That Bryson DeChambeau, the newly minted U.S. Open champion, is on a quest for more power and more distance off the tee is hardly a revolutionary initiative in golf. How he is going about it, by technological synchronization and caloric augmentation, is a formula that sets him apart by far more than can be quantified by yardage.
DeChambeau hasn’t changed the gentleman’s game – one that through history has been an amalgam of precision, a little poetry, and, yes, power – with an unapologetic approach akin to raw pugilism. Not yet, anyway. But he probably has people, especially the next wave of players, considering the metrics of the modern game through the prism of a one-dimensional dynamic, that of total dedication to the long ball.
Which would be shortsighted.
What DeChambeau proved with his final-round 3-under-par 67 and six-stroke victory at wearying Winged Foot Golf Club on Sunday is that hitting the ball far is a huge advantage, but only if other facets of the game can be applied effectively. Distance control, scrambling, putting and even forms of cartography, geometry and logic. DeChambeau, 27, is the deepest thinker in golf since Mac O’Grady, but with far more talent and tenacity, and what he thinks has proven to matter.
In winning the 120th U.S. Open with just the third under-par score in the history of the championship at Winged Foot, a 6-under 274 total, DeChambeau validated his core hypothesis – that if he can get big enough and strong enough and swing the golf club fast enough, there is no golf course that can contain him, not even the venerable, rough-enhanced West Course at Winged Foot.
“Every part of me wants to not like this, that you just reduce the game to power and the fairway becomes less important … especially at a U.S. Open because historically, that’s just not the way it’s been done,” NBC Sports broadcaster Roger Maltbie said on Saturday. “But this is impressive and (DeChambeau is) convincing me that he’s not wrong in the way that he’s assessed how to play the game now.”
Asked what the USGA might be thinking after their newest national champion found just 23 fairways in 72 holes, DeChambeau replied, “He's hitting it forever. That's why he won.
“It was a tremendous advantage this week. I kept telling everybody it's an advantage to hit it farther. It's an advantage. … Let's take an example of, like, a yard wide. Nobody's going to hit the fairway. OK, length's going to win. You make the fairways too wide, length's going to win.”
But, again, it takes more than that, and DeChambeau prides himself on being a “creative” player. He also has a handle on other fundamentals. Or at least he did this week in winning for the second time this year and seventh time overall on the PGA Tour.
Shane Lowry, the reigning British Open champion, made this very point. “Obviously, look, Bryson has done what he has, but he did it for a month [with a win and a string of top-10 finishes], and then the last few weeks he's not been unbelievable, he's not been contending at the top of events,” the Irishman said. “Obviously Dustin [Johnson] hits it far but Dustin controls the ball very well, and people have to realize even though they're probably some of the longest hitters in the world, they're still the best golfers. You still have to be able to control your ball, you still have to be able to chip and putt. If it was just about hitting the ball long, the long drivers would be out here playing in these major championships, and they're not.”
DeChambeau wasn’t the longest hitter this week; that distinction belonged to Johnson. But he was seventh in driving distance, fifth in greens in regulation and his 115 putts for the week ranked 11th overall. Even with as few fairways as he hit, he still tied for 26th in driving accuracy.
“As difficult as this golf course was presented, I played it beautifully,” the California native said unabashedly after becoming the third man after Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win an NCAA title, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open. “Even through the rough, I was still able to manage my game and hit it to correct sides of the greens … and kept plugging away. My putting was immaculate today. My speed control, incredible.”
DeChambeau is so thorough in his approach to golf that when he sought to improve his putting, he wanted a better understanding of “how a ball needs to roll.” Apparently, it’s not as simple as you might think. But then nothing is with the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion, who employs a unique stiff-armed swing and irons that all have the same shaft length, another rarity at the top of the game.
The year after winning the Memorial Tournament, Nicklaus’ tour event in suburban Columbus, Ohio, DeChambeau provided a detailed explanation of his thought process before a shot. Among the factors he considers are air density, elevation change, wind vector, slope adjustment and roll-out number.
Now, how are you supposed to beat that, complemented by an ability to hit the living bejeezus out of the ball?
“He is the most authentic golf scientist that has ever played the game,” NBC Sports analyst Paul Azinger said. “The more information he gets, the less complicated things get. It’s the opposite of most players. He’s just breaking every trend.”
Granted, as Lowry contended, DeChambeau isn’t winning every tournament, but when he is on, like he was on Sunday, he’ll dominate. In shooting the only sub-par score in the final round, DeChambeau beat the field by nearly eight strokes (7.90). That’s the highest scoring differential by a U.S. Open champion against the field since Johnny Miller beat the field by 10.77 strokes with his final-round 63 at Oakmont in 1973.
You can’t help but sit up and take notice. Which DeChambeau, who now is No. 5 in the world rankings, would enjoy.
“I hope I can inspire some people,” he said. “My goal in playing golf and playing this game is to try and figure it out. I'm just trying to figure out this very complex, multivariable game, and multidimensional game as well. It's very, very difficult. It's a fun journey for me.
“I hope that inspires people to say, hey, look, maybe there is a different way to do it. Not everybody has to do it my way. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying in general that there are different ways to do things.”
And it’s likely that while others might emulate DeChambeau, he submitted that, “Whether you can do it, that’s a whole different situation.”
It most certainly is. Wholly different. As NBC’s Dan Hicks so aptly put it, “He’s the 225th different major champion – perhaps the most different of them all.”
The Professor. The Mad Scientist. Call him what you will, but you also have to call him a U.S. Open champion, someone who is doing it his way, a way void of apprehension and consumed with seeking out the boundaries of performance. DeChambeau rightly felt validation for his approach, but he didn’t feel satisfaction. He has shown the doubters what he is capable of doing, but the job is not finished, and probably never will be. His journey continues, a process that he loves as much as the results he derives from it.
“I'm not going to stop,” he promised of his desire to break through the next barrier, be it equipment or packing more muscle on his 6-foot-1 frame that already carries 230-235 pounds. “Next week I'm going to be trying a 48-inch driver. We're going to be messing with some head designs and do some amazing things with Cobra to make it feasible to hit these drives maybe 360, 370, maybe even farther. I don't know.”
And that’s what drives him – the not knowing, which means he can dream of the possibilities. The endless possibilities.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.