News & Opinion

Bryson DeChambeau solves a new equation in golf

U.S. Open 2020 — Bryson DeChambeau, Tim Tucker, R4
Bryson DeChambeau (right) and caddie Tim Tucker check their notes on the 3rd tee during the final round of the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club's West Course in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Sure, power plays a role in DeChambeau's U.S. Open victory, but the winning formula features science and unconventional thinking

My late friend Terry Florence, one of the best club pros you’d ever know, was fond of saying about golf, “It’s math, not art.” It was a clever way to say there are no pictures on the scorecard.

But was Flo right in a larger sense? Is championship golf really more math than art? It is, the way Bryson DeChambeau sees it and plays it, while the line of nonbelievers is getting shorter by the hour.

“He's taken advantage of where the game is at the minute,” Rory McIlroy said Sunday while DeChambeau was on his way to a six-stroke victory at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

What does that even mean? And what is McIlroy trying to say? Taking advantage of what? Everything DeChambeau is doing is within the rules, including arm-lock putting, although a growing number of people think it’s really anchoring. Good or bad for the game? How so? He got bigger, stronger and faster. So did McIlroy.

Does DeChambeau have a superior way to play championship golf, or just another way? Before the traditionalists throw up their collective hands and bemoan that the golf world has tilted on its axis, never to be the same, down a path of utter ruination, let’s take a step back and look at what’s really in this picture.

DeChambeau set out to take on Winged Foot – one of the most severe tests in golf – by relentlessly attacking it, fairways or not, which is entirely contrary to those who believe that a U.S. Open can’t be won from the rough.

“Whether that's good or bad for the game, I don't know,” McIlroy said. “It's not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played.”

McIlroy certainly is not alone. DeChambeau’s plan flies smack in the face of conventional wisdom, which now makes the unconventional not only a viable option but to some people, the preferred one.

Does that mean PGA Tour players will rush to the gym to pack on 45 pounds and chase 20, 30 yards or more? Probably not. The current long hitters launch it plenty far enough. Open runner-up Matthew Wolff is, for all intents, just as long as DeChambeau.

Dustin Johnson was the driving-distance leader at Winged Foot and recorded a blast of 418 yards on one of the measuring holes Sunday. Johnson, Wolff and McIlroy drove it longer on average at the Open than did DeChambeau. Tony Finau can crank his ball speed to 200 mph, if he so desires.

So, it’s not just distance. But more than a few players might become interested in DeChambeau’s scientific method to approach each shot. This is a guy, remember, who took a spray bottle and showered golf balls to see what numbers FlightScope would post.

Though it seems anal retentive, as well as painfully time-consuming, to plug each variable into an equation before hitting a shot, it appears to make a difference, especially when it comes to the razor-thin line between success and failure at major championships.

DeChambeau also uses a device that measures putts in miles per hour. Yes, you read that correctly. So, he knows how far to swing his arm-lock putter to produce a particular speed, therefore a precise distance. Then, he takes slope and break into account, using the same device.

It’s not pretty like Ben Crenshaw putted, but DeChambeau thinks that’s the best way for him to putt. And you can’t argue results. He tied for 11th at Winged Foot in putts per round, at 28.75.

“You see me out there on the greens with the device trying to control my speed,” he said. “It's just something that allows me and gives me comfort to know that on this green, or these speeds of greens, it's going to be repeatable. It's going to be comfort in knowing how far I can take it back and go through.”

If that sounds counterintuitive to the school that insists putting is much more touch, feel and visualization than mechanics, well, it is. But that school might be getting a little older and grayer as we speak.

Nothing is more important than self-belief, to hear NBC analyst Paul Azinger tell it. But to increase self-belief to a bulletproof level, you must first overcome doubt, which is the great killer of golf swings. DeChambeau is so completely sold on his approach that his belief is downright unshakeable.

Now, he aims to go even farther. He plans to experiment with a 48-inch driver and is talking about putting on 15 more pounds of muscle.

“Not everybody has to do it my way,” DeChambeau said. “I'm not saying that. I'm just saying in general that there are different ways to do things. If you can find your own way, find your passion – like Arnie said, swing your swing. That's what I do.”

He also finds and smashes limits, no matter how uncomfortable it makes anyone else.

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