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WHAT WE DON’T NEED: UGLY AMERICANS AT THE RYDER CUP
If the feuding between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka isn’t embarrassing enough, it threatens to disgrace a country that could use an uplifting golf victory over Europe
America, quite apparently, no longer is “one nation under God, indivisible’’ — driven apart by politics, vaccines and cultural warfare. So how lovely if a biennial golf competition between the USA and Europe, in the lakeside wilds of Wisconsin, somehow unifies the warring millions. Could the Ryder Cup renew our allegiance to a flag and republic, as we were instructed to pledge as kids, when we didn’t know better?
Sad to say, this madcap jingoist dream might prove elusive when the guardians of that almighty responsibility are Dumb and Dumber. Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, the meatheads holding the “I’m With Stupid’’ signs aimed toward each other, more likely will embarrass their country this weekend than bring patriotic pride.
At a moment on Planet Earth when it’s urgent to show stability and harmony as a nation, disarray is just a mean tweet away at Whistling Straits. Or a goofy interview-bomb, which is what ignited the childish, months-long feud between these gifted but dopey warriors, one built like a tight end and the other like a Dodge Ram truck — in DeChambeau’s case, suspiciously so — and both blessed with the power and major achievements preferably channeled into breaking Europe’s hold on the Cup.
Instead, when the focus should be on a U.S. side with eight of the top 10 players in the global rankings, the attention is on which sniper shoots the first hate glare. And if the tension might lead to an unraveling of the Americans, who have lost this event nine of the last 12 times and can’t afford to keep shaming America’s supposed golf preeminence. In the run-up to Friday’s opening matches, we keep hearing that the Bryson vs. Brooks ruckus is overblown and won’t distract the bigger cause.
“I think this is a team event. I’m focused on helping Team USA to a victory, and that’s honestly the reason I’m here,” DeChambeau vowed.
“A lot of this social media stuff has definitely been driven by a lot of external factors, not necessarily us two. We had great conversations Tour Championship week when we had dinner, and then this week as well. I sat down and had dinner with him last night, and it was fine.’’
He didn’t say if cyanide was served for dessert.
“It’s non-issue for me and the team. I’m being totally honest with you,’’ team captain Steve Stricker said. “I've had conversations with them both. They have assured me it's not going to be an issue. I have no worries whatsoever.
“Will we pair them together? I don't think so at this point … but probably not. But again, I had a dinner; they all showed up. We had great conversation, great talks. So I'm not seeing it as an issue at all and they are completely on board.''
Team USA’s leadership is pulling muscles in twisting awkwardly to prove a phony point. On the driving range Wednesday, DeChambeau and Koepka spoke briefly, which wasn’t noteworthy until the 27-second clip was posted on the team’s official social media account. “Nothing to see here, teammates talk @b_dechambeau#GoUSA,” Koepka tweeted. Was the scene staged? I’m not the only one asking.
Besides, we’ve yet to hear expansively from Koepka, who has fueled the conflict by firing relentless 3-irons at DeChambeau and should be more concerned about a left wrist injury that could restrict him against Europe. The rift began with complaints about Bryson’s plodding slow play, then exploded at the PGA Championship when DeChambeau, spikes scraping across the sidewalk, ambled into a TV shot while Koepka was conducting a conversation on the Golf Channel. Snapped Koepka, closing his eyes in exasperation: “I f—ing … I lost my train of thought hearing that bullshit. F—ing Christ.’’
The sport’s tightly bonded fraternity will have you believe the discord is entirely the fault of DeChambeau, who has disrupted a culture of bro-dude cronyism and snobby traditionalism with a fierce, overly intense independence symbolized by a grotesquely bulked body that appears built in a laboratory, for the neanderthal-like purpose of blasting the ball faster and farther than anyone who has tried. There’s no question he has fed the beast with self-centered behavior that annoys other players — adamantly refusing to be vaccinated after contracting COVID-19, chasing away caddie Tim Tucker with verbal harangues, berating Patrick Cantlay for walking on the far side of the fairway while he was hitting.
But rather than cancel him as the most disliked golfer ever, the better tack is to explore why Koepka led the charge to ostracize DeChambeau rather than accept him as an eccentric making his own path. Also, why DeChambeau didn’t just ignore him, instead of fueling a crusade that has exploded into schadenfreude and extended into galleries who chide him with derisive “Brooksie!’’ chants. It was Koepka who egged on fans by offering free beer to any Bryson-baiter who was ejected from the course, which came after a warning by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan that any “Brooksie!’’ yellers would be removed. No wonder DeChambeau snapped at one such drunken fool last month at the BMW Championship, where he said, “You know what? Get the f—k out!’’
Consider it a reminder that Koepka has been a conspirator, if not a bully, in this entire debacle. When asked recently if he could co-exist as DeChambeau’s Ryder Cup teammate, he shot back with more snark: “You realize it’s only a week, right. I can deal with anybody in the world for a week.”
He didn’t come off as Captain America himself when he said the Ryder Cup format, after a year when of playing individual events, is a “bit odd.’’ In a Golf Digest story, Koepka said: “I don't want to say it's a bad week. We're just so individualized, and everybody has their routine and a different way of doing things and now it's like, OK, we have to have a meeting at this time or go do this or go do that. I can barely see my (personal) team. It's hard to even go to the gym. There's no time to do that at the Ryder Cup. There's no time to decompress.''
That drew a blast from NBC analyst and 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger, who said, “I’m not sure Brooks loves the Ryder Cup that much. If he doesn’t love it, he should relinquish his spot and get people there who do love the Ryder Cup.” Thus, Koepka can’t have a gripe about a similar commitment issue involving DeChambeau, who told golf.com that his hands were “wrecked’’ because he was preparing zealously for the Professional Long Drivers Association World Championships — which starts Monday, a day after the Ryder Cup, and shouldn’t be prioritized in the same solar system with a defining international event.
Doesn’t all of this hostility bother DeChambeau? And even if Koepka behaves — already, his Instagram-happy fiancee is posting photos of their American Club suite in Kohler and the perks that came with it — it’s fair to wonder if DeChambeau is in the proper mindframe to play well, given the conjecture that no player wants to be his partner.
“No matter what, we're all humans at the end of the day, and I think there's obviously a level of, I guess you could say, control that any human will ever have, and you can have a lot of armor and you can protect yourself with people around you and all that,'' DeChambeau said. “Sure there are times where it's not comfortable, but there's also times where it fuels me. I think this week is going to be an amazing example of it, and it's going to be fun to be able to have the crowd behind us and pump them up and show them what I can hopefully do and what we can do as a team, more importantly.
“I’m not going to make this about me again. This is about a team event. I've got a brass chest. I've taken a lot of heat. But I'm OK with it and I understand I'm in the place where I'm at, and it's going to be that way moving forward.''
One of six U.S. rookies, Scottie Scheffler, was grouped with DeChambeau for a practice session. And he was quick to defend the villain amid the backlash. “The perceptions around him it's whatever the public creates,'' Scheffler said. “I think everybody has an opinion on him. I have an opinion on him, as well. I think he's a fantastic guy. I've known him since college. He's always been nothing but gracious and kind to me, and he means really well. I think sometimes people take little tidbits of what he says and try and beat him down a little bit, and I think that's kind of what happens in sports is people get built up and then they get torn down once they reach the top.
“When people make it really big like Bryson has, I think some people try and tear him down a little bit. Fantastic guy, he's got a heart, and I really have nothing but good things to say about him.''
The anti-vaxxer will benefit from COVID-19 traveling restrictions, preventing Eurohecklers from flying to the U.S. and chanting “Brooksie!” by the cliffs off Lake Michigan. But Team Europe, with recent missions built on cohesion and savvy, is well aware of the rancor and knows how to exploit it. “It’s for us to enjoy and for the American team to figure out,” Ian Poulter said of Europe’s recent dominance. “There is a level of magic sauce which we’ve been able to create over the years.”
Of DeChambeau, Poulter said, “He is not my cup of tea.’’
Sergio Garcia, who has played for six victorious Europe teams, smells blood. “One of the things I love about the Ryder Cup, in the European locker room you see how everyone takes their armor away and puts it away for that week,'' he said. “I can’t speak for the Americans — I don’t know what happens there — but it feels like when we get in the team room, everyone takes their armor off. You can feel that. Everyone is happy to put their arm around everyone else and try to help.”
Said teammate Rory McIlroy: “The grievances on the other side have been pretty public.”
For that, America has Brooks Koepka to thank. “The conversations that I have had with him and what I have personally seen in the team room does not jive up to what I was reading in those articles,” Stricker said. “I am not worried about Brooks. He assures me he’s healthy. He assures me that he is 100 percent all in on this team and whatever he needs to do for this team to become the winner at the end of the week.”
Through all the tumult, Team USA somehow is a 2-1 Vegas favorite to win, even without Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson for the first time in eons. The hotter action is on which meathead blows up first and which ends up helping the team. Said Azinger: “I'm a fan of both players, and I just feel it's going to be one or the other. They're going to put the weight of the team on their shoulders or they're going to be a pain in the neck.''
What this country does not need is Ugly Americanism, on our soil, from two doofuses who belong on a “Saturday Night Live’’ skit.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.