EAST MANATEE -- Bryson Dechambeau finished his final round of stroke play Monday by tipping his signature Ben Hogan-style flat cap to the gallery and hugging his Southern Methodist teammates. The importance of the five-foot putt he sank to finish the NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championships at 8 under par was unspoken but obvious: Even though he was the first of the contenders to finish, the 2-stroke lead on his closest challenger should be enough at The Concession Golf Club
"It's not over yet," Dechambeau assured his teammates as they met him on the edge of the ninth-hole green. Then he was pulled aside by the Golf Channel cameras and a gaggle of reporters.
After being the best golfer on the course for four days and 72 holes, the only thing separating Dechambeau from the first individual national championship in the history of Dallas-based SMU was a wait in the clubhouse.
But two hours later he was on the practice round, soaked from a water-bottle shower and on the verge of tears. Washington senior and IMG Academy alumnus Cheng-Tsung Pan had just finished at 7-under. Dechambeau was the champion.
"Wow," fellow Mustang Andrew Buchanan said to his teammates earlier in the day when Dechambeau finished his final round. "That's some big boy golf."
Of course, the lasting image from his championship run will be his shirtless shot from the shallows on No. 13 during the first round Friday.
SMU head coach Jason Enloe insists Dechambeau, who hails from Clovis, Calif., doesn't carry himself like a typical 21-year-old college junior. He's so focused on golf that he doesn't usually party and Enloe sometimes questions whether he's having fun away from the links. For at least one shot, though, the physics major's ingenuity manifested itself through childlike creativity and self-assuredness.
He saved a par on that hole was never worse than even during the entire tournament. He shot a 2-under on Day 1 and jolted into first place with a 5-under second round. After shooting an even 72 on Sunday to maintain his lead, he closed out the NCAA Championships with a minus-2 finale.
For only a handful of holes after Friday, Dechambeau had to look up at someone else on the leaderboard. No. 18 on Monday was one of the few instances during the entire tournament where Dechambeau ran into adversity.
The No. 28 golfer in the tournament's second shot wound up in the water and he finished the hole with his only double bogey of the championships.
"It's not about anger," Dechambeau said. "It's about trust."
Before he started well at The Concession he didn't always believe he could win tournaments -- that's what seven top-10 finishes with only one victory can do.
Enloe said he believes Dechambeau is one of the 20 best ball-strikers in the world and the best in the NCAA. His biggest issue is that he can get testy when things go wrong. Dechambeau's response to the rare mistake Monday let him leave Bradenton with a title.
"He can run pretty hot," Enloe said. "He realized what he did, he realized that he just hit a bad shot and then he just was like, 'Alright, I'm not going to let that determine the result of this event.'"
His biggest weakness doesn't seem to jive with the rest of Dechambeau's personality. This is a kid who likes to entertain Enloe by sharing his favorite Vines and make his teammates laugh with goofy trick shots.
One night it was raining and the wind was blowing about 30 mph in his face. Dechambeau lobbed a shot with his 9-iron straight into the air and it flew behind him and his laughing teammates.
"That makes him, like, super happy," Enloe said.
Dechambeau is now done at the NCAA Championships after his Mustangs failed to finish in the top eight and qualify for match play.
The quarterfinals begin Tuesday at 7 a.m. South Florida, the tournament host, is the No. 6 seed and will tee off against No. 3-seed Georgia at 7. Illinois is the top seed after finishing stroke play at 3 over par. Florida State, which entered as the favorite, failed to qualify and finished 11th.
"Most people here came to watch us because we're hosting," said USF freshman Claudio Correa, another IMG alumnus. "It's pretty nice to see all these people cheering for us."
Despite their early exit, the Mustangs celebrated like kings. When Pan cut Dechambeau's lead to 1 on No. 17, Dechambeau rolled his golf bag out to the driving range to start practicing for a potential playoff. His teammates staked out a position near the 18th-hole green.
As Dechambeau hacked away at the range -- he said he was chunking and hooking his drives -- Pan launched his second shot on No. 18 into a bunker to the right of green. One of his teammates started quietly singing Queen's "We Are the Champions." When Pan's wedge shot rolled past the cup the crowd gasped and Dechambeau's teammates dashed out to the range.
In the distance they could hear a cry of joy.
"One of the camera guys told me," Dechambeau said. "He said he lipped out a bunker shot and I was like, 'Oh my.'"
And then to celebrate he teed up one last ball and took one final practice swing. It was a trick shot, of course.