Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and now Bryson DeChambeau. They are the three golfers who have captured an NCAA individual title, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open. DeChambeau joined that esteemed fraternity on Sunday at Winged Foot Golf Club with a performance for the ages on what many consider one of the game’s most demanding championship tests.
DeChambeau carded a final-round, 3-under-par 67 to earn a decisive six-stroke victory over 54-hole leader and wunderkind Matthew Wolff, who was vying to become the first U.S. Open rookie to win the title since 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet in 1913.
“It's just an honor,” said DeChambeau, who also is the 12th player to have won a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open. “I don't know what else to say. It's been a lot of hard work. Mr. Nicklaus has been always awesome to me. Tiger has always been great to me. I can't say thank you enough to them for helping push me along to be a better person and a better golfer, as well. To be in the likes of that company is special. I'll forever appreciate that.”
The West Course has a well-earned reputation for doling out punishment in its previous major-championship turns. Three of the four previous U.S. Opens held on the A.W. Tillinghast masterpiece in the post-World War II era produced over-par winning scores, including the famous “Massacre at Winged Foot” in 1974 when Hale Irwin triumphed with a 7-over total of 287.
Sixty of the 61 competitors who completed the championship on a chilly and breezy late-summer day battled the West Course to a draw – or much worse (75.03 stroke average). DeChambeau, whose analytical, scientific approach to the game is accompanied by an aggressive “bomb-and-gouge” mentality, took on this bully with a full arsenal of brains and brawn.
The 27-year-old from Clovis, Calif., became just the fourth player in the championship’s past 100 years to be the only player to better par in the final round and hoist the trophy. The trio before him were World Golf Hall of Fame inductees Gene Sarazen (1922) and Byron Nelson (1939), and Jack Fleck, who denied Ben Hogan a fifth title in 1955 at The Olympic Club.
|PLAYER||U.S. OPEN YEAR(S)||U.S. AMATEUR YEAR(S)|
|Charles (Chick) Evans||1916||1916 and 1920|
|Bob Jones||1923, 1926, 1929, 1930||1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1930|
|Jack Nicklaus||1962, 1967, 1972, 1980||1959, 1961|
|Francis Ouimet||1913||1914, 1931|
|Jerome Travers||1915||1907, 1908, 1912, 1913|
|Tiger Woods||2000, 2002, 2008||1994, 1995, 1996|
DeChambeau is the only player in the six U.S. Opens contested at Winged Foot to post all four rounds at par or better, and was the only competitor to finish in red figures for the week (6-under 274).
“Surreal. It sounds amazing, but surreal,” said DeChambeau of being a U.S. Open champion. “It's been a lot of hard work. It's one of those things that doesn't really hit you. It's not going to hit me until tonight.”
The seeds for this championship began early in the week when DeChambeau laid out his bold strategy, though some critics derided his intentions. Winning at Winged Foot from the rough, they said, couldn’t be done.
Then on Saturday night under floodlights on the practice facility, DeChambeau hit driver after driver, and 3-wood after 3-wood. He hit balls until just past 8 p.m. when the rest of his competition was either eating dinner or setting their alarm clocks.
While he only found six fairways on Sunday, DeChambeau put on an exquisite display of iron play and putting, hitting 11 of 18 greens and registering 27 putts. Starting the day two strokes back of Wolff, DeChambeau tied the 2019 NCAA champion when he rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt on the par-4 fourth and then took the lead for good when Wolff failed to convert a 10-footer for par at the par-4 fifth.
It appeared Wolff was ready for a second-nine battle after he matched DeChambeau’s 37-foot eagle on the par-5 ninth with his own eagle from 10 feet to stay within a stroke. But on the second nine, Wolff began to wilt, coming home in 4-over 39 to DeChambeau’s 1-under 34 that included seven consecutive pars from No. 12 for the former Southern Methodist star.
Wolff finished with a 75 to post solo second, while Louis Oosthuizen (281), Harris English (282) and Xander Schauffele (283) rounded out the top five.
“If there's anyone that I was worried about, it was him,” Schauffele said of DeChambeau. “Everyone talked about hitting fairways out here. It's not about hitting fairways. It's about hitting on the correct side of the hole and hitting it far so you can kind of hit a wedge instead of a 6-iron out of the rough.”
Added DeChambeau: “I did it. As difficult as this golf course was presented, I played it beautifully. Even through the rough, I was still able to manage my game and hit it to correct sides of the greens, except on 14 today, and kept plugging away. My putting was immaculate today. My speed control, incredible. That's why we worked so hard on my speed control. You see me out there on the greens with the device trying to control my speed.”
Wolff had hoped to complete one of the great stories in the annals of the U.S. Open. Sunday’s final round came exactly 107 years to the day of Ouimet’s stunning 18-hole playoff victory over British stalwarts Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at The Country Club outside of Boston. Like Ouimet, this was Wolff’s first U.S. Open start, and just his second major since leaving Oklahoma State and turning pro 16 months earlier. Wolff won last year’s 3M Open and tied for fourth in last month’s PGA Championship to earn his exemption into this all-exempt field.
Rounds of 66-74-65 put him in position to win, only to see it unravel in the final round. He isn’t the first 54-hole leader to suffer Sunday blues in the U.S. Open. Forty-six years ago, a 24-year-old Tom Watson carded a 79 at Winged Foot. Kenneth Ferrie, who shared the lead with Phil Mickelson, shot a 76 in 2006 at Winged Foot. Aaron Baddeley had an 80 at Oakmont in 2007 and Dustin Johnson shot an 82 at Pebble Beach in 2010. Watson (1980) and Johnson (2016) would eventually capture U.S. Open titles.
“I played really tough all week,” said Wolff. “I battled hard. Things just didn't go my way. But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head up high for. I'm just excited to learn from this experience, and it's definitely not the last time that I'm going to be in this spot.”
The champion receives custody of the U.S. Open Trophy for one year as well as the Jack Nicklaus Medal, exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Opens, and five-year exemptions into the other three major championships.
Champion Bryson DeChambeau tied for fifth in greens in regulation (46), despite tying for 26th in fairways hit (23).
DeChambeau’s total strokes gained of 7.90 is the fourth-highest by a champion since 1960. Johnny Miller (10.77 in 1963), Arnold Palmer (9.29 in 1960) and Jack Nicklaus (8.19 in 1967) were higher.
This was just the third time since 2000 that the champion was the only player in red figures (Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2002).
Justin Thomas, the first-round leader, recorded the most birdies (16).
The top 10 scorers and ties earned exemptions into the 2021 U.S. Open next June at Torrey Pines Golf Course’s South Course. That list includes Will Zalatoris, the leading money winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, and Zach Johnson, who was in the last year of his five-year exemption for winning the 2015 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
Not a single bogey-free round was recorded in the championship.
The final-round scoring average was 74.9, which was nearly 1.4 strokes higher than 2006 and just under a stroke lower than 1974. The par-4 first ranked as the toughest (4.56), while the par-5 ninth was once again the easiest (4.51).
There were 54 double bogeys recorded on Sunday compared to just 22 on Saturday.
Winged Foot head professional Mike Gilmore played in the first pairing as a non-competitive marker with Abraham Ancer. With Danny Lee’s withdrawal on Saturday, an odd number of players (61) remained for the final round. Ancer chose to have a non-competitive marker instead of playing solo. Gilmore has competed in two U.S. Opens – 1992 at Pebble Beach and 2008 at Torrey Pines.
Michael Thompson, who made his USGA debut at Winged Foot in the 2004 U.S. Amateur and said after winning the 2020 3M Open that the West Course is his personal favorite, had a first-nine scorecard without a par. It included three birdies, five bogeys and one double bogey for a 4-over 39.
Harris English, who finished fourth, lost a ball in the rough on his opening hole, leading to a double bogey.
“I think I'm definitely changing the way people think about the game. Now, whether you can do it, that's a whole different situation. There's a lot of people that are going to be hitting it far. Matthew [Wolff] was hitting it plenty far today. A couple of putts just didn't go in for him today and kept the momentum on my side. So he's definitely got the firepower and the strength to do it. You've got to be looking out for him in the future. There's a lot of young guns that are unbelievable players, and I think the next generation that's coming up into golf hopefully will see this and go, hey, I can do that too.” – Bryson DeChambeau
“He played really well. I was just told that there's a lot of people in here saying what he's doing is pretty exceptional. To watch it firsthand, I have to agree. I feel like I played really well, and that's the difference out here between 4 over and 4 under is just those little tiny breaks that I didn't get.” – Matthew Wolff
“It's the longest week of golf that I've ever played, and something that I'm going to know for the future, and next time I play, I'll just know that it's going to be a really long week and a marathon, and I just have to keep my head high.” -- Wolff
“I think probably have to look at the finish more than anything else. Finishing third in a major is always great. It was going to be tough. You could see early on what Bryson and Matt were going to do, and Bryson is playing his own little golf course at the moment. This golf course definitely showed its teeth today with the firmness of the greens and the fairways and the wind, and it was just tough.” – Louis Oosthuizen on finishing third
“Overall, it was good. I grinded out there. I grinded all week. Pretty happy with my performance, especially the way it started. I could have mailed it in pretty quickly, but I didn't do that. I was trying to get in the hunt, really for the first time in a major.” – Harris English after finishing fourth
“I've never played very well at Torrey [Pines], [so I’m] looking forward to trying to improve on that. Maybe it will be a U.S. Open, and it will be something I like more than just a normal tournament… Excited to be on the West Coast.” – Xander Schauffele on playing next year’s U.S. Open in his hometown of San Diego
“I don't really know what to say because that's just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does. Look, he's found a way to do it. Whether that's good or bad for the game, I don't know, but it's just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It's kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.” – Rory McIlroy on champion Bryson DeChambeau winning despite hitting 23 fairways for the week (41 percent)
“It was a great experience. I've been playing well all year. I just found out that obviously top 10 gets us into next year, too, so that's obviously pretty exciting. Hopefully, it holds. I think it will.” – Will Zalatoris after shooting 71 and finishing tied for sixth
“I have never played in anything like [the U.S. Open], a golf course this hard. The competition this tough. It just proves all my hard work is paying off and my game is at a point where I can try and compete against the best players in the world.” – John Pak, when asked if being low amateur validated his game
“It was a dream week to begin with. I didn't want it to end. I hardly could sleep. And to cap it off with being able to play as a marker with Abraham [Ancer] made it just that much more special, just icing on the cake.” – Winged Foot head professional Mike Gilmore, on being a non-competitive marker for the final round
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.