Bryson DeChambeau Didn't Win This PGA, But He Delivered an Unforgettable Show

DeChambeau fell one shot short of Xander Schauffele while swashbuckling around Valhalla with seven birdies and several clutch saves including a stolen souvenir.
Bryson DeChambeau shot a Sunday 64 at Valhalla that came up one shot short of forcing a playoff.
Bryson DeChambeau shot a Sunday 64 at Valhalla that came up one shot short of forcing a playoff. / Clare Grant-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bryson DeChambeau got the biggest break of the 106th PGA Championship Sunday when a drive he snapped way left on the 16th hole struck a tree and bounced immaculately into the fairway. It appeared to be a gift from the golf gods in the heat of a witheringly tense three-man battle to the wire. Consider it a fluke circumstance, the luckiest of bounces, one that DeChambeau promptly turned into a birdie.

“I said thank you to the tree,” he said later.

But what if that actually was a moment of earned karma for a good deed done by DeChambeau seven holes earlier?

Coming off the 9th green after a clutch chip out of gnarly rough and a par putt to stay in the thick of the fight with leader Xander Schauffele and playing partner Victor Hovland, DeChambeau pumped a fist and yelled “Let’s go!” to the applauding gallery. The muscleman of the sport was doing his strut-walk uphill on his way through a crosswalk, heading toward the No. 10 tee. Seeing a young fan against the ropes on the left, DeChambeau tossed his golf ball to the kid.

Suddenly, a loser adult reached out a hand and swiped the ball just before the kid caught it. The jerk started to run away with the ball. DeChambeau stopped in mid-stride—mid-fourth round, mid-crucible, mid-moment of truth—and bellowed at the guy, “Hey! Hey! Give the ball to the kid!”

Louisville Metro Police officers stepped into the fracas, an oh-no-not-you-guys-again moment in a weekend when the cops played a large role. But the tension quickly dissipated. 

Having been publicly shamed by DeChambeau, the loser adult actually complied. He came back the rope and handed the ball to the boy.

“He deserved it,” DeChambeau said of the kid hours later and moments after defeat, just a few minutes after Schauffele’s six-foot birdie putt circled the cup on 18 and dropped for the championship. 

It could be argued that DeChambeau deserved to win Sunday. But Schauffele, seeking his first major championship after so many close runs, deserved it a tiny bit more.

DeChambeau emptied the tank in the Kentucky bluegrass to try to win this thing. He competed with a linebacker’s intensity and celebrated with a showman’s panache. He played inspired, spectacular golf, shooting a Sunday 64 and tying the major-championship record for lowest tournament score in relation to par at 20 below—until Schauffele’s final putt fell and set a new standard.

For a guy who broke into the elite realm of golf as an absolute bomber off the tee, the 30-year-old nearly stole this tournament on and around the greens. DeChambeau hit the ball into trouble plenty of times off the tee or with his irons, but he salvaged one hole after another with an excellent short game. Maybe it was touch, maybe it was willing the ball into the hole with his stiff-armed putting stroke—but he kept making plays to keep up with the competition.

“I played well,” he said. “Didn't strike it my best all week. Felt like I had my ‘B’ game pretty much. My putting was A-plus, my wedging was A-plus, short game was A-plus, driving was like B. You know, shot 20 under par in a major championship. Proud of myself for the way I handled adversity.

“I shocked myself a couple times, yeah. Putted fantastic. I don't feel like I missed one big-moment putt out there. There's obviously a couple misses, but every time I needed to get up and down I got up and down, and every time I needed to make a 6-, 7-footer I did. So definitely surprised myself, impressed myself and I know I can do it again, it's just going to take some time. Got to figure some stuff out.”

DeChambeau spent most of the day chasing Schauffele, who nearly led this tournament wire-to-wire. Playing alongside Hovland and two groups in front of Schauffele, the two kept applying pressure by racking up birdies. 

Schauffele briefly opened the door to his pursuers with an ill-advised 3-wood out of a bunker on the 10th hole, which led to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course. DeChambeau and Hovland had birdied the hole, then Hovland birdied No. 12 and they both birdied No. 13. Schauffele bounced back with birdies of his own on 12 and 13, but by that point a crowded Sunday field had been winnowed to a three-man fight to the finish.

When DeChambeau birdied the 16th after the immaculate tree save, he was just a shot behind. After parring 17, he stepped to the 18th at Valhalla—and say what you want about this course being too easy, but the par-5 closing hole has provided an incredible amount of drama across four PGA Championships.

Mark Brooks won in a playoff on 18 in 1996. Tiger Woods finished a three-hole playoff on 18, holding off Cinderella man Bob May in 2000. Rory McIlroy clinched the 2014 PGA on No. 18 in a race against darkness and storms.

Now here came DeChambeau, to a hole he dramatically eagled with a chip on Saturday but parred Thursday and Friday. He hit a draw into a bunker on the left side of the fairway—not a bad result, given some other alternatives—then laced his second shot further up the left side to the first cut of rough. A third-shot chip stopped 11 feet from the hole, and DeChambeau’s shoulders sagged in disappointment.

But after sizing it up, DeChambeau rolled the must-have birdie putt into the cup. It died into the hole on its last roll, and DeChambeau threw both arms into the air as if he might swan dive in after it. One last clutch Bryson putt in a tournament full of them. He’d tied Schauffele, waved his hat to the roaring crowd, yelled one last “Let’s go!” in an afternoon full of them, then departed to the practice range to await a potential playoff. 

The pressure shifted to Schauffele, who had hung on with five straight pars from holes 13-17. Schauffele added a degree of difficulty by driving to the edge of a fairway bunker and having to hit his second shot while standing in the sand. But he hit it well and left himself a manageable chip. After rolling it to within six feet, the championship was riding on one last putt.

Tens of thousands of fans circled the hole—among them, sitting on the side of the green, was Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. He was caught up enough in the moment as a fan that he pulled out his phone and shot video of Schauffele stroking the putt.   

Not far away, DeChambeau stopped hitting balls on the range to watch Schauffele’s putt on the big screen. When it fell, DeChambeau put away his 3-wood and walked directly to the 18th green to congratulate the guy who beat him by a single agonizing stroke.

“Proud of Xander for finally getting the job done," DeChambeau said. “I mean, he's an amazing golfer and well-deserved major champion now.”

For DeChambeau, the hunt for a second major continues. He won the U.S. Open in 2020 and has flirted with a few others—none more than this one. Losing hurt, but he was beyond gracious in defeat.

After his post-round press conference, DeChambeau went back to a group of kids and signed a bunch of stuff for them—hats, flags, gloves, whatever. He didn’t give them the shirt off his back, but he did hand over the hat he wore Sunday, during one of the more epic rounds of his career. Then he walked into the clubhouse, away from the Schauffele celebration, away from a major he came thisclose to winning.

But there is a kid who ended up in possession of a Bryson DeChambeau golf ball off the 9th green who has a new favorite golfer for life. That counts for something, too.


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Pat Forde

PAT FORDE

Pat Forde is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, covering college football and basketball as well as the Olympics and horse racing. He co-hosts the College Football Enquirer podcast and is a football analyst on the Big Ten Network. He previously worked for Yahoo Sports, ESPN and The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Pat has won a remarkable 28 Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest awards; been published three times in Best American Sports Writing; and was nominated for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. A past president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and member of the Football Writers Association of America, Pat lives in Louisville with his wife. They have three children, all of whom were college swimmers.