And for his next trick… After stunning the golf world with his outrageous performance at the US Open, in which he made the rest invisible in his six-shot subjugation, Bryson DeChambeau now plans to use a 48-inch driver at The Masters in six weeks time. That is a mighty wand by any standard.
Indeed, the rules state that is the maximum length of shaft allowed. With his new status, it would be a brave and perhaps even challenging ploy on DeChambeau’s behalf. But it will come after what many experts consider to be a fundamental change in the history of the game at Winged Foot, New York on Sunday night.
It was not meant to happen like this. Nobody was meant to overpower Winged Foot with its pencil-thin fairways, its brush-thick rough and greens so slopey and fast that ink, itself, would roll off. Yet DeChambeau ignored all the warnings, all the promises of carnage and proceeded to blow straight over a supposed monster.
DeChambeau hit only 23 of the 56 fairways, the least of any US Open champion since they started collecting data 30 years ago. But he averaged 325 yards in driving distance, conversely the furthest by any US Open winner — and it is fair to say this despite the lack of yesteryear records — in history.
DeChambeau is a revolutionary and like every renegade there are calls for him to be constrained.
On Monday morning, the BBC website called for the governing bodies finally to intervene and arrest this one-dimensional “bomb and gouge” culture that threatens to quash nuance — and to protect the classic courses at the same time.
As enthralling as DeChambeau’s final round 67 was — the only under-par score of the day and thus the lowest by a staggering three shots — the fear is that an era of sledgehammer and wedge could get increasingly dull. Rory McIlroy was courageous enough to pose the question, “Is this good or bad for the game?” before emphasising how impressed he was.
Much was made when DeChambeau appeared post-lockdown carrying 40lbs more of muscle but at the time McIlroy was unmoved. “I played with him at Colonial the first week back out and I sort of said, ‘Okay, wait until he gets to a proper golf course, he'll have to rein it back in’,” McIlroy said. “But look what's happened. Yeah, he has full belief in what he's doing and I think it's brilliant. He’s taken advantage of where the game is at the minute.”
Golf is at a crossroads and with DeChambeau’s bombs flying over their heads, the US Golf Association and the R&A must decide if they at last want to draw a line. A tournament ball would be the simplest fix, although it would mean the pros playing with different equipment to the hackers (in truth, they do anyway) and losing that mythical connection. The USGA and R&A revealed, in a report released earlier this year, a willingness to act and the pressure is on now more than ever before, regardless of any potential legal wars.
However, DeChambeau does not sound worried. "Will they rein it back? I'm sure," he said. "I'm sure something might happen. I don't know what it will be, but I just know that length is always going to be an advantage. It's tough to rein in athleticism. We’re always going to be trying to get fitter, stronger, more athletic. Tiger Woods inspired this whole generation to do this, and we're going to keep going after it. I don't think it's going to stop."
His caddie Tim Tucker is certain. “Bryson’s never going to stop,” he said. “He’s going to keep pushing it.”
But at what expense? Not to the 27-year-old, of course, his $2.25m winnings have taken him above $20m career earnings already and goodness knows the bonuses offered up by Cobra, the club manufacturer who must feel like Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar-maker after Woodstock. Yet to a sport petrified about falling participation levels, desperate to retain the viewers and sponsors brought in by Woods, and concerned that it cannot keep expanding layouts because of cost and environmental factors, this appears a pivotal time.
Andrew Coltart, the fine Sky Sports analyst, spoke of children watching and a generation of “Baby Brysons”, while there are big-hitters already on Tour who believe they can rival DeChambeau for distance if they just allow themselves to press the 100 percent button. Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Champ and Brooks Koepka to name but a handful.
It was the latter’s example when winning last year’s USPGA that convinced DeChambeau that brawn was the eye-straining way forward. It was not just that Koepka outdrove him by 20 yards at Bethpage, but that he had the power not only to escape the cabbage but to do so with control. All the talk of DeChambeau beckoning a legion of copycat aerial killers overlooks the fact that the Californian, himself, has been in emulation mode, albeit with a desire to move further things along.
His is a gripping story that is not awarded its full limelight because of the negative reputation in the locker room. Ian Poulter seemed to sum up the general feeling when tweeting on Sunday night:
Say what you want about @b_dechambeau he might not be everyone’s cup of tea. His isn’t my cup of tea but what he is is a Major champion and I have huge respect for winning the @usopengolf. Changed his swing and body to try and over power golf courses. Done it his way. 👍🏼👊🏼
— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) September 20, 2020
DeChambeau remains one of the slowest, most deliberate players out there and that marks him down among his fellow pros as selfish.
His peers did not appreciate the perfunctory, almost dismissive manner in which he congratulated the English journeyman Richard McEvoy when losing a head-to-head at the BMW International Open a few years ago. There was eye-rolling earlier this year when he confronted a cameraman who dared to film his angry reaction in a bunker, accusing him of “potentially damaging my brand” and there were scowls of derision when he had a few run-ins with referees over requests for free-drops, including when he claimed to have spotted a fire ant by his ball that classed as a “dangerous animal”.
Yes, he is divisive, but his brash, bombastic personality should not sully achievements built on a staggering work ethic and the vision to do things differently.
As a 15-year-old he snubbed the Xbox for “The Golfing Machine,” a ridiculously complicated teaching manual from which a player can construct his own swing with 24 components and 144 variations.
DeChambeau cut all his clubs to the same length — of a seven iron — so he could have a single, ultra-repetitive motion. The physics student tried things like soaking his golf balls in Epsom salts and employing protractors to ascertain exact yardages. His meticulousness bore rich fruit, establishing him as the world’s best amateur, before taking the pro game by storm, winning six times around the globe in his first 30 months.
Here was something different, they all said, with Woods taking particular notice and often accompanying his young countryman on practice rounds. But only now do they realise quite how different and quite how rebellious he is. Augusta National is next and DeChambeau vows to put 10lbs on his bodyweight and three inches on his driver.
“Next week I'm going to be trying a 48-inch driver,” he said. “We’re going to be messing with some head designs and do some amazing things with Cobra to make it feasible to hit these drives maybe 360, 370, maybe even farther. Length is going to be an advantage at the Masters. I know that for a fact. It's an advantage pretty much anywhere. So steak and potatoes tonight. Got to keep it going.”