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Bryson DeChambeau is trying to channel the ghost of boyhood idol Payne Stewart at 124th U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. – Boo Weekley, the Yoda of the Florida Panhandle, once dropped some knowledge on Bryson DeChambeau that he’s taking to heart this week at the 124th U.S. Open: the center of the green never moves.

That philosophy has been paying dividends for the 30-year-old LIV golfer at Pinehurst No. 2, where the key stat on Donald Ross’s turtleback putting surfaces is greens visited. As one of the local caddies once said, never clap for a shot until the ball has stopped and been marked.

“I’m still trying to play to the center of the green most of the times. I’m sure you guys see I’m not really going at flags for the most part, trying to hit it to 20 feet, make a 20-footer. My long putting game has to be good this week, and that’s going to be the goal,” DeChambeau said. “Boo Weekley, center of the greens and call it a day.”

DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, followed up his opening-round 67 with a 1-under 69 on Friday, the first time he’s shot back-to-back under-par rounds at the U.S. Open since the second and third rounds in 2021. In doing so, he shared the clubhouse lead with Thomas Detry during the second round with a 36-hole total of 4-under 136. He’s now sat inside the top 10 after nine of the last 10 rounds at a major – the exception being the first round of the PGA Championship, where he eventually finished second. It didn’t hurt that DeChambeau holed several clutch putts, totaling nearly 130 feet on Friday.

“He’s solved the riddle on these greens,” said NBC’s Brandel Chamblee. “He’s had a wizard’s day.”

His performance through two rounds is shades of Payne Stewart, who won the U.S. Open here in 1999. DeChambeau, 30, was only five years old when Stewart, one of his boyhood idols, sank a 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to edge Phil Mickelson and DeChambeau would like to do nothing more than follow in his footsteps. It wouldn’t be the first time his career has mimicked Stewart, who died in a plane crash the same year as his Open victory. DeChambeau used to wear the same cap as Stewart and attended the same college, Southern Methodist University, where DeChambeau won an NCAA men’s individual title.

“He’s the reason I went to SMU, first off,” DeChambeau said. “I’ll never forget walking into the SMU athletic department — funny enough, I actually didn’t know he went there and I wore the hat as a bit of a tribute to Payne and Ben Hogan. Growing up, big Ben Hogan fanatic. Knowing what Payne meant to the game of golf, also, Payne Stewart fan. When I went to SMU, in the athletic department on the wall I saw a mural of him, and I’m like, Oh, my gosh, he went to SMU? They’re like, ‘Yeah, didn’t you know?’ I was like, ‘No, I didn’t know he went here.’

“That was probably the moment I decided to go to SMU, when I saw that mural on the wall.”

DeChambeau also made the John Deere Classic the site of his first PGA Tour victory, the same as Stewart. As a tribute to Stewart’s victory 25 years ago, DeChambeau has a white cap like Stewart used to wear hanging on the side of his bag.

“It’s with me and makes me think of him every time I’m walking on these grounds,” DeChambeau said. “So he’s meant a lot to me in the game.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek