Bryson DeChambeau isn’t your typical college dropout.
The 22-year-old left SMU at the beginning of the school year in September, and he will turn pro this week when he tees it up in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C.
That wasn’t the way he planned it, but when the Mustangs were put on probation for recruiting violations, it meant he would be unable to defend the NCAA championship he won last spring.
“I seriously believe it was a blessing in disguise,” said DeChambeau, who is from Clovis in California’s San Joaquin Valley. “It’s unfortunate for the guys on the team, the seniors there. I feel bad for them.
“But it was a blessing in disguise for me. I had two paths, and it made it real sort of clear, and it helped push me in a certain direction. It’s given me the experience to be comfortable out there on tour.”
DeChambeau last year joined Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as the only players to win the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year. The U.S. Amateur victory gave him a berth in the Masters — as long as he remained an amateur.
So he accepted several invitations to play in pro events around the world and was impressive, tying for second in the Australian Masters, leading the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with a first-round 64, tying for 18th in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic by finishing with three scores in the 60s and shooting 66 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational to tie for 18th while playing alongside four-time major champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
“Knowing that I can play with some of the best out there is definitely encouraging,” said DeChambeau, who won the 2010 California State Junior Championship and the 2013 Trans-Mississippi, one of the top amateur events in the nation.
“Playing with Adam Scott for the first couple days (of the Australian Masters) was an awesome experience. To see a guy who’s that successful, and for him to be that respectful as well, that was great to see. And the experience Down Under was awesome. Australia is a great place. It’s my second favorite country, other than the U.S., obviously.”
DeChambeau, who was a physics major at SMU, also has played alongside Jordan Spieth, Mickelson and other top pros, who are fascinated that all his ball-striking clubs are the same length.
To say they are impressed would be an understatement.
“If you keep playing like this, I’ll be seeing a lot more of you,” McIlroy told him.
McIlroy added to reporters: “He’s a great young player. He’s very mature for his age, very smart. He’s got a really, really bright future. Seeing the way he played out there, he has real control of his golf ball. He can hit it both ways, control the trajectory. He thinks well around the golf course, is a good putter. He’s got every aspect of the game.”
Added Mickelson: “I really enjoy spending time with Bryson, because he comes at the game from such a different point of view. He has such well-thought-out opinions as to why and how it should be played a certain way, a different way, the way that he plays it.”
Of course, there was some pressure on DeChambeau to show that he belongs, but that will be ramped up, starting this week at Harbour Town.
Now that he is turning pro, DeChambeau can receive the maximum seven sponsor exemptions in an effort to earn his PGA Tour card. The second will come next week at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.
DeChambeau also received invitations to the Memorial and the Quicken Loans National for winning the U.S. Amateur, increasing his chances to nine. He must earn 1,551 FedEx Cup points, the equivalent of 150th on last year’s FedEx Cup points list, to secure playing status for the rest of the season.
Of course, he has seen it done.
“That’s the way Jordan did it,” DeChambeau said of Spieth, who left Texas in the middle of his sophomore year to turn pro in 2012 and not only earned his PGA Tour card quickly but to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings in three seasons.
DeChambeau was in contention for two rounds at the Masters at 72-72 before carding a 77. He finished with another 72 and wound up as low amateur in a tie for 21st.
He seems to have some of the same stuff as Spieth, the right stuff.