Sep 4th, 2018
Bryson DeChambeau's science – golf's ultimate formula?
World Number 7 is blowing away all-comers
Words: Tim Southwell
As Bryson DeChambeau celebrates back to back FedEx Cup wins, my mind is cast back to April 2017 and The Houston Open. I was on the range watching Phil, Beef, and Rickie launching drives when I noticed a lone, almost forlorn figure over by the short game area.
It was Bryson DeChambeau. He wasn't in a good way. In fact, he was in the eye of a golf storm that saw him miss 11 cuts in a 15-start stretch. As he practiced chips he looked, quite simply, lost. I watched him for about 25 minutes during which time he didn't speak to anyone, just kept his head down trying to rediscover whatever it was that was eluding him.
I had half a mind to go over and say something encouraging to him but thought better of it. I figured that the whirring machines clashing in his brain as he tries to get out of his slump might explode if any more information had to be computed.
You suspected that the golf scientist approach was backfiring, actually restricting his ability rather than enhancing it. The single-length clubs suddenly didn't look like such a great, obvious, idea. How the rest of the golf world chortled, offended as they were by DeChambeau's attempt to apply science to their traditional game.
DeChambeau made the cut in Houston but then missed the next eight in a row. It was nasty to watch. But he was convinced his hard work on the range was making the ship begin to turn and he finished 26th at the Travelers, 14th at the Greenbrier before the following week, on the 16th of July, he shot a closing round 65 to win his first PGA Tour event, The John Deere Classic.
2018 has been unbelievable: Nine top 10s including three wins, The Memorial in June, followed by the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship.
At 2017's Houston Open, Bryson was 107th in the World Rankings. Today he is 7th and top of the FedEx Cup rankings, a whopping 2,328 points ahead of second-placed Dustin Johnson. This golf scientist thing might just have legs after all.
After stunning the world by winning both of the opening FedEx Cup tournaments (the first player to do so since Vijay Singh (2008), Bryson DeChambeau wanted to talk about gravity.
He wanted to but he knew the assembled press hacks might quickly be wondering if they'd wandered into the wrong press room and were actually attending the latest seminar at The Boffin-Central Annual Science-Off.
“That gravity actually pushed outward and not inward,” said Bryson to a sea of bewildered journalists. “That’s going to throw you guys for a loop,” he added. He's not kidding!
Us mere mortals might prefer to call it momentum and try not to over complicate things for fear of losing your grip on your game. But Bryson is not your average tour pro.
Asked about his troubles in 2017, Bryson is as candid as he is unflappable:
“Look, I was at a different level at that point in time relative to last year at this time,” he says. “I was still hitting the ball in the fairways but it wasn’t up to my standard. And so I was trying to figure out why it wasn’t up to my standard.
“I built something really, really consistent at the beginning of the year and I kind of lost it. Kind of got lucky finding it. And now I’m starting to understand why I was so good at the beginning of the year.
“And that’s kind of a scary thought for me, at least, because it shows what I can do, and especially with the last couple of weeks. It’s a good combination.”
With each win – he’s had four of them now in his last 31 PGA Tour starts – the sceptics are becoming believers. Even his dad Jon has come around on it.
“When I was starting to do my one-length iron stuff, there were a couple of colleges that just stopped talking to me. Even my dad didn’t think it was a great idea,” DeChambeau said. “I love my dad to death, but we butted heads. But obviously, it works now.”
Asked if his dad uses single-length clubs now, DeChambeau smiled. “Yep.” Since when? “About a year-and-a-half.”
DeChambeau’s final birdie at the Dell Technologies, at the par-4 15th, turned out to be the one that sealed the idea for him. A 3-wood struck 309 yards, then a wedge to inside 9 feet, then the birdie putt. Ancer. Rose. vanquished.
“That was it,” DeChambeau said. “That’s how I play golf right there. Make that birdie and come off the green confident.”
Confident? I should coco. Anyone facing up to him in the Ryder Cup had better beware. This guy is in the zone.
DeChambeau is smart enough to know that he will still invite more than his fair share of criticism. Commentators will no doubt question whether his rigid, upright set up and single length clubs can stand the heat of the Ryder Cup kitchen.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s been weird and unique relative to everybody else,” he says. “… I’ve always gone about my business trying to do the absolute best I can. Let today’s garbage be better than yesterday’s.
“And so I don’t view people’s criticism as a negative thing. I actually view it as a positive thing because what people can’t understand sometimes is actually a benefit to the person that does understand it.”
I can't pretend to understand everything of what Bryson DeChambeau says. Or most of it, actually. What I do understand is that golf needs characters, individuals, remarkable people. Bryson DeChambeau is quite clearly all of that, and plenty more besides.
All hail the Golf Scientist.