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Not ready for prime time

Bryson DeChambeau 2020 WGC FedEx St. Jude
Just because Bryson DeChambeau beat up on a weak field in Detroit a few weeks ago doesn’t make him a world beater for the upcoming major championships, oddsmakers’ sentiment aside, Morning Read contributor John Hawkins contends.

Sure, Bryson DeChambeau kicked sand in the faces of some weaklings in Detroit last month, but can he stand toe to toe with golf’s major players this week at the PGA Championship and win his biggest prize yet? Don’t bet on it

Upon claiming his sixth career PGA Tour triumph in Detroit last month, Bryson DeChambeau was installed immediately as the betting favorite at all three 2020 major championships. It was an outlandish proclamation by the gambling world, which established odds of 10-1 across the board on the bulked-up bomber, whose best finish in 14 major starts to date is a T-15 at the 2016 U.S. Open.

Add 40 pounds, swing hard, change the world. And you thought golf was difficult.

Of course, the bookies had their reasons for hopping on the DeChambandwagon. That win in the Motor City was the Brainiac’s seventh consecutive top 10, a streak that predated the coronavirus continuance. He had an excellent chance to win the WGC in Mexico back in February but was outplayed by Patrick Reed down the stretch. He was right there in Dallas, then again in Hartford, but it wasn’t until DeChambeau found an ultra-weak field in Detroit that he ended his 20-month victory drought.

As any physics major will tell you, however, what goes up must come down. DeChambeau’s odds since have fallen to 14-1, and even at that price, he’s not exactly looking like smart money on the eve of the PGA Championship. A missed cut at the Memorial featured a comical lapse in judgment Friday afternoon at the 15th, where he slugged two balls out of bounds en route to a quintuple-bogey 10.

There was a ruling involved about midway into the fiasco, which didn’t go the young man’s way. It transformed the world’s seventh-ranked player into the poutypuss we all know and fill-in-the-blank. DeChambeau was a non-factor again last weekend in Memphis, landing in the pile at T-30 and looking nothing like a guy worthy of a ticker-tape parade.

According to Las Vegas, he’s still one of the guys to beat this week at Harding Park. And next month at Winged Foot. And, for that matter, when the fellas finally gather at Augusta National in November, which feels kind of weird just typing it. It’s not that this lunge from the gaming industry doesn’t make sense, because in this day and age, it does. Hot guy, hits it farther than anyone, highest IQ on the property.

We see it every once in a while in pro golf: the shooting star who becomes the belle of the (little white) ball, the latest greatest who relinquishes the starring role when all the big boys come out to play. DeChambeau is on the verge of having a superb pro career, but he hasn’t done nearly enough to warrant heavy consideration as the favorite to win every big tournament between now and Christmas.

You can start with that aforementioned performance at the majors, which simply isn’t up to snuff. We’ve got a pair of four-time major champions in their early 30s (Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka) and a 27-year-old (Justin Thomas) who just won his 13th Tour event to swipe the No. 1 spot in the ranking from a guy who won’t turn 26 until November (Jon Rahm). There is more decorated young talent in the game now than at any point in the game’s modern history.

DeChambeau’s physical reconstruction has turned a lot of heads for the wrong reasons. He overpowered a field that included just two others ranked in the top 10, neither of them in the top five, and perhaps more significantly, just 18 in the top 50. No brash basher is going to revolutionize the game from a competitive standpoint, which clearly is something the oddsmakers don’t understand.

Pro golf is a very difficult game to handicap – at least 50 thoroughbred horses arrive at the starting gate every week – which lures the bookies into anointing a player who has differentiated himself from the others with some degree of success. DeChambeau certainly is different, and he is quite good, but John Daly was proportionately longer than anyone in his day. How many Tour events did he win?

Five.

History tells us that almost every great player has been long off the tee, but very few who are long off the tee become great players. DeChambeau doesn’t seem to handle any form of adversity with aplomb. His golf appears to suffer when he gets rattled, and given his nose for friction, his chili runs hot rather often. This uneven temperament is not something that serves as an asset at the majors.

Jack Nicklaus never let anything bother him. Tiger Woods handled strife in an entirely different way: a string of profanities and the shortest memory known to mankind. There will be ridiculous setups at the U.S. Open, horrible bounces at the British Open and rain delays at the PGA. If you can’t deal with it, you become a victim, not a contender. It’s a point Nicklaus has made with emphasis on numerous occasions throughout his 80 years.

The birth of legalized gambling across America should create an interesting dynamic in golf, a sport in which predictions are basically a waste of breath. This isn’t Ravens vs. Steelers or any other head-to-head matchup with just two competitive components. We’re talking about more than 100 individuals on a playing field usually in excess of 150 acres, battling over a span of at least 16 hours, with random variables galore.

In the tournaments that matter most, when pressure reaches its peak and the line between winning and losing can become infinitesimally thin, those who have handled it before are good bets to handle it again. Bryson DeChambeau isn’t there yet. He has things to learn and a ways to go, a distance that can’t be measured in yards or odds. That much, you can take to the bank.

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