National Sports

Analysis: U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau is a world-class phony

The wrong guy won the U.S. Open. It happens sometimes. The better golfer from tee to green, and the stronger man of character, was not Bryson DeChambeau. His brawny-armed slap hugs and audience pandering to beery bro chants of “USA!” shouldn’t obscure the fact that he took Saudi blood money from a terrorism-financier government, or that he stumble-lucked into a victory on one of the few courses in the world, Pinehurst No. 2, that would forgive his erratic thrashing off the tee.

One great shot from a bunker on the 18th green - and credit due, it was great - is not the measure of someone’s moral constitution, and neither was that three-putt by Rory McIlroy. DeChambeau’s character isn’t defined by his idle, dimpled chitchat with spectators between tees, or how he let fans swarm him to put mustard fingerprints on the trophy. “I want you guys to touch this trophy because I want you to experience what this feels like for me,” he said afterward, with not a small hint of narcissism. All of it was rich coming from a guy who betrayed American audiences and bailed on his U.S.-based PGA Tour colleagues to take giant bags of money from the sheikhs of the Kingdom, a reported $125 million for a four-year contract.

DeChambeau’s frantic efforts at audience rapport all week long were so obviously a public relations effort to reestablish a connection with golf fans who have recoiled wholesale from the LIV tour. The glint of his smile or the glare of the victory silver should not blind anyone to his actual conduct. It’s a true shame, because the 30-year-old with the cartoon superhero’s jaw and the chesty swing yet soft hands really could be the star the game needs to replace the aging, ailing Tiger Woods. As it is, there’s no forgetting he’s a phony. One who champions a regime with alleged connections to the 9/11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans and was behind the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The cringiest moment of DeChambeau’s post-victory ingratiating was when he disgracefully invoked the late Payne Stewart, the vividly clad icon. After DeChambeau made that save from the bunker, he bellowed, “That’s Payne right there, baby!” as he walked off the 18th green. As if Stewart had somehow intervened from heaven - or would have ever given him a benediction.

All of the evidence suggests that Stewart would have been disgusted by DeChambeau’s defection and would have reviled LIV Golf. Stewart was an ardent, demonstrative patriot who wept during the Star Spangled Banner at the Ryder Cup. He specifically referenced the human rights violations of foreign regimes in discussing his American privilege. Here was Stewart in a 1999 interview with Golf Digest editor Guy Yocum:

“I’m a patriotic person,” Stewart said. “For these people who disgrace the American way and burn our flag and do all of these things … I say, don’t live here and disgrace my country. Go live in the Middle East and see how you like it. Where if you steal something, they cut your hand off. Things like that. We live in such a sheltered environment in the United States. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world, and I’ve seen things you only read about and see on the news. Vicious poverty. That’s why I’m very proud of being American. I’m proud to pay taxes. I pay a lot of taxes, but it sure beats the alternative.”

Meanwhile, here was DeChambeau’s noble stand on the Saudis, after agreeing to take their money: “Nobody is perfect.”


Stewart declared in his prime, “I’m not going to follow that money train,” and he stuck to it, declining some large exhibition fees to stay true to his loyalties. McIlroy is the real heir in that respect to Stewart, not DeChambeau, to whom Stewart would most likely have delivered a heated lecture. As early as 2019, McIlroy declined appearance fees from the Saudis. “There’s a morality to it,” McIlroy said, although he’s since joined the PGA Tour leaders trying to stitch the sport back together, in part with Saudi money.

As McIlroy tries to heal from the scar-inducing finish, he should attend to the legacy of Stewart, who at one time was the most pained loser of his own day. This Open was undeniably lost by McIlroy - far more than it was won by DeChambeau - as he bogeyed three of his last four holes, including that lip-grazing little downhill slider on the 18th green. The miss canceled out all the fine golf that McIlroy played up to that point: He hit 82 percent of Pinehurst’s narrow-necked fairways and 67 percent of its greens during the tournament. He was two strokes better than DeChambeau in the pressurized final round, as DeChambeau shot 1 over and hit just five fairways, the fewest by a champion in 17 years.

But golf is not a game that offers clean justice. There are too many uncontrollable factors, dirt, sun, wind, and in this case, pure luck in the form of the thin, gimmicky rough of Pinehurst, which instead of the usual U.S. Open’s shoetop-curling long grass, consisted of sand wastes filled with “native plants carried by sandhill breezes and native birds,” or what you and I call weeds. Normally, when you miss U.S. Open fairways by 10 and 20 yards, you shoot 78. But time and again DeChambeau found clean exits. “Is there a ‘strokes gained, good breaks’ [stat] this week?” NBC announcer Brandel Chamblee asked, rightly attributing the win to “good fortune” as much as skill.

McIlroy has now been second four times in majors in the past seven years. If he walks away with anything from Pinehurst, it should be the consoling lesson that for years, Stewart was known as the guy who couldn’t finish. He was second in more majors than he won, four times runner-up. He missed two short putts that cost him the 1985 British Open and a six-footer that doomed him at the 1986 U.S. Open. But he persisted. “All I wanted to do was give myself a chance,” Stewart said after his final major victory. “I never gave up.” No doubt that’s what he would tell McIlroy. He would also tell him he should have talked to the press on Sunday; if you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.

Acceptance of the rain is a mark of character, and McIlroy has accepted floods of it. DeChambeau doesn’t do rain. He’s a fair-weather guy.