News & Opinion

With Bryson DeChambeau, it’s paralysis by analysis

Bryson DeChambeau and caddie Tim Tucker in final round of 2020 U.S. Open
In a familiar scene, Bryson DeChambeau (right) and caddie Tim Tucker compare notes.

The U.S. Open champion goes to great lengths to solve as many variables as possible on the course, except for one: his pace of play

I started to get out of bed this morning, but caught myself just in time. I stopped, reached over to the nightstand, picked up my little green book and checked on the exact distance and slope my feet would have to successfully negotiate to land on the floor. Finally, fortified with that information, I was able to go ahead and initiate my move to stand up.

Sound a little crazy? Not if you watched Bryson DeChambeau win the U.S. Open.

It’s interesting how that victory Sept. 20 became all about distance. One person proposes a narrative and it becomes gospel, proselytized and spread across all platforms. So, you already know the story: DeChambeau walloped Winged Foot with tape-measure blows.

But statistically, he wasn’t even the longest hitter in the championship. According to the USGA stats, six players averaged more yardage off the tee. More germane for DeChambeau than his power off the tee was his power and precision from the rough. Forty-three percent of the fairways translated into 64 percent of the greens for “Bison.”

He won because he could hit approach shots a mile high and land them on Winged Foot’s wobbly greens, rough notwithstanding. He won with terrific putting and, most importantly, with unflappable composure.

Bobby Jones famously said, “Nobody wins the U.S. Open; everybody else just loses it.” DeChambeau never faltered mentally, while all those around him crumbled. It wasn’t unorthodox; it was classic.

But for the purposes of this narrative, it’s the manner in which DeCham-slow won that bears further examination. Watching the finish at Mamaroneck was like watching a rush-hour bottleneck, like curing insomnia, or tracking the gestation period of an African elephant (22 months).

DeChambeau is not the only sloth, just the most obvious. And at Winged Foot, he was contending for a major championship, so some ponderation is understandable. But as a certain presidential candidate best puts it, C’mon, man! Is it really necessary for you and your caddie to reference books and pause to do math … in front of a 10-foot putt? Would it be possible to give it a good look – from both ends, if you’d like – and just roll it?

Again, the player is not so much to blame. There’s a lot of money on the table. You push the envelope as far as you’re allowed. And golf is not the only sport allowing itself to be overwhelmed with analytics. Look at what’s happened to baseball.

Equations have taken over the game, created ever-present shifts, sacrificed strikeouts for launch angles, compromised eyeballs for software and nonstop pitching changes. The radar gun is all powerful, as pitchers maximize effort and detonate elbows. The statistics are mind-numbing.

Even the language has changed. You don’t throw strikes anymore; you “execute in the zone.” You don’t get ahold of one anymore; you “get the barrel out.” If Pete Rose played today, he’d be known as “Mr. Charles Maximum Energy Exertion,” not “Charlie Hustle.”

The same thing is happening to golf. Swing speed, spin rates, loft angles, strokes-gained, blah, blah, blah. Each of these things has its place, to be sure. But there is a well-known expression in the game that addresses the delicate balance between analytics and application, rather, what happens when the balance is distorted: paralysis by analysis.

In today’s game, the concept doesn’t just apply to the mental process. It also applies to pace of play. Feel, instinct, deduction … these were the staples of golf, talents acquired through practice and experience. Now, they are purchased at the pro shop, found in the green books and rangefinders.

The mind was something to be kept unencumbered. Find something on the range, latch on to a swing thought, and off you go. Keep it simple, stupid.

But now, a PGA Tour player has to check his books, and have his caddie do the same. They have to ponder topographical information, degrees of slope and compare notes. Now it’s a formula, to be considered, calculated and deliberate. It’s not, Keep it simple, stupid. It’s, Take your time, Einstein.

What’s more, golf’s surrender to analysis is ambivalent. You’re allowed to consult these tools, but not allowed to seek advice from another player. Huh? What if the guy who created the yardage book also plays golf; is that not advice? What if the guy who made the green book also plays golf; is that not advice?

We could go on, but there are pace-of-play issues with writing columns, as well.

All those who assessed DeChambeau’s victory at Winged Foot as a power play are now predicting more biblical episodes for the Masters at Augusta National in six weeks. They are suggesting that members would do well to buy up more property and extend the fairways to I-20 and Bobby Jones Expressway. Not so sure the green jackets won’t have something to say about that.

But if that’s the case, the powers that be also might want to hire street artisans, install amusement-park rides, shoot T-shirts into the galleries … when there are galleries. Golf is going to need something to keep people entertained.

Because, let’s face it: The DeChambeau approach to championship golf is impressive … but only if you can stay awake long enough to watch it.

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