Arnold Palmer Invitational champ Bryson DeChambeau is now golf’s star attraction

Bryson DeChambeau put on a show for the fans on his way to winning Arnie’s event at Bay Hill on Sunday

The roughly 5,000 fans allowed onto the Bay Hill Club and Lodge this week came ready to cheer, and Bryson DeChambeau, golf’s newest superstar and box-office attraction, gave them a reason to.

The sixth hole at Bay Hill is a horseshoe-shaped, 555-yard par-five. The direct line from the tee to the green, though, is only around 370 yards with nothing but a water hazard in between. In 1998, John Daly attempted to clear it but failed six straight times on his way to an 18. No one tried again, until this week when DeChambeau, with his prodigious length, gave the Arnold Palmer Invitational its greatest suspense: Would he go for it?

On Saturday, the wind was just right for him to do it. The gallery was only 25 percent of regular capacity, but you would never have known it hearing the loud reception when DeChambeau took out his driver. His tee shot went 370 yards, just to the right of the green, DeChambeau raising his arms in triumph as the crowd cheered his every move.

He tried it again on Sunday, unleashing a 377-yard drive that left him 88 yards from the green. Playing partner Lee Westwood hit a solid drive himself but was 168 yards further back. The two men in the final group seemed like they were playing a different golf course.

That is what DeChambeau brings to golf and what was sorely missing for nearly a year of gallery-less PGA Tour events. For all the critics who say his length is ruining the game and rendering obsolete traditional golf courses, the fans love it just as they cheered on Tiger Woods in the previous generation.

DeChambeau went on the win the tournament at 11-under, a shot ahead of Westwood, for his eighth career title. He’s now won three times in the last eight months, including a major. He leads the PGA Tour in driving distance and led the field this week at 321 yards. Just as Arnold Palmer attracted an army of supporters with his bold and fearless play, so too is DeChambeau becoming the biggest star on tour, a can’t-miss personality.

DeChambeau took Palmer’s style of play to heart. In 2016, he won the finals on the Korn Ferry Tour to earn his PGA card. Palmer, just weeks before he died, sent him a congratulatory letter. On Sunday, right before he began his round, DeChambeau got another encouraging message, this time from Woods. The three of them belong to different generations; what they have in common is their ability to inspire a crowd.

“It means the world to me. I got a text from Tiger this morning,” DeChambeau told NBC after holing a five-footer for par on the 18th hole. “We just talked about just keep fighting, no matter what happens. Play boldly like Mr. Palmer said.”

Play boldly he did. Palmer’s iconic red cardigan sweater barely fit around DeChambeau’s massive shoulders when it was awarded to him at the trophy presentation. But in a way it was an ideal fit, for there is no one else in today’s game who embodies everything Palmer stood for.

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