When Bryson DeChambeau came to the Quad-Cities last year, there were no indications that he would be in line to win his first PGA Tour title.
The California native had gone through a stretch in which he missed the cut in 14 straight events. He was a third-year pro who had lofty collegiate credentials and not much to back that up since.
My, how a year has changed things for the 24-year-old.
DeChambeau returns to TPC Deere Run this week to defend his first Tour title at the $5.8 million John Deere Classic.
He does so after winning his second Tour event and with a resume that also includes making cuts in 16 of his 17 starts this season, being ranked No. 22 in the Official World Golf Rankings and No. 6 in the FedExCup race. He is also in line to make captain Jim Furyk's Ryder Cup team for Paris this fall.
He has also become embroiled with the USGA over the use of a compass in tournament play — an issue he says is being worked through with lots of open communication.
“It's been a long year,” DeChambeau said on Wednesday ahead of his pro-am round. “I've played a lot of tournaments, and my body is definitely feeling it. At the same point in time, it's the home stretch and kind of ready to get after it.”
Both on and off the course, there have been challenges that the young man has had to work through. All of the good and bad moments are shaping him into the person and golfer he is.
“There have been a lot of things that have happened over the past couple years, growing a lot definitely, and just learning how to make better decisions for my body, my health, my game and figuring out ways to execute shots better and more on demand," he said.
That included a rebuilt golf game after last year's playoffs. A humbling missed cut at The Open Championship the week after his win here was the impetus for major changes in his golf swing.
“Yeah, well, when I won here and went over to the British and missed the cut by I think seven or eight, that was a big wake-up call,” he admitted. “I wanted to play good in any situation. Whether I was super tired, didn't have my game, whatever it was, I wanted to be able to perform on demand no matter the week, no matter the situation.
“So I said, I got to figure out a way to execute shots on a more consistent level so that it's not just one week of the year I play well. I want to be able to play well every single week and contend every single week, be in the top 10 trying to close it out.
“I've been able to do so this year, which is great.”
That shows with with 10 top 25s and seven top 10s that include the win, a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer/Mastercard, a tie for third (RBC Heritage) and a fourth-place finish (Wells Fargo).
So coming in off a week off, DeChambeau feels as if he is ready for the first challenge of defending a PGA Tour title — an issue others ahead of him also had to work through. Having to deal with off-the-course obligations and meet-and-greets could be tiresome.
“I mean, that's something I'm still feeling out,” said DeChambeau of handling the ancillary obligations that he said were actually at a minimum. “This is only my second day here since I've been back. I think as the tournament gets started it'll be the same.
“As of right now, it's kind of hyped up a little bit I guess if you want to say. A lot of people say, 'Oh, you're the defending champ.' Look, it's a tournament I want to go out and play well in, and that's all I have to think about. I'm not going to think, 'Oh, I have to defend my title,' or anything like that.
DeChambeau also comes back to the Quad-Cities as a very likable defending champ, a guy you want to root for. His sincerity is refreshing and welcome. When he says this tournament is special to him, you know he means it.
He also admits that this win will always be special, even saying it meant more to him than winning The Memorial, a tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus.
“Oh, it was definitely just as exciting,” he said of win No. 2. “But I could say that your first win is always going to be the most special one, I think, for anybody out there winning tournaments. It just is. It's just going to be your baby, right, in a sense?
“This is just a very special place to be able to win with Payne Stewart winning here his first time. It meant a lot to me. It was just a perfect fit, and I couldn't have asked for anything more.”
Except for maybe a title defense this week.