Photo courtesy USGA/Chris Keane
Sitting in my office today, I have kept reflecting at what Bryson DeChambeau accomplished in winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Perhaps, it’s not that he won that I am thinking about, but rather how he won.
DeChambeau defied all conventional logic on how to be successful on a U.S. Open course and it is something that will have people talking for a long time.
Throughout the years strategies about how to play a U.S. Open was focused on hitting fairways and avoiding the always penal Open rough, that usually starts the tournament around four inches thick and increases daily in depth.
DeChambeau threw that all out the window. After adding over 30 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame, his philosophy became to hit the ball as far as possible off the tee, and even if it lands in the rough, he’ll have anything from a 7-iron to a wedge in his hand for the approach.
It makes sense as often times a player has to use a higher loft club to get out of the rough, so why not do it closer to the green.
Many scoffed at this approach saying it might work on some courses, but certainly not a U.S. Open course. Not with the deep, penal rough.
DeChambeau is known as one of the more cerebral players in the professional ranks and after the body transformation he now has the perfect mix of brawn and brains to forward his strategy.
Starting two shots behind third-round leader Matthew Wolff, DeChambeau hit only six fairways in the final round, but still managed to hit 11-of-18 greens and totaled only 27 putts on the way to his final round of 3-under, 67.
The stroke average on the final day was 75.03, with DeChambeau the only of the 61 players on Sunday to break par. He also became the only player in the six U.S. Opens contested at Winged Foot to post all four rounds at par or better.
For the week he finished fifth in greens in regulation (46th), despite hitting only hitting 23 fairways, tying him for 26th.
Those numbers don’t add up to a U.S. Open champion, but they were on full display and left some players shaking their heads.
“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does,” said Rory McIlroy. “Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It’s kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.”
Others saw it coming.
“If there’s anyone that I was worried about, it was him,” said Xander Schauffele, the 5th place finisher, of DeChambeau. “Everyone talked about hitting fairways out here. It’s not about hitting fairways. It’s about hitting on the correct side of the hole and hitting it far so you can kind of hit a wedge instead of a 6-iron out of the rough.”
The analytical mind of DeChambeau came make him come off as almost arrogant, but I don’t think that’s the case. Rather it’s just DeChambeau validating his course of action, one that has certainly come under fire from some.
“I think I’m definitely changing the way people think about the game. Now, whether you can do it, that’s a whole different situation,” said DeChambeau. “There’s a lot of people that are going to be hitting it far. Matthew [Wolff] was hitting it plenty far today. A couple of putts just didn’t go in for him today and kept the momentum on my side. So, he’s definitely got the firepower and the strength to do it. You’ve got to be looking out for him in the future. There’s a lot of young guns that are unbelievable players, and I think the next generation that’s coming up into golf hopefully will see this and go, hey, I can do that too.”
Will that be the case?
If I have seen anything watching professional sports over the years, it is that they directly have an impact on the future of any sport. Look what the Splash Brothers of Steph Curry and Klay Thomson have done for basketball.
Not only do you see youth through college players bombing from behind the arc, but it’s already carried over to the NBA.
It had already happened in golf when Tiger Woods came into the game. He was hitting the ball further than anyone else and prompted many courses to try to “Tiger-proof.”
That did nothing more than inspire the next generation to hold nothing back on their tee shots.
The next generation of golfers have all adopted the “bomb-and-gouge,’ philosophy. I see it every time I am out at the course- these younger kids just tighten up their shoes and let’em rip.
My 24-year-old son recently won the longest drive in a tournament we played, crushing it 373 yards with no wind. The only time I have come close to matching that yardage was in Hawaii with the Tradewinds at my back!
And this next generation of golfers had moved in that direction before DeChambeau won the U.S. Open.
According to DeChambeau, he is just getting started.
“Absolutely. And I’m not going to stop,” said DeChambeau of increasing his distance off the tee. “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 with things with Cobra to make it feasible to hit these drives maybe 360, 370, maybe even farther. I don’t know.”
Where does that leave the game? How does the USGA move forward in setting up Open courses? What about all courses?
It is a quandary for sure. They can’t lengthen the courses as that would just give the long hitters another advantage. Narrow the fairways? That’s only going to punish the players this succeed by hitting fairways and have exceptional iron games.
Think of a player like Zach Johnson – he is not a long hitter by modern standards, yet he was still in contention Sunday.
I think what’s lost in the shuffle when it comes to DeChambeau’s game is that he is a tremendous iron player and has become a quality putter as well. Bombing the ball off the tee is just part of the game. If you don’t bring the total game to the course, you are not going to score well.
As DeChambeau mentioned Wolff was bombing it as well, he just didn’t get a couple of putts to drop.
I believe this is the direction of the professional golf. Players in all sports have gotten, bigger, stronger, and faster. Many of today’s top golfers are tremendous athletes such as Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Gary Woodland, and they all hit the ball a mile.
The one concern is obviously DeChambeau’s body. How long can his body handle the violent way he attacks the ball? He has gone into uncharted territory so there is obviously no frame of reference.
You can think of Wood’s health issues, and Fred Couples – a long hitter in his prime – that has battled back issues for years. Throw in the quick weight and muscle gain and plenty have voiced concern.
DeChambeau does have a team around him that is all working together and even with the future uncertain, they are trying to do everything right.
“I am talking to a doctor,” explained DeChambeau. “I got all my blood sample tests, everything back a couple weeks ago. Everything is fine so far. We’re going to keep monitoring it and making sure I’m as healthy as possible because I do want to live for a long time.”
You can fight the change, or you can embrace it, but this is the way the game is moving. Personally, I enjoyed watching DeChambeau impose his will on the course, much the same as I enjoyed watching Tiger do the same at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach when he destroyed the field by 15 strokes.
My advice? Sit back and enjoy the ride – it’s going to be a fun one – and I can’t wait to see what happens at the Masters in November.
“Well, length is going to be a big advantage there. I know that for a fact,” said DeChambeau of August National. “Then I’ve got to get better with my iron play a little bit. I felt like it was great (Sunday), but definitely the driver needs to go straighter. That’s really my main focus still.”
By Dennis Miller