Most summer mornings began with a shout across the street.
“What are we doing today?” one asked.
“Want to come over?” often was the reply.
Nate Sudfeld and Bryson DeChambeau lived in homes facing each other on Patton Drive in north Modesto. All it took were a few quick words yelled through their second-story bedroom windows, and the agenda was set.
They rolled through baseball, basketball, flag football, roller hockey and running. When the mood suited them, they were kids just being kids. Who knew that those innocent childhood days would become the foundation for athletes chasing greatness?
Today, they’re connected by shared ambition – Sudfeld as a quarterback and NFL draft pick and DeChambeau as a rookie on the PGA Tour.
Check the water on Patton Drive. Surely, there is an elixir, a potion. Sudfeld and DeChambeau drank generously and look at them now – Modesto natives, born 22 days apart, both launching their professional careers last April. Sudfeld was selected in the sixth round by the Washington Redskins. DeChambeau turned pro after he earned low-amateur honors at the Masters.
“There is no way you can draw it up on the board,” DeChambeau said. “We were being kids without technology and just played. It was definitely special, looking back on it.”
Both are convinced that all the fun and games sharpened their competitive instincts. Classmates in school and buddies in the neighborhood, they were a group entry. Nate’s brother Zach Sudfeld, a future tight end for the New York Jets, was five years older.
22 The age of Nate Sudfeld and Bryson DeChambeau, and the number of days between their birthdays
“We were both sore losers. We’d pout and sit on the corner or just go home,” Nate Sudfeld recalled. “Our friendship was tested quite often. The grudges never lasted long, but we hated to lose.”
Sudfeld, the taller of the two, lacked DeChambeau’s speed and strength. DeChambeau, who hadn’t yet immersed himself in golf, enjoyed their one-on-one races.
“I was better at roller hockey, basketball and throwing the football,” Sudfeld said. “He was better at running and baseball. Bryson would have made a very good football player.”
Sudfeld, 6-foot-6, 234 pounds and equipped with a strong arm, answered all questions in football. The former Modesto Christian High star enrolled at Indiana and brought a moribund program to life. He threw for a school-record 7,879 yards and 61 touchdowns and rushed for an additional seven.
As a sophomore, Sudfeld led the Hoosiers to their first-ever win over Penn State. As a senior, he guided them to their first bowl game in eight years. It was enough for the Redskins to select him in the sixth round.
The Modesto neighborhood was built on the site of the former Carver 3-Par, the popular golf range and nine-hole course that closed in 1987. Jon DeChambeau, Bryson’s father and a club pro, stopped home-shopping on the spot. There, almost enclosed in concrete on the Patton Drive sidewalk, was a golf ball, only a handful of dimples visible. (It’s still there today.) The DeChambeaus had found their new address.
“We had to buy that home,” Jon DeChambeau said.
Still, the daily games with Sudfeld trumped everything else.
“He pushed me and I pushed him. At some level, it gave us this competitive mindset,” Bryson DeChambeau said. “He was my best friend.”
The two remained close until they reached third grade, when the DeChambeaus moved to Clovis. Tears were shed at their farewell, though the families visited over the years.
We were both sore losers. We’d pout and sit on the corner or just go home. Our friendship was tested quite often. The grudges never lasted long, but we hated to lose.
DeChambeau’s golf career eventually took flight. Mercurial and brilliant as a junior, he later earned a scholarship at SMU and – in 2015 – became only the fifth man to win the NCAA individual title and the U.S. Amateur in the same year. The others were Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore.
Better still, the physics major caught the golf’s world fancy with his unique approach. All his irons are cut the same length, 37 1/2 inches , and the lie and bounce angle of each are the same. Only the lofts change.
“I’m not surprised. He was always smart,” Sudfeld said. “I was excited to see his fresh take on the game.”
Sudfeld and DeChambeau stay in touch via social media. Their busy schedules prevented a visit last month, however, when DeChambeau played in the Quicken Loans National near Washington, D.C.
When they do finally reunite, they will no doubt remember the races, the games, the times they competed just for fun.
“Can you believe how it worked out? We were just kids,” Sudfeld said. “We both knew we were good at sports. We had dreams.”