Once upon a time, my only concerns on a Friday evening were where I would be socialising and who I would be socialising with, safe in the knowledge that whatever way the night might go, I’d be up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed come Saturday morning.
Now, with hair that’s considerably more salt than pepper, Fridays are mostly spent bunkered down, fearful of the crippling hangovers that now follow any nights of excess, and that’s how I found myself channel surfing a few weeks back and stumbled upon the World Long Drive Championships from Nevada.
Not that long-drive championships would be my thing. I attended the Irish leg of the European long-driving Championships at Hollystown Golf Club back in the mid-noughties, and after the initial “wow, they hit it so far” reaction, boredom follows quickly, but I was curious to see if Bryson DeChambeau was entered in this year’s World Championships.
In 2021, coming the week after Bryson featured on the victorious US Ryder Cup team, having driven the green on the par-four first hole and drained the eagle putt on his way to a 3&2 singles victory over record point scorer Sergio Garcia, the heavyweights of golf media made the trek from Wisconsin to Nevada to cover the event.
For Bryson, who has always struck me as a supreme attention-seeker, this was as close to peak popularity as he’s ever likely to encounter, because they were there for him, and him alone. That Kyle Berkshire was going for his third successive crown was a minor aside and, realistically, an inconvenience.
And, to be fair to DeChambeau, as a proper golfer competing in a game that is tangibly linked at best, he made the quarter-finals, almost advancing to the final-four, and of course, press coverage of his feat was far and wide.
So, in the relative vacuum that was this year’s championships, I was mildly surprised to see that Bryson’s name was indeed among the entries. I hung around long enough to watch the 2020 U.S. Open champion’s opening heat, before boredom got the better of me, but I couldn’t help reflect on how one of golf’s most polarising – therefore most compelling – figures had completely slipped off the radar.
Of course, this is partly due to a wrist injury that side-lined Bryson for much of the early part of the season and was doubtless a strong contributor to the loss of form either side of the layoff, but his defection to LIV Golf has completely hidden him from public view.
Now, without knowing the man personally, I don’t particularly like DeChambeau. He appears narcissistic, childish, spoiled, and any number of other unpleasant adjectives, but, despite this (or possibly because of it) he makes for compelling viewing.
Who didn’t enjoy him taking the most aggressive line on the sixth hole at Bay Hill last season where he took on the 340-yard carry over water and almost drove the green on the par-five.
Or the schoolyard spat with Brooks Koepka following the now famous interview footage which showed an exasperated Brooks shaking his head and rolling his eyes as Bryson strolled by much like the proverbial bull in a china shop. As both took infantile verbal swings at each other in the ensuing days, it was manna from heaven for those of us who enjoy the ongoings of professional golf off-course just as much as the on-course action.
But where is Bryson now? Apart from the recent viral video of him getting smacked in the face with a rope – which I’ll admit to taking a little sadistic pleasure in – he’s been little more than a ghost, insignificant on LIV leaderboards, insignificant in the press (largely due to the press’ failure to ask anything of substance,) and insignificant on television (largely due to LIV not being televised.)
Sure, if you care to go searching on YouTube, Bryson has his own channel where you can watch him playing nine-hole matches against college kids, taking you on a tour of his childhood home, or even showing you how to swing a driver like him, but there’s little natural or organic about that content, and that makes it rather tough viewing in my opinion.
With LIV and the DP World and PGA Tours highly unlikely to come to any kind of co-sanctioning and co-existing agreements, and LIV’s television prospects still largely unknown, Bryson’s missing person status is unlikely to come to an end anytime soon.
There are many tragedies unfolding as the tectonic plates of professional golf continue to shift left and right, but the removal from the public eye of some of the game’s most genuinely interesting characters may be the greatest tragedy of them all.
And that’s a thought that might drive me to the pub on a Friday night..