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Regional Interests

Koepka-DeChambeau Feud Is Creating A Lot Of Buzz In World Of Golf

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The U.S. Open golf championship begins today on a beautiful oceanside course in San Diego. It's called Torrey Pines. Our sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been tracking two players in the U.S. Open whose rivalry has people talking about golf. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's start with the players, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, who has won the Open twice, by the way. Who are they?

GOLDMAN: They are two of the very best. In fact, they're both strong contenders to win this week. Brooks Koepka, 31, has established himself as a top player in major championships. He's won four so far. He is a man of few words. He's often grumpy with the press. He's an athletic player with big, muscly arms and a chiseled jaw. And he saunters around a golf course like he owns it, and he often does. Bryson DeChambeau, 27, by contrast, is a very chatty fellow. He's known as the tour's mad scientist, and he's created a unique swing for himself. And he takes into account things like air density, Steve, before he hits a shot.

INSKEEP: OK.

GOLDMAN: Part of that scientific approach, he added 40 pounds, mostly muscle, during the pandemic in an effort to hit longer than everyone. And he often does that.

INSKEEP: OK. So they're very different personalities. But what's their rivalry?

GOLDMAN: Well, it goes back a few years. Golf Digest chronicled it in an article wonderfully titled "A Timeline Of Brooks Koepka And Bryson DeChambeau's Gloriously Petty Rivalry." And it includes Koepka grumbling about DeChambeau's slow play, probably because Bryson was studying air density.

INSKEEP: Sure.

GOLDMAN: Koepka appeared in the ESPN Body Issue, where top athletes pose naked strategically, of course. And it prompted DeChambeau on a video game livestream to offer this withering critique.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRYSON DECHAMBEAU: I don't know if his genetics even make him look good, to be honest. I mean, a body issue - he didn't have any abs. I can tell you that. I got some abs.

INSKEEP: Ow.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Ow. In response to this outright abdominal muscle aggression, Koepka tweeted a photo of his four major championship trophies with the line, you were right, Bryson. I am two short of a six-pack.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: And then last month, a leaked video showed Koepka interrupting an on-camera interview, rolling his eyes and swearing when DeChambeau noisily walked behind him. Steve, Koepka said this week, we just don't like each other.

INSKEEP: Wow. That's like old-times sports. These two guys just don't like each other, as sportscasters used to say. But how does that match with golf, where the announcers speak very quietly and people applaud politely?

GOLDMAN: Well, Steve, it doesn't. But that's why a lot of golf fans love it. It flies in the face of the stuffy country club image the game has. Both Koepka and DeChambeau have said recently it's great for golf. It can bring more and younger people to a game that's constantly trying to grow its popularity. Now, many were hoping the USGA, which oversees the U.S. Open, would have a sense of humor and put the two in the same group for the first two rounds. Alas, the USGA is not a fun bunch. It didn't do that. But here's the thing. If they both make the cut and qualify for the weekend and have similar scores, they could automatically be paired together, and that would generate all kinds of attention.

INSKEEP: Needless to say, a lot of other players to watch - Phil Mickelson, for starters.

GOLDMAN: Well, last month he won the PGA Championship at 50, becoming the oldest player to ever win a major title. He turned 51 yesterday. And now he's playing on a course he grew up on. He's a San Diego native, and there's all kinds of talk about him finally winning a U.S. Open on his home turf.

INSKEEP: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENEMIES' "MOESHA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.