Golf may be the most convention-bound, mentally constrained game in the world of sports. The traditional is almost worshiped. New ideas are fought or mocked.
On Sunday, Bryson DeChambeau, who is the embodiment of just such a dangerous, analytical, self-secure and stubborn man, blew up the golf world’s idea of logic.
With a 6-under-par, six-shot win over Matthew Wolff at trembling, frightened Winged Foot, the 27-year-old, who has bulked up until he looks like a pro linebacker, humiliated the mightiest of U.S. Open venues just as it has humiliated so many. Only DeChambeau was under par — way under, with a final-round 67 to overcome a two-shot Wolff lead.
And he did it in ways no one has ever attempted in golf.
From the length and weighting of his irons, to basic theories of the golf swing, to his bodybuilding NFL-style figure, to deciding that the U.S. Open rough could be beaten just by ignoring it and bombing away on every shot, DeChambeau made his statement — about everything. You, my friends, are the ones who are not being logical. I am the rational, scientific golfer. I told you so — nicely. Will you listen now?
Perhaps only DeChambeau, with his brains, physique, determination, originality and, for the past 10 years, orneriness as he has defied almost every golf convention, could win by such a margin while using all his do-it-my-way methods.
Maybe he’s unique, sui generis and unthreatening.
Or — and this is even scarier to the old game — maybe the way he does it will prove a fundamentally better alternative for many players, from pro to hacker.
Since the first time I watched, talked to and wrote about DeChambeau when he was an amateur playing the 2016 Masters, I have considered him the most revolutionary, fascinating and — in a good way — mysterious player in golf.
As a teen, he decided that the golf swing was all wrong: stance, takeaway, every aspect. He adopted the obscure teachings of a 45-year-old book by Homer Kelley: “The Golf Machine: The Curious Quest That Solved Golf.”
Everyone laughed. You can’t hold your arms stiff. You can’t swing like a robot. You can’t putt in that same ridiculous stiff-armed manner. It’s against nature, ugly and almost blasphemy.
DeChambeau proved them wrong. “Chapter 10, Section 7, Variation A. ‘Zero shift.’ That’s where my swing came from,” DeChambeau wrote in Golf Magazine in 2019. “That’s where I thought of my methods.”
All week on golf telecasts, you may have heard references to his unnamed “critics.” In some cases, they are the people speaking. The reason no one ever really discusses DeChambeau’s ideas is that they contradict the theories — and incomes — of everybody who teaches golf or manufactures or sells clubs.
The final words of summation on NBC’s Sunday telecast were that DeChambeau’s win at the U.S. Open, supposedly the game’s hardest test, and on legendarily difficult Winged Foot, “defies logic.” How ironic. His win epitomizes the application of logic to golf. It is the sport which must, to a degree, defend its logic.
DeChambeau isn’t much help. “I don’t spill all my secrets. I’ll drop hints,” he’s said. In his Golf piece, he tried to explain — a bit.
“I just want my hands to be in the same position they’ll be in at impact,” DeChambeau explained. “It’s the most efficient way to return the clubhead to the ball. … If you were to design a machine to swing a golf club, how would that machine do it? You wouldn’t program the machine to have a bunch of excess movement. You’d build it so it’s simple and repeatable.”
Yes, broad-shouldered and robotic but flexible and explosive, too.
The next step was to reinvent the golf iron — at age 17.
“Why can’t the clubs all be the same length?” he asked coach Mike Schy, who was at Winged Foot on Sunday.
“Took us two weeks to make it. . . . An old set, all mangled — ugly looking,” DeChambeau once told me. Why? Make every iron the same length, and every iron swing could feel identical and be in the same plane and hence easier to repeat.
DeChambeau tried a 160-yard shot. Landed right by the hole. Next hole: 205 yards. Would the same swing, same length club, same effort, produce 45 more yards because of increased clubhead mass? “I struck it and it flew and kept flying, kept flying, and it flew all the way, 205 yards. I looked over at Mike and said, ‘This possibly could change the game.’ ”
After that, nobody was ever going to convince Bryson that he wasn’t a golf iconoclast and inventor. His first time at the Masters, he spotted Bobby Jones’s old clubs in a display case. “Several of his irons were the same length,” said DeChambeau. Few had noticed it, although Jones talked about it in his time.
DeChambeau, with all of his geometric theories, and talk of “footages” for shots, not just yardages, found himself a bit of the nerdy loner. He embraced his perceived eccentricity.
At one point, he would ask his caddie for a club by its nickname. His 60-degree wedge was “King” because Arnold Palmer won the 1960 Masters. The 55-degree wedge was “Mr. Ward” because Harvey Ward was U.S. Amateur winner in 1955. The 42-degree was Jackie (Robinson).
The last piece of the unorthodox puzzle arrived late last year. In October, in Las Vegas, he said, “I’m going to come back next year and look like a different person.”
Who knew, after weightlifting and protein shakes had added 20 pounds of muscle, that it would be Brian Urlacher?
With a 325-yard driving average that led the Open field, DeChambeau sometimes unleashed towering 380-yard bombs, going over trees that were thought impossible to challenge. With wonderful visualization, he was also third in scrambling. If it can be imagined, it can be practiced — and thus perfected.
Typical of this passion to improve, DeChambeau has worked in the past couple of years on figuring out how he should act so he deserves to be better liked by you. He’s not trying to con fans. He’s just trying to figure out this problem: What makes people like other golfers?
Less ego, especially if you have tons of it? Okay, I can do that. Smile when you feel the urge? Sure, because he has a sense of humor. Show genuine appreciation? Why not?
DeChambeau, though an all-around star, is not as well-suited to all courses and conditions as he was to Winged Foot. He’s young, but no infant prodigy. The game is labor to him. His disposition is not always as well-managed as at this U.S. Open.
On Tour, he’s not a personality for all tastes. After all, if he’s right, then a lot of people are wrong. Or at least defensive.
For us, however, that doesn’t have to matter. Golf has never seen anything like Bryson DeChambeau — a huge machine who looks like a very large character in a new Toy Story movie.
Wind him up, turn him loose and hide the villagers. Long ago, they had a “Massacre at Winged Foot.” The course did it. This time, the Massacre was of Winged Foot. And it was strictly the mighty work of Bryson DeChambeau.
Read more on golf: