Bryson DeChambeau held his own against the biggest stars in golf and got off to a strong start in his first major championship.
The reigning NCAA individual and U.S. Amateur champion shot an even-par 72 Thursday in the opening round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.
On a day that began early for The Bee’s 2012 Golfer of the Year out of Clovis East High, DeChambeau enjoyed watching a spirited experience on the first tee when legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the ceremonial first tee shots to begin the tournament.
Minutes later, as DeChambeau walked toward the clubhouse and practice range to prepare for his 9:46 a.m. tee time, he was stopped by a patron and addressed him: “Bryson DeChambeau, Clovis, Calif.”
To which DeChambeau responded, “That’s right” with an ear-to-ear grin.
The kid sure knows his roots.
On Thursday morning, on one of sport’s greatest stages, a pair of 22-year-olds teed it up along with journeyman Paul Casey in the opening round.
But these aren’t your father’s 22-year-olds. Far from it. Jordan Spieth was the better known of the two, defending his Masters title with a sensational and gritty 6-under 66. The other, of course, was DeChambeau.
It’s one of the tournament’s many traditions to pair the reigning champion with the current U.S. Amateur champ, but this duo felt different.
They both held the lead in some fashion Thursday: DeChambeau tying a group at 1 under when he tapped in a birdie on the par-5 second and Spieth capturing the solo lead for good on the par-5 eighth at 3 under.
Both played well, but what did DeChambeau learn from this moment?
“Something I’ll never forget, and especially playing with Spieth, and him shooting 66,” DeChambeau said. “That was a fun day to watch him do that and make some putts.”
The winds gusted at 25 to 30 mph at times and DeChambeau took notice of Spieth’s putting prowess in the conditions.
“I was thoroughly impressed with how he controlled his putts in the wind,” DeChambeau said. “I hope I can be a little bit better at that tomorrow, understanding how much wind is going to affect a putt.”
DeChambeau, in his own right, seemed to do a great job of listening to last year’s winner as they walked often stride-for-stride on many holes.
The most iconic moment in that regard came at the par-3 12th when the two crossed the Hogan Bridge together and Spieth demonstratively pointed toward the treacherously undulating green ahead.
“It’s golf talk,” DeChambeau said with a shrug. “It’s nothing crazy, nothing special. But just talking about certain putts every once in a while. He’s really nice, and it’s been fun to play with him.”
Spieth returned the favor.
“I love how confident he is in what he’s doing,” Spieth said. “And what anybody else says – he just kind of, you know, stays quiet and still listens to himself.”
Spieth also went on to say there’s not a right or a wrong way to play the game.
Certainly almost everything about DeChambeau’s style is unorthodox but perhaps that’s the very thing that got him here and in the company of the game’s biggest stars.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” DeChambeau said. “I had some adrenaline going, but I stepped up there and striped it right down the left-center. Most people, I guess, say they’re nervous and, look, as I’ve been saved by grace, it doesn’t matter – this is just another golf shot out here.”
Indeed Dechambeau’s ability to pierce the ball into the wind with irons and woods was impressive Thursday. His drives on the first and eighth seemingly didn’t rise more than 15 yards off the ground.
DeChambeau actually had a putt for the solo lead on the second hole. After missing the eagle try, he stared at the hole and motioned at the line of his putt even minutes after the stroke.
But all in all, he maintained a steady round in testing conditions.
Lastly, the joy in DeChambeau’s voice was apparent as he described what it was like to watch the ceremonial tee shots.
“That’s a memory I’ll never forget, to see Mr. Player and Mr. Nicklaus stripe those shots and start this tournament off,” DeChambeau said. “It’s my first Masters – it’s a special experience. It’s not one I can fully describe just yet because it just happened a couple of hours ago, but it’s one that I will remember for the rest of my life. And I can’t be more honored.”
Garrett Johnston is a sports writer from Sacramento. Follow him on Twitter @JohnstonGarrett.