It is doubtful this 150th Open could have thrown up bigger beasts of such towering cultural polarity as Bryson James Aldrich DeChambeau and Long John Daly. Yet, after their first round together, they ended day one like old friends. If they never meet again, they will cherish this memory at least.
Asking the 28-year-old cerebral timebomb from California and the bewhiskered good old boy from Arkansas to gambol alongside each other over the rolling landscape of the Old Course – in company with the altogether uncontroversial Cameron Tringale – turned out to be inspired match-making.
They were supposed to be the warm-up act; for a short while, they threatened to steal the show. DeChambeau – who was about to turn two when Daly won the second of his two majors, the 1995 Open – finished three under and within touching distance of the leaders; Daly, hobbling under the weight of his faltering 56-year-old legs, did exceptionally well to card 73 and will do even better to finish the 7,300-yard march on Friday without collapsing into the arms of his caddy, his fast-growing son, Little John Daly.
“It was fun just to see the power he has,” an exhausted Daly said of DeChambeau. “He’s hitting his four-iron 280, 290 off the tee. On 15, he hit seven-iron off the tee, which is amazing. It’s a blast to watch.”
The chemistry was already in place. “We’ve spoken a lot at majors. I play the PGA and this one. I’ve seen him at a few PGA Tour events over the years. Great kid.”
As DeChambeau saw it: “You’ve got to strategise your way around this course and it’s not simple by any means. I could use my driver but I wouldn’t be able to control my spin and it would go in the fescue. This is about winning a major championship. There’s no way to bomb and gouge out this week.”
But he did enjoy his time with Long John. “He’s such a nice guy. We had a lot of fun. Man, for him to shoot the score he did was pretty impressive.”
In more ways than one, they reside in different golfing postcodes. Having decamped to LIV after watching others test the waters, DeChambeau, the ultimate strategist, is fixated about the future and it would seem to have little to do with tradition. “I respect people’s opinions,” he said of the LIV firestorm. “I judged it was the best decision for me and it still is.”
Freewheeling Daly, meanwhile, is living on familiar vapours, happy to be back where he once was king.
DeChambeau could overthink the timing of a boiled egg, but what madness there is in his method has served him well: stiff-armed, robotic, resolutely single plane right down to his putting, and all of it married to a searing golf intelligence. On a day of reduced wind on the cement-hard fairways it mostly worked. He is still analysing the game’s minutiae to destruction.
“I was thinking, if he hits driver, he could drive two [which is 452 yards long], he could almost drive three [398 yards long],” Daly said. “But he played real conservative. That’s his gameplan. If I had that power, I’d be hitting driver on every freakin’ hole, man. I’d be loading up, trying to drive them all.”
The big man who once owned the biggest belly and the biggest drive of them all, who dropped out of university with no degree, who existed in a world far removed from introspection of any kind, would discourage any suggestion he and the Texas University physics major have much more in common intellectually than an appreciation of golf’s insidious charms.
Asked once to describe his elastically long backswing, he said he had no idea where the club went once it passed his ears. But he was well aware of its destination, most memorably at St Andrews in 1995 when he drove the course to bits to win his second and last major.
The last time Daly visited the UK, in 2019, he nearly died of a spider bite, which takes some doing in these islands.
He has had bladder cancer in that time too, so deserves every understanding when going into full old-man waddle on the course.
Whatever his historical excesses, his gambling, drinking and rabble-rousing, there has always been something endearingly vulnerable about Daly.
While he stands by Donald Trump as the former president is daily weighed down by the threat of prosecution for inciting his supporters to riot after he lost the last election (and here Daly brandished Trump’s name on his sleeve, questionably a breach of protocol), it’s still hard to totally dislike a man who delivers so convincingly for the Loudmouth Golf Apparel company.
Never a home for haute couture, golf has gone a little funky at this Open. Cameron Smith, Australia’s mullet-haired challenge to tonsorial and sartorial standards, led the way again on Thursday, followed closely by Justin Thomas (a late convert to funkdom) and, surprisingly, the oldest rebel in town, Phil Mickelson, who chose an all-black ensemble, including … a T-shirt. Radical indeed for one who used to wear heavy, grey pin-strip trousers in homage to his corporate sponsors.
Daly, though, has always been ahead of the fashion curve. He emerged for his 8am start as if he’d forgotten to change out of his pyjamas and teamed his blindingly bright trousers with what looked like a grey coat he’d borrowed from a do-it-yourself shop foreman. At the champion’s dinner, he somehow got into the R&A clubhouse wearing a T-shirt and a Michael Portillo-style orange jacket.
But pushing his Santa Claus beard manfully through the gusting breeze, he toughed out a decent score, mixing birdies on 5, 8, 12, 15 and 18 with bogeys on 2, 4, 6, 11, 16 and 17. Not bad for a man who two days ago revealed he had not managed to walk more than eight holes at a time in recent months, yet here he was, hanging in with the young pups and doing OK.
There was a time when “doing OK” was not good enough for John Daly. That was about the time Bryson DeChambeau was starting primary school in Fresno, California. History, eh?