Sitting at 22-under par with a three-shot, final-round lead, Bryson DeChambeau stepped up to the 18th tee at the Detroit Golf Club. At that point, about the only thing that could defeat him was arrogance.
Conventional golfing wisdom said to grab a three-wood and play it safe by playing for par. Just whack a nice little drive down the middle and go collect your check.
DeChambeau is allergic to conventional wisdom though. So, naturally, he grabbed his driver and uncorked his massive frame into the ball. It sizzled an astounding 366 yards down the fairway. Two shots later, he birdied to clinch victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Bryson DeChambeau might be the only good thing in sports to come out of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown.
Everything else has been mostly a disaster. Canceled events, suspended seasons, sidelined stars. And no one knows what’s still to come.
Then there is the 26-year-old golfer who has developed from an always intriguing golf nerd to must-watch television and potential massive star on the PGA Tour.
He used the COVID-19 break in action to complete his use of diet and weight lifting to add 40 pounds to his frame (he’s now 6-foot-1 and about 240). It has made him one of the most astounding ball strikers ever. His theory, born in part from being a physics major at SMU, is simple: mass times acceleration makes the ball move. So why not more mass and more acceleration?
“I changed my body, I changed my mindset in the game, and was able to accomplish a win while playing a completely different style of golf,” DeChambeau said.
He’s a physical monster now. Not just muscle, but girth. He’s big in ways golfers rarely are. Again, conventional wisdom shudders. This is John Daly with an actual plan, a body built by chugging protein shakes not beers.
DeChambeau has decided that he will outhit the field. He now looks like a bulky lumberjack attempting to fell a mighty oak with a single swing.
In Detroit, he averaged 350.6 yards off the tee on the course’s driving holes, nearly 10 yards more than the next longest player. Sixteen times he wailed one longer than 350, including a mammoth 375-yarder. A few weeks ago he uncorked one 428 yards, albeit with help from the cart path.
Just a year ago, Cameron Champ led the PGA Tour with an average driving distance of 317.9.
On Sunday, DeChambeau tried to drive the 399-yard 13th hole. While he came up short … who cares? He tried. If you were watching, you sat up at attention … and kept watching to see what he’d try next.
Spoiler alert: Bryson crushed a drive.
196 MPH ball speed. 343-yard CARRY. 376 yards total. 😱 pic.twitter.com/YXSQ2FoeMm
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 2, 2020
None of these shots are as wild as the 232-yarder out of heavy rough he used to reach the green on the par-5 17th hole on Sunday. His club? An 8-iron.
This is exactly what golf needed, a completely unorthodox player who is smashing balls and long-held theories about how the game needs to be played. That he does it with an overabundance of self-confidence just adds some salt to the mix. The dude is cocky.
At the Donald Ross-designed course in Detroit, he took great joy at taunting the famed architect (who passed away in 1948) for not factoring in someone like he might come along.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ross, I didn’t mean to hit it over those bunkers all the time,” he said with a laugh.
He also got into a shouting match with a television cameraman who filmed him in the middle of a meltdown on Saturday, and whined that the PGA Tour should protect its players and their brands.
He isn’t here to make friends. In a sport with plenty of nice, polite guys, that isn’t a bad thing.
“The most important thing is that I’ve shown people that there’s another way to do it,” DeChambeau declared. “… I think there’s going to be people trying to hit it a little harder, some of them. At the end of the day, it’s going to take a generation for this to evolve into something.”
A few months into this experiment and he’s already predicting the start of a generational change to the game? Of course.
Hey, he might be right. Second-place finisher Matthew Wolff is also an aggressive player with an unusual style. Then again, this was Detroit. Let’s see it work at Augusta or the U.S. Open.
DeChambeau has always been like this. As a youth golfer he was known for his Ben Hogan cap and his incessant questioning of why the game was taught and played the way it was taught and played. He arrived on the Tour bucking the concept that irons should be of different length. He believed that if he could perfect a single swing, then the club face at the end of the same length club would take the variables out of shots.
It worked to some degree — Detroit was his sixth career victory. His biggest problem last weekend was that his short game produced shots that flew too long, perhaps because of his insistence on using a graphite rather than a steel shaft. He’s vowed to figure it out.
Nothing was more obvious though than the bulk-up and commitment to grip it and rip it. It’s resulted in seven consecutive top-10 finishes. And he swears he is just getting started. He’s even taking a week off for some intensive training to get larger.
“I’m going full sail, going as hard as I can to get as strong and big as I can,” DeChambeau said.
Tune in when he gets back on July 13, because out of the sporting boredom of the pandemic, a can’t-miss star may be emerging.
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