As most golfers have shown at the U.S. Open, an amazing number of bogies can wreck a round in a hurry. Bogies do seem to come in bunches at Winged Foot in particular. The question is, who will escape the most of them on Sunday and find the winner’s circle? Bryson DeChambeau? Rory McIlroy?
Usually, at a major championship, you can look at the leaderboard and skip the names of the players who aren’t yet major championship winners or very serious contenders. Real contenders. Not pretend contenders.
Right now, the leaderboard reads: Matthew Wolff, Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele, Harris English, Rory McIlroy, Zach Johnson and Patrick Reed with Viktor Hovland and Rafa Cabrera Bello tied with the last two.
Using the real contenders criteria, you’d discount everyone ahead of Oosthuizen because he has already won a British Open, and he’s been a great putter when it mattered. That would put Rory McIlroy just two shots out of the lead instead of what the leaderboard actually says, which is six shots behind Matthew Wolff. It would put Zach Johnson, owner of two majors, the Masters and the British Open, just three shots out. Those three have the most serious experience of anyone at the top. Patrick Reed is still a real contender with this theory no matter how many bogies he made in his back nine on Saturday. This theory crosses off Matsuyama, Hovland, English and Cabrera Bello. It leaves Schauffele as a question mark.
But there’s a fly in the proverbial ointment, two of them, actually: Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff.
Both of them are as far out there as the rings of Saturn in terms of how they approach the game. So far, in fact, that they may be breaking the normal rules on pretenders versus contenders just as they are on the normal way to play golf and the normal distance to hit a golf ball. So, are they like John Daly in the 1991 PGA who hit the ball longer than anybody had ever seen golf balls hit and shocked everyone by winning? Or is this where the two of them fall within the bounds of normal prognostication for golf tournaments?
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DeChambeau, you see, has monster credentials. He was the fifth player to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year. The others are Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore. Some pretty good company.
He turned professional mid-way through 2016. He’s already won six PGA Tour events, two Web.com events and one European Tour tournament in three-and-a-half-years.
He has approached golf differently and has lived through absolute ridicule from his peers. He isn’t afraid of doing things his way and isn’t afraid of what other people say. He’s confident in the laws of physics and believes they will not let him down. In theory, he’s right. But physics does not a U.S. Open champ make. Physics does not take into account the human element that comes into play when a golfer is faced with a chance to win his or her first major championship. DeChambeau could go a long way to proving that he is not crazy by winning the U.S. Open, which is, traditionally, the hardest tournament to win every year.
Wolff has been playing professional golf for just over a year. He went to a big-time golf school, Oklahoma State, which used to pump out Tour players like Nike does shirts. He won the 2019 NCAA Division I Individual Championship. He has a swing that nobody could coach, kind of like Jim Furyk’s. But it allows him to hit the ball as far and with as much strength as DeChambeau’s does. And Wolff didn’t drink eight protein shakes and go on a weightlifting program to do it. He’s just that way.
He won the 3M tournament last summer after receiving a special invitation to play. And guess who he beat in the process: Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa. Coincidence? Who knows.
Wolff has the added advantage this week of playing for something bigger than himself. His agent was diagnosed with cancer three weeks ago, and Wolff, after the third round, confessed to media that he shouldn’t be telling anybody, but admitted that it was much on his mind. Well, never confess anything to media. You might as well stand on top of the clubhouse and shout.
For me, I’m going to walk way, way, way out on a limb and say that I still think the real contenders theory is going to be stronger than the reasons DeChambeau and Wolff have for winning. As heart-tugging as the reasons are for either one of them to win, this is the U.S. Open. The U.S. Open breaks hearts, and it will break theirs when the winner comes from the group of Oosthuizen, McIlroy, (Zach) Johnson and Reed, with a possible nod to Schauffele.
So we’ll see tomorrow whether these two-groundbreaking golfers are also going to break the unwritten rules of tournament golf.