saying anything you want.
“It’s an interesting topic. I’m sure players have been called many things throughout the years — different names, different nicknames — but it is what it is and hopefully it’s taken care of.”
Cantlay, who played the final round with DeChambeau, was also sympathetic, but he said some of what is happening can be traced to the attention players bring on themselves through social media and, more directly, the tour’s Player Impact Program, which rewards them for being active in building their brands.
“I think when you have people that go for attention-seeking maneuvers, you leave yourself potentially open to having the wrong type of attention, and I think maybe that’s where we’re at,” Cantlay said. “And it may be a symptom of going for too much attention. But it can be awesome, too, because if you succeed and you act perfect all the time and you do the perfect things all the time, and then you also go for the right attention-seeking moves, you get like double bonus points because everyone loves you and you’re on the perfect side of it.
“I think it’s just a very ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ type of deal. And when you leave it to a jury, you don’t know what’s going to happen. So it’s hard to get all 12 people on a jury on your side. And if you’re playing professional golf on the stage that you’re playing on, and 98% of the people are pulling for you and there are 10,000 people on the green … I don’t know, what does that leave, 20 people that don’t like you, even if 98% of the people like you? And if [those people who don’t like you] have had enough to drink or feel emboldened enough to say something because they want to impress the girl they’re standing next to, then, yeah, like, you’re in trouble. Like, people are going to say bad things.”