Bryson Returns


Contributor: Doug Ferguson

Throw in a three-month break from golf, and he returned as the Incredible Bulk. His goal was to generate ball speed of 200 mph leaving his club. Even for power players, that number was already around the mid-180s.

The timing was interesting because The R&A and the USGA in February — one month before the pandemic put a halt to golf — released their “Distance Insights Project” that was two years in the making, and the results surprised no one. Players were hitting it farther than ever, steady gains for more than 100 years, with an average gain of about 30 yards by elite players in the last 25 years alone. The reasons cited were modern clubs and golf balls, improved athleticism and training, swing techniques geared toward hitting it longer and course conditions with tightly mown fairways that allowed for extra roll. It was just beginning to collect feedback when the project was halted. For those who thought the problem was equipment alone, DeChambeau proved otherwise, and he did it at tough Winged Foot with the USGA looking on at the US Open.

The results, though, were immediate. He was a putt away from the playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge. McIlroy played with him in the final round and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The next week, DeChambeau drove over the green on a reachable par four at Harbour town with a three-wood during the RBC Challenge, where he tied for eighth. He nearly drove a par four over water that was not meant to be reached off the tee at the TPC River Highlands in the Travelers Championship. And he reduced Detroit Golf Club to a pitch-and-putt with his enormous power at the Rocket Mortgage, his first victory of the year. Golf has always been more about “how many” than “how”, though DeChambeau brought attention to the latter. He finished in Detroit with a 367-yard drive, and it was only his fourth-longest of the week. In the four tournaments since the resumption of the PGA Tour schedule, DeChambeau hit 29 tee shots of 350 yards or longer. In the final round, facing the 399-yard 13th hole, he waited for the green to clear before blasting away.

Players who made fun of his weight gain began to pay homage, not so much to the method but the discipline it required, and how DeChambeau delivered on what he said he would do. He often talks about leaving bread crumbs so he can find his way back to what was working if the experiment failed. This one did not. He became the talk of golf, must-see television. His pre-shot routine was reminiscent of an Olympic weightlifter huffing and puffing and psyching himself out right before the lift, clean and jerk. At the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, DeChambeau took practice swings so hard that he generated a light breeze. And then he walked over to his bag and used a wrench to tighten the screws in his driver. He drove the 300-yard 15th hole at the TPC Summerlin with a four-iron. And it all started with him watching the World Long Drive Championship and asking a question. “If I could do that and hit it straight, what would happen?” he said. “That was the question that inspired me to go down this road.”

The crowning moment was the US Open at Winged Foot, where only two players in five previous US Open had broken par — Fuzzy Zoeller and Greg Norman at 276 in 1984. DeChambeau finished at six-under 274 for a six-shot victory. He used his power, sure, but he used his brain. DeChambeau realised the fairways were so narrow that no one was going to be playing from the short grass a majority of the time. So he blasted away, trying to get as close as possible, even from the rough. He usually had no more than wedge and let his irons and putting take care of the rest. He outsmarted the USGA by exposing a flaw in the design. “They just made the fairways too small this week to have it be an advantage for guys hitting the fairway,” he said.

DeChambeau became the betting favourite to win the Masters in November. He talked about using a 48-inch driver to hit it farther than anyone imagined. He didn’t, and he didn’t hit irons very well or putt very well.

Golf remains more about the long ball. Even so, DeChambeau had everyone watching, talking and thinking. And he had a daunting message for the governing bodies as they contemplated the effect on distance. “It’s tough to rein in athleticism,” he said. “We’re always going to be trying to get fitter, stronger, more athletic. And Tiger inspired this whole generation to do this, and we’re going to keep going after it.”


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