Break. Every. Rule.
Welcome to golf’s revolution. Your host is Bryson DeChambeau, and he is taking this sport places it has not gone before while validating his personal theories on the game.
Daring to be different — much, much different — has paid off.
Part mathematician, part weightlifter, the bulked up 27-year-old perfectionist captured the U.S. Open by six strokes on Sunday, setting new standards along the way that the rest of the professional industry may have no choice but to copy.
“It’s a combination of science and athleticism,” opined commentator David Feherty. Remember, golf is a game that has generally been played at the highest levels by similarly sized individuals in a similar fashion. For the most part, only the most discerning eye can pick out differences in the swings of top players. Ben Hogan wrote an entire book in 1957 on the way the game must be played, and it’s been a bible for decades.
For more than a decade, golf’s major trends have been almost all about technology. But now DeChambeau is employing vastly different ways to use that technology.
At first, DeChambeau was just this quirky dude who hit upon the idea of playing with a set of clubs all fitted with the same length shaft as legendary Bobby Jones once did. At the same time, he used a different stance while striking the ball, along with different hand and arm positions, that seemed completely awkward. Nothing silky smooth about it. He studied the necessary requirements of projecting a golf ball, then designed a brand new swing around those requirements.
Then he moved on to reducing putting, and pretty much everything else, to a mathematical equation rather than a question of feel. Finally, he added 50 pounds of bulk, determined to hit the golf ball farther than his peers.
In a matter of a few seasons, he has gone from 45th in driving distance on the PGA Tour to first, and now hits drives 10 per cent farther than the tour average. Combine that with an insatiable work ethic — he was the last man on the range Saturday night, ripping drivers into the blackness of the night in New York state — and you have a powerful force.
On Sunday, he went head-to-head with 21-year-old Matthew Wolff, who was trying to become the first player to win the U.S. Open in his first attempt in 107 years. Wolff isn’t quite out there as far as DeChambeau in terms of analyzing every minute aspect of the game, but he too is different.
Wolff’s backswing is completely unorthodox and intuitive, a swing he developed as a child. Basically, it’s all arms, taking the club outside the target line in a way that shouldn’t allow him to return to the proper hitting position.
“I like to go out there and do what I feel comfortable with, rip dog and see how it goes from there,” he says.
That is preceded, of course, by the strangest pre-shot routine in the sport, which he uses as a “trigger.” When he’s ready to hit, he quickly twists his hips to the left, like Elvis on stage. Then he returns to his original position and blasts the ball with 132-m.p.h. clubhead speed.
Wolff went into the final round as the youngest 54-hole leader in almost 50 years after hitting only 12 fairways in the first three rounds. While the Winged Foot layout was demoralizing stars such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed, DeChambeau and Wolff took it on by simply smashing the ball as far as possible with no fear.
With its bacon-strip-like fairways and impossibly dense rough that was actually being watered before the final round, the course was supposed to neutralize distance. Instead, DeChambeau and Wolff essentially ignored all that.
The 27-year-old DeChambeau played like a cerebral bulldozer, as if he simply couldn’t care less about the USGA’s version of difficult rough. He just smashed his driver, usually between 325 and 350 yards, and then dealt with the consequences by overpowering the ball out of the thickest grass. Some were calling it “bomb and gouge” golf. DeChambeau hit the fairway less than 50 per cent of the time over four days, and didn’t care.
On Sunday, DeChambeau actually hit the fairway on the ninth hole and the ball travelled an enormous 375 yards. Wolff stepped up and blasted his tee shot 389 yards, then hit a 171-yard pitching wedge to the green.
These are ridiculous distances that are leaving golf experts and traditionalists both amazed and exasperated.
Forget drive for show and putt for dough. To these guys, only distance truly matters, and they are doing it with self-designed swings that would make Hogan blanch.
In the end, the younger man wilted, and DeChambeau stormed to an easy triumph for his first major victory. It came with no galleries because of the coronavirus pandemic, a true shame for a historic moment.
The only question now is whether others, either on tour now or future stars, will accept his thinking and try to copy the idiosyncratic DeChambeau.
Nobody has so far. If they try, they better love math. And muscle.