News & Opinion

2020 U.S. Open: It’s Bryson DeChambeau, by a long shot

U.S. Open — Bryson DeChambeau, Trophy 2
Bryson DeChambeau holds the trophy after his 6-stroke U.S. Open victory at Winged Foot Golf Club.

Even mighty Winged Foot fails to contain DeChambeau, who bombs his way to the Open’s only under-par score and a 6-stroke victory, perhaps remaking the game in his brawny image

Go ahead and laugh at the following numbers. They might be a joke, and they might not.

Your updated major-championship scoreboard reads: Jack Nicklaus 18, Bryson DeChambeau 1.

Ridiculous, absurd and practically impossible? Of course. Tiger Woods was the best golfer born after 1950, and even he stalled out at 15 major titles. Woods had won his first major by 21. DeChambeau, the Incredible Bulk, captured his first one Sunday by winning the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot at 27 (complete coverage). He is way off the pace to match Woods’ 15, much less Nicklaus’ 18.

Conventional wisdom says DeChambeau won’t even get halfway to Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer didn’t. Tom Watson didn’t. Gary Player did, just barely.

But DeChambeau? It can’t be done, right? Well, here are a few other supposedly impossible feats accomplished by the brainy unicorn who inhabits DeChambeau:

Slay Winged Foot Golf Club. The mightiest beast in U.S. Open history had been undefeated until now. DeChambeau was the only player in the 120th Open to break par (scores). He shot 6 under and won by six. His winning score was 11 shots better than Geoff Ogilvy’s total in the 2006 U.S. Open and 13 strokes better than Hale Irwin from 1974’s “Massacre at Winged Foot.”

DeChambeau’s closing 67 was the only under-par score posted in the final round. If you think he battled Winged Foot to a draw, you weren’t watching. He won by a knockout.

Made hitting the fairway obsolete. The U.S. Open is supposed to be won with fairways and greens. Well, that’s how Ben Hogan did it, so it should be good enough for everyone else, right? Sorry, but this is a new era in a not-so-new century. Hitting fairways is now as obsolete as mashies, niblicks, brassies and the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic.

The new game is power, unlimited power, and touch. DeChambeau found only 23 of 56 fairways at Winged Foot, the fewest since the USGA began keeping stats in 1981 and four fewer than the next-lowest total, Angel Cabrera’s 27 at Oakmont in 2007.

“That’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does,” said 2011 Open champion Rory McIlroy, who tied for eighth after a closing 75. “Look, he [DeChambeau] has found a way to do it. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad for the game; it’s just not the way I saw this golf course or this tournament being played. It’s hard to really wrap my head around it.”

One more anomaly: Runner-up Matthew Wolff hit two fairways and shot 65 in Saturday’s third round. Sunday, he found seven fairways and posted 75. Conclusion: Maybe he hit too many fairways Sunday?

Made previous driving-distance statistics obsolete. Imagine if Happy Gilmore were a scientist bent on winning major championships. This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth presented by DeChambeau.

Pick your own favorite Powerball moment at Winged Foot. Maybe you liked the 16th hole Sunday. DeChambeau had a four-shot lead over Wolff at the 16th tee, and all he did was carve a beautiful draw around the corner of the dogleg that traveled 365 yards, a number formerly reserved for long-drive contests.

A better moment of how golf has changed forever, pending intervention next year by the governing bodies, came at the par-5 ninth. DeChambeau smashed a 375-yard tee cannonball down the fairway. (McIlroy hit one 373 there earlier.) Wolff launched a drive of 381 yards. If you were waiting for Bob Barker, Happy Gilmore’s pro-am antagonist, to pop out of the trees, you were not alone.

That long-distance display led to the last great moment of drama in this Open. DeChambeau poured in a slick, hooking eagle putt from 38 feet. Wolff topped him by making his own 10-footer for eagle. It was the first and only electrifying moment of the day. That kept Wolff within one shot of the lead.

Then, Wolff bogeyed the 10th, DeChambeau holed a birdie putt from off the front fringe at 11 and DeChambeau kept making pars while a fading Wolff began piling up bogeys.

Back to No. 9: When you drive it 375 yards off the tee and you still have to hit first to the green, this is not your father’s game anymore. It’s not even John Daly’s. Maybe not even Tiger Woods’.

Completed a golf revolution. DeChambeau has his quirks and his flaws. He plays slowly. So slowly, some Twitterers were hoping the USGA would slap him with a two-shot penalty. He gets angry when he doesn’t get his way. This year, he fought ants, berated a cameraman and a rules official, lost a Twitter skirmish with Brooks Koepka and came off looking like a spoiled, silver-spooned country-club brat at times. He also can be highly engaging, although not in a post-victory TV interview when he ignores the important first question in order to do a commercial for his multiple sponsors (and that’s not his first such offense).

No golfer in history has taken a more unconventional approach to golf. Even Canadian golfing savant Moe Norman comes in a distant second. You know DeChambeau’s tale. His irons are the same length, an innovative idea that he makes work. He’s got a 5-degree driver, an amount of loft that makes most mortals shiver. He’s got 6 degrees of loft on his putter, or 2-4 degrees more than experts consider standard. If the USGA hadn’t ruled a custom putter that he had built non-conforming, DeChambeau still might be putting sidesaddle, the way he did when he first came on tour. Now he’s got a 47-inch putter that he wields superbly in a unique, upright, robotic fashion. He won his final-round shootout with Wolff, in fact, because he seriously outputted him.

Then there’s his off-season training regimen in which DeChambeau hit the weights, added 40 pounds of bulk through training and a half-dozen protein shakes that he still drinks daily.

The DeChambeau Way is not for everyone, maybe not for anyone. He might not spark a revolution, but he plays the game in a revolutionary style. He deserves significant credit for that.

“The game’s moved on a lot in the 14 years since the U.S. Open was played here, and you’re seeing what the game has become,” McIlroy said. “You see this guy doing it completely his own way. I think it’s brilliant. He’s taken advantage of where the game is at the minute.”

Sunday, DeChambeau’s closing round was dominant. Statistically, it was the fourth-most-dominant final round in Open history based on strokes gained, according to golf statistician Justin Ray. DeChambeau’s 67 gained 7.90 strokes, while Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont in 1973 gained 10.77 strokes. Factor in the 350-yard-plus drives, plus DeChambeau’s deft chips and putts, and it was artistically dominant in its way, too.

DeChambeau made history with this Open victory, joining Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to win a U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and NCAA Championship individual title.

When it was all over early Sunday evening and long shadows elegantly fell across Winged Foot’s stately clubhouse, it turned out that he made more than just history.

He made believers. Nicklaus has nothing to worry about ... probably.

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