Brute strength alone won't win a green jacket, so DeChambeau will need more than powerful drives to slay Augusta National
Step back. Relax. Take a deep breath.
There, now. No need to panic. Let’s look at this with clear eyes and the gift of perspective. Fear not, because Bryson DeChambeau is not going to break the Masters. It’s been tried in years past and the Masters has survived unscathed with its reputation intact. And it will continue to do so, no matter how far DeChambeau – or anyone else – hits it off the tee.
A lot of breathless prose has been writ about how DeChambeau is bound to make a mockery of the legendary Augusta National this week. Especially when the Twitterverse lit up with BDC’s video of his 400-yard drive in practice – with his regular-length driver.
He reportedly has sheathed his 48-inch weapon, the maximum-length shaft allowed under the Rules of Golf, for this week, but he still possesses plenty of power to slay Augusta National. This is not Lancelot and Excalibur. It’s a man – a young man – with an idea. He believes he’s smarter than the average touring pro and thinks he has found a way to take great major-championship courses and chop them off at the knees.
He did so at Winged Foot in September at the U.S. Open by smashing it as hard as he could, rough be damned as long as he had a wedge in his hands. He won by six shots but not entirely because he bludgeoned the course into submission. He hit nearly two-thirds of the greens and tied for 11th in putting for the week.
But the same strategy didn’t work at the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, which was set up very much like a U.S. Open, which it hosted in 2003. Jon Rahm won the BMW, beating Dustin Johnson in a playoff at 4 under. DeChambeau was 10 over for four rounds and finished 50th of 69 players.
The following week at the Tour Championship, East Lake Golf Club featured 2½-inch Bermudagrass rough, and DeChambeau shot an unadjusted 1-over for 72 holes and finished T-25 in a 30-player field.
So, if his approach is so markedly superior, why doesn’t he win every week? As anyone who plays the game at the highest level knows, golf simply doesn’t work that way. Lee Trevino famously said, “God doesn’t give one guy everything.”
DeChambeau won the U.S. Open the same way nearly every Open champion wins it: by having 72 holes during which his best things are great and his worst things are above average. In other words, everything falls into place at exactly the right time. Dr. Cary Middlecoff said after capturing the 1956 Open, “You don’t win the U.S. Open. The Open wins you.”
Which brings us to the Masters. Augusta National is not built to be an oppressive, brutal hole-after-hole slog, like an Open setup. It has a rhythm. The National giveth and it taketh away. It has plenty of birdie holes and plenty of holes where bogey – or worse – can be made without fully realizing how it happened.
Augusta National is one of the most complicated venues in all of major championships. Although it has plenty of room to drive the ball, location can determine the difference between birdie and par or bogey. On nearly every green, the landing area to get close to the hole can be the size of a card table. Wind up on the wrong side of the hole and two-putting isn’t a done deal.
That said, Augusta National can give up low scores or it can be especially stern. Jordan Spieth won in 2015, tying the tournament record at 18 under, and Danny Willett won the following year at 5 under. More than anything, results are especially dependent on wind and hole locations, both of which at times can be capricious.
And this is not the first year when observers have been concerned with distance off the tee. Tiger Woods shot 18 under in 1997 to win his first of five green jackets – lapping the field by an astounding 12 shots. He pounded it miles off the tee and hit short irons, even wedges, for second shots into the par 5s. Many insiders howled in protest that distance was going to leave championship golf in ruins.
Augusta National then embarked on a Tiger-proofing project, and the course became progressively longer and more difficult. Yet, since 1997, shorter hitters such as Mark O’Meara, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mike Weir, Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and Spieth proved that it’s a sport coat, not a bomber jacket.
So, what of DeChambeau? Having wedges in hand for second shots is one thing; hitting them in the right place at the right time is quite another. And that doesn’t take into account putting some of the most troublesome greens in the professional game.
If DeChambeau should win this week, he will have done much more than merely drive it a long way. At least two dozen other players in the field – or more – are highly capable of doing everything it takes to get to Butler Cabin on Sunday afternoon. One-trick ponies don’t win the Masters.
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