During the height of lockdown, while most of us sought comfort in movies, Netflix and video games, Bryson DeChambeau found purpose in the gym.
When golf resumed in early June, DeChambeau emerged with an additional 40 pounds of muscle and hit the ground running with his new powerful physique.
In the five tournaments he has played since resumption, he has placed tied-third, tied-eighth, tied-sixth, and first before falling back down to earth when he failed to make the cut at the Memorial Tournament.
Nonetheless DeChambeau has caused quite a stir in that time due to the sheer distance he is now driving the ball off the tee. According to PGA statistics, the 26-year-old American golfer is hitting the ball two yards further than second-ranked Cameron Champ and 12 yards further than Sam Burns, who is ranked 10th.
For his win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, DeChambeau averaged 350.6 yards per drive. This is the longest average measured driving distance for a winning player in PGA Tour history.
Earlier this month, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood described DeChambeau as “incredible” to CNN’s Amanda Davies in an Instagram Live.
“What Bryson’s done has been incredible,” he said. “He should be applauded for it. He’s obviously seen where he can improve and distance is obviously a massive strength and he’s maximied that for sure.
“His body transformation is incredible and it’s paid off very quickly. Over the last few weeks, him and Webb Simpson have been the two most consistent players – Bryson obviously won last week [in Detroit] – and to retain the feel in his short game and his putting when you’ve piled on all the pounds and obviously bulked up is a phenomenal effort.”
These days at golf media conferences golfers are invariably asked about DeChambeau.
“He’s hitting it further, but let’s look at the fact that he’s hitting it as straight as he is,” said Tiger Woods.
“That’s the most difficult thing to do. The further you hit it, the more the tangent goes more crooked, more along this line.”
Charley Hoffman recently told GOLF’s Subpar podcast that DeChambeau’s development shows that “the best athletes in the world are starting to play golf now. That’s why it’s going further.”
Meanwhile fellow Tour pro Tony Finau says he was “inspired” by DeChambeau and that it had “got [him] thinking.”
DeChambeau himself had this to say about his swing and how straight he hits the ball: “I’ve found some methods in the golf swing that allowed me to hit it a little bit straighter than I thought I was going to be able to. Consequently, I just feel like the harder I swing, sometimes the straighter it goes, and that’s been a tremendous benefit.
“Whenever I get a little uncomfortable I just swing it harder, and luckily the way my golf swing is, the forces lined up a lot better for me. But no, I didn’t think it was going to come this quick.”
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While Westwood commended DeChambeau for “improving himself physically,” the British golfer indicated that he thought equipment played a significant role: “Drivers and golf balls have been going further and straighter over the last few years; this hasn’t just happened over the last few months.
“We’ve been having this conversation for years now. I don’t know what the answer is. As long as you hit it a long way, you should get the benefit of it if you hit it straight. If you hit it a long way and it goes off-line and you don’t get penalized, that’s when golf has got a problem.”
Others are not so happy with how DeChambeau and massive drives are potentially changing golf.
After the Charles Schwab Challenge in early June, former Tour pro Colin Montgomerie told the BBC that the “time has come” for officials to introduce a “tournament ball for professionals” to curb DeChambeau and others from long hitting off the tee.
“Bryson had 10 holes on which he was within 100 yards of the green for his approach. And if you include the four par threes that means there were only four holes on which Bryson was more than 100 yards away for his approach.
“The game has changed dramatically. It’s now brute force and a sand wedge.”
The USGA and R&A released a report in February that said the increased distances players were hitting was “detrimental to the game’s long-term future.”
Montgomerie said he also backed Jack Nicklaus’ idea for a tournament ball that goes only “80-85% as far.”
People may not like it, but DeChambeau isn’t breaking any rules, and it certainly is not the first time a sportsperson has done something others don’t agree with in order to gain an advantage.
That is simply the nature of competitive sport.
Not bulletproof yet
February’s report also said that “increased hitting distance can begin to undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about needing to demonstrate a broad range of skills to be successful.”
But DeChambeau has also shown that the long-hitting approach is not foolproof.
Two weeks after that win in Detroit, the 26-year-old missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament after recording a 10-stroke quintuple bogey on his second round.
The incident also raised questions about DeChambeau’s temperament.
An errant drive forced a drop. The California native then opted for a 3-wood from the rough and skewed the shot to the right out of bounds. The next stroke produced a similar result, but even further to the right.
The ball was found to be resting against a metal boundary fence and before he could take his eighth stroke, the ball was, according to two officials, also ruled to be out of bounds. The second official was required after DeChambeau dismissed the first ruling as “garbage.”
He added: “From my perspective, that would be technically still in.”
Dismissing the officials and favoring his own opinion are a couple of reasons why some call the eight-time tournament winner arrogant.
During his win in Detroit, DeChambeau also berated a cameraman for following him too closely which he deemed was “hurting [his] image.”
Two weeks later at the Memorial Tournament, DeChambeau’s caddie Tim Tucker rushed to block a cameraman from filming his boss’s meltdown on the 15th hole.
He later declined two interview requests from the media following his failure to make the cut.
It remains to be seen whether the new power game of Dechambeau, who will next compete at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational this week, will force golf to fundamentally change or force his fellow competitors to fundamentally change their games too.
The WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational reigning champion Brooks Koepka heads into the weekend with his own simple answer: “I don’t need to keep up with anybody. I’m good.”