Column: Golfers to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant in their own way at Genesis Invitational
Bryson DeChambeau looked at the sign by the eighth hole tee box at the Riviera Country Club a little longer than normal.
It was painted yellow and purple with “Mamba” written on it to honor Kobe Bryant during the Genesis Invitational. When DeChambeau got to the green, the No. 8 flag was also yellow and purple with the number outlined similarly to the uniform Bryant wore through the first decade of his career.
“It’s a beautiful tribute,” said DeChambeau. “Kobe was my biggest idol playing basketball in junior high.”
DeChambeau, who in 2015 joined Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as the fifth player to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur title in the same year, grew up in Modesto, as a fan of Bryant and the Lakers. He was on his way to the airport following the Dubai Desert Classic when he first heard about the helicopter crash that took the lives of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others on Jan. 26.
“It was nighttime in Dubai and morning here in L.A. and I looked on my phone and thought it was fake,” he said. “I thought there was no way that happened. When it was confirmed, I just about lost it. It was heartbreaking and it still doesn’t feel real. I’ve always wanted to meet Kobe and now I’m never going to get that chance until I go on from this life.”
Tiger Woods hasn’t played regularly at Riviera Country Club, which is partly the reason he’s never won here. He aims to fix that this week at the Genesis Invitational.
As with many others on the PGA Tour, DeChambeau felt the need to do something to honor Bryant, so he had a purple and yellow No. 24 put on the back of his hat and a purple and yellow No. 8 painted on the right heel of his shoe and a No. 24 painted on the left heel. He also wore the hat and shoes during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which took place one week after the crash.
“I knew I had to do something when we got to Phoenix so we unveiled the shoes and the cap,” he said. “We wanted to do something to honor him and also support his foundation.”
“It’s one of the saddest days in sports but it helps us understand and realize how fragile life is,” he said. “It makes me appreciate my family and what legacy I want to leave because Kobe left an amazing legacy for the time he was here on Earth and I know he was going to do so much more.”
Many golfers are continuing to honor Bryant this weekend at the Genesis Invitational. Rory McIlroy is using special purple and yellow head covers featuring No. 8 and No. 24 with “Mamba Mentality” stitched on the front as well as the initials of everyone on board the helicopter.
Justin Thomas will be wearing custom golf shoes with Bryant painted on the sides and the names of all the victims painted on the heels. He is also auctioning off the wedges he used in Phoenix which had “81 points,” “Kobe Bean Bryant,” “Black Mamba” and “Mamba Mentality” engraved on them.
“He wasn’t a golfer but he still had such an impact on all of our lives,” DeChambeau said. “His passion and dedication is the main thing that really empowers and inspires all of us. Seeing how hard he worked and how diligent he was in his practice. There were no excuses. He just got it done. That’s what he was about. He inspired all of us to do better.”
The Genesis Invitational is being hosted by Tiger Woods, who is a Lakers fan and found out about Bryant’s death from his caddie, Joe LaCava, after he finished his final round at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Woods still had a hard time coming to terms with Bryant’s death when he spoke to the media Tuesday.
“It’s hard to put into words what transpired and the fact that it’s a reality,” Woods said. “Part of me thinks that it’s not real. And finding out after Joey told me coming off the 18th green, that was unbelievable. I don’t really know what I said post round. I was in shock just like everyone else, trying to put it in words going forward.
“The reality of the situation is Kobe and Gigi are not here, but it’s hard to accept. People who are close to him and all the families, it’s just hard to accept that reality.”
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