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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A year ago, Bryson DeChambeau looked like he could start at nose tackle for the Buffalo Bills, but on Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club, where he shot an opening round 66, the 29-year-old looked more like a running back or a safety.

The 2020 U.S. Open winner still has broad shoulders and a muscular frame, but the bulk he amassed chugging protein shakes, putting himself through grueling workouts and training his body to maximize speed is gone. So is the sour demeanor, at least for a day. Shooting 66 will do that, but DeChambeau seemed more upbeat about his play than he has been in over a year.

That said, Thursday’s performance was not something DeChambeau saw coming.

“I was looking at [the course] throughout the week and was like, ‘Man, I don’t know how shooting under par is even possible out here,’” DeChambeau said. “Luckily, I was able to play some really good golf, hit a lot of fairways, did my job and made some putts.”

Before the tournament started, pundits and players were comparing Oak Hill to a U.S. Open venue, possibly Winged Foot or Bethpage Black, with thick rough, narrow fairways and tricky greens. DeChambeau saw it too and played a U.S. Open-style golf Thursday, hitting nine of 14 fairways off the tee and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He also averaged 347 yards per tee shot — the man still has crazy speed — but Thursday’s consistency is what DeCheambeau has been missing for over a year.

“It’s been a while, so it was nice to come back and start to finally figure out what’s going on with my golf swing,” he said. “As I’ve told you guys before, I’ve struggled with my driving. You see me out there on the range, that’s something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be out there all night, but I’ve had to figure out what I did so well in 2018 and what made me so successful then. I feel like I’m catching on and trending in that direction. I figured out a couple of things this week, and it certainly paid off today.”

The physical transformation started after DeChambeau couldn’t figure out why he felt tired, sick and run down about a year ago. He took a blood test that checked for allergies and food sensitivities and discovered he needed to make some changes.

“I was allergic to corn, wheat, gluten, dairy, pretty much everything I liked, I couldn’t eat,” he said with a smile. “I took that out. Started taking it out in August and over the course of time I’ve lost all this inflammation, lost a lot of fat and slimmed down like crazy. I lost 18 pounds in 24 days. It was crazy. It wasn’t fat. It was all water weight.”

Fans were eager for high-fives and fist bumps with Bryson DeChambeau as he walked off the 18th green Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club. (David Dusek/Golfweek)

Going from 5,500 calories a day to 2,900, and losing weight, has not decreased DeChambeau’s power. Thursday, he hit 6-iron, 8-iron into the 462-yard seventh hole.

“It’s still an asset, and it was a fun experiment, but I definitely want to play some good golf now,” DeChambeau said.

The physical changes DeChambeau has made are easy to see, but the mental struggles he has been trying to overcome are not apparent from the outside. When players who have achieved success start to struggle, like everyone else, they begin to question themselves. DeChambeau, who missed the cut at the Masters and finished T-56 at the 2022 U.S. Open before joining the LIV Tour last summer, also missed the cut last month at the 2023 Masters. His best finish in a no-cut, 48-man field LIV event was 10th last year in Chicago. He admits that he wondered if he’d ever play elite golf again.

“The emotions have definitely fluctuated pretty high and pretty low, thinking I have something and it fails and going back and forth,” DeChambeau said. “It’s humbling. Golf, and life, always have a good way of kicking you on your you know what when you are on your high horse.”

It’s hard to know whether the rest of the 2023 PGA Championship will challenge DeChambeau more physically or mentally. He’ll be happy if he keeps hitting fairways and making putts, like any other golfer. If he spends the day on Friday hacking out of the rough, watching approach shots find bunkers and putts lip out, his attitude will be tested.

Thursday showed that Bryson DeChambeau can still shoot a low round on a tough golf course in a major. Thursday, that was enough for him.