Bryson DeChambeau’s six-stroke victory at Winged Foot should be seen as a personal triumph
Bryson DeChambeau takes such a singular approach to golf, and his victory at this weekend’s U.S. Open was such a dominant performance, that there is a natural tendency to see that win as the arrival of a new era in golf.
Throw out all the old models of teaching a swing, and throw all the courses out too. Golf is forever changed as of Sept. 20, 2020.
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That’s the pitch. By the way, it’s almost certainly not true.
This is to take nothing away from what Bryson DeChambeau did at Winged Foot, which by any measure was extraordinary. In fact, before burying the revolution he is leading, let’s give him proper respect.
- He played Winged Foot in six-under par in U.S. Open conditions. There have been 372 four-round scores recorded at Winged Foot under U.S. Open conditions, and nobody prior to DeChambeau had gotten to six-under.
- In fact he’s only the third player in Winged Foot Open history to break par for four rounds in an Open.
- Let’s also put that six-stroke margin into perspective. On the scoreboard, there was as much distance between Bryson and runner-up Matthew Wolff as there was between Wolff and the five guys who tied for eighth place. That’s true dominance.
- We can reduce DeChambeau’s dominance to a number. His score of 274 was 2.87 standard deviations better than the four-round field average of 291.7. Nobody has beaten the field by 2.87 standard deviations in an Open since Martin Kaymer touched -3.03 six years ago at Pinehurst.
- In fact in the 120-year history of the Open, only 10 other players have separated themselves from the field by as much as 2.87 standard deviations.
This was, by any measure, a dominant advertisement for DeChambeau’s unique approach to the golf swing. It was also comprehensive. Bryson was top five in the field in Strokes Gained Off The Tee, top five in Strokes Gained Approaching the green, and top 10 in Strokes Gained Around the Green.
If the physics-based, speed-is-everything approach DeChambeau demonstrated this weekend was easily replicable, then it might be time to tear up all the old instructional books. But it isn’t…not by you and not even by DeChambeau.
A glance at his recent performance record illustrates that, to date, anyway, the hobgoblin in the system is consistently.
DeChambeau debuted his new, bulkier physique and his radical approach to clubhead speed when the Tour came out of hibernation in June. He tied for third at the Charles Schwab Challenge, for eighth at the RBC Heritage, and for sixth at the Travelers.
At the fourth event following the restart, the Rocket Mortgage, DeChambeau won by three strokes … over, as it happens, Matthew Wolff. His margin translated to 3.13 standard deviations better than the field average, another dominant effort.
Then things went off script. DeChambeau shot 73-76 and missed the cut two weeks later at the Memorial, and tied for 30th at the WGC FedEx St. Jude’s in early August.
He tied for fourth behind Collin Morikawa at the PGA, but missed a second cut at the Northern Trust, putting together nothing better than back-to-back 71s. He was 50th at the BMW, and 22nd of 30 at the Tour Championship.
Adjusting for the handicap aspects of that season-ending scoring, DeChambeau actually recorded only the 25th best score at East Lake.
Here’s the summary. In 10 starts since the restart, DeChambeau’s new regimen has produced a pair of victories, one of them a major. That’s worthy of applause. But it’s also produced two missed cuts and three finishes outside the top 20.
Across the 11 tournaments he’s played from the restart through Winged Foot, his average standard deviation from the field performance is -0.39. That’s the kind of showing you’d expect from somebody on the fringes of the top 20 from week to week.
If that set of 10 tournaments is your field of evidence, you’d have to say that while DeChambeau has a 20 percent chance of winning, he also has a 50 percent chance of finishing up the track.
On the PGA Tour, two wins in 10 events is a strong enough percentage to prompt most pros to accept those two missed cuts and three nondescript performances. I totally get that.
But it falls short of the level of domination sufficient to prompt a rethinking of how to swing the club or how to play the course. Bryson DeChambeau is good – his play this week was superb – and he’s likely to continue to be good. But he is not – not yet anyway – a change force.
Besides, to swing like DeChambeau you first have to understand the premises underlying his swing mechanics. That means you have to have a degree in physics. The ranks of those possessing both a grasp of Newton’s Principia and the ability to propel a golf ball 300 yards on a straight line is probably pretty selective.