During Saturday’s third round of the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational, there was no mistaking who was standing tall as the central figure in a huge area of Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
There was no giant top above the kingpin, but there was a circus-like atmosphere from the tee box to the green on the dog-leg, 531-yard, par-5 6th hole, which was hugged on the left by a massive lake.
On the tee, Bryson DeChambeau had everyone’s attention and was playing to the crowd. He was huffing, puffing, and flexing as he prepared to quench the thirst of the fans who had waited for something exceptional. The COVID-19-induced silence was being breached, despite the fact that the galleries were limited at the time – only 5,000 fans were allowed into Arnie’s Place each day that week.
It was the first time on a golf course since the global epidemic began in March 2020 when noise moved everyone. It’s not as alarming as a sonic boom. The commotion wasn’t the loudest one has ever heard on a golf course. But it sounded fantastic to everyone in attendance, a refreshing change of pace after nearly a year of silence outside the gallery ropes at PGA Tour games.
What was once deafening becomes deafening once more.
“It felt like a rock concert as we walked off the fifth green,” remarked playing partner Lanto Griffin. “There were 500 to 1,000 fans yelling “BRY-SON, BRY-SON, BRY-SON” behind the tee.”
The bulked-up Mad Scientist stated before the competition that he intended to drive the par 5 green by going right over the lake. He’d need to take a line directly over the H2O and carry the ball 335 yards if the conditions were right – and on this Saturday, the wind was at his enormous back.
Everyone could see DeChambeau, who was standing on a hill behind the sixth green, start to rile up the crowd and himself. He would later claim that he was aiming for the greenside bunker. The ball exploded off the face of his 5-degree driver at a speed of 194 mph as he uncorked. The ball, it turned out, was heading my way, soaring 346 yards and landing 375 yards from the tee.
Back on the tee, DeChambeau went all Rocky and thrust his arms into the heavens twice. He was left with 50 yards to the green’s front, where he would make a tap-in birdie.
“Everyone knew as soon as he made touch,” Griffin added. “Everyone went insane.” ‘There was never a doubt there, was there?’ I asked him as we walked off the tee. ‘Man, I’m glad that’s done with,’ he remarked. My caddy and I were both shivering. It wasn’t even close to being a golf event. It felt like a heavyweight title fight, and being right inside the ring to watch it was quite fantastic.”
It was also really fascinating to watch from outside the ring. Up by the green, the supporters went crazy. Jordan Spieth, who was ready to swing off the seventh tee, went out of his way to check what happened to the ball.
“I definitely felt like a kid again,” DeChambeau said afterward. “It was thrilling.” Especially if you manage to pull it off. It was almost as if I had won a competition. It was almost as though I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, I did it.’ When I realized it was clear and there was no splash, I got the same thrills and felt like, ‘Yes.’ ‘I gave the supporters exactly what they asked for.’ It was fantastic.”
DeChambeau did so while still in contention, putting himself in a position to lose a lot of money if he didn’t pull it off. But he did, and the next day, he wore the red cardigan that the winner receives after winning the tournament. It’s also worth noting that he sealed his one-shot victory on the 72nd hole with an 8-foot putt.
We all know the man can drive for show. He can also putt for dough.
The Tour would be filled with roars on a weekly basis. Consider Phil Mickelson winning the PGA Championship, Jon Rahm winning the US Open, Collin Morikawa winning the Open Championship, and the US Ryder Cup squad blowing the roof off Whistling Straits.
DeChambeau, too, made a lot of noise. But the commotion that returned to the PGA Tour on that Saturday in Orlando, when the country was finally returning to some kind of routine, was so welcome.
DeChambeau was a one-of-a-kind show on that day, in a COVID-19 world in desperate need of one.
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