After Bryson DeChambeau won the US Open this past weekend, the traditional golf world is having a hard time digesting the victory.
I’m no big fan of Bryson DeChambeau. However, I have little reason to think he is not a genuinely decent person. Has he gotten snippy with the media and other players? Sure, but that puts him in pretty good company. Is he an odd duck, as they say? Yes, no doubt.
Somehow these personality quirks and an irreverent approach to the game have made Bryson the most polarizing golfer in the world.
We all know the background. In a single year, he gained 40 pounds of muscle and is hitting drives that show up on air traffic controller screens. He has a penchant for math, using a series of complex equations to determine club selection on every shot. These constant calculations cause him to be a slow player. Fans and competitors agree this is agonizing to watch.
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Did you also know his putter has more loft than his driver? And I’m not even going to talk about the single-length irons.
But none of these confounding behaviors are the real reason he’s become a hot-button issue on Tour.
It’s because Bryson DeChambeau is winning.
When a person takes an entirely new approach in sports and has success, they are generally ridiculed or called cheaters. In Bryson’s case, it’s both.
Which brings me to Dick Fosbury. Fosbury was the creator of the “Fosbury Flop”, the act of performing the high jump by arching your back over the bar. When Fosbury first started flopping, it was reported he looked like a “fish flopping in a boat” and he was dubbed “the world’s laziest high jumper.”
What was Fosbury’s grand offense? He approached a problem – in this case, clearing a bar – in a manner never before seen. In short order, he won an NCAA crown and topped it off with a Gold Medal at the 1968 Olympics. No one was making fun of him after that. Every high jumper in the world uses his method today.
DeChambeau is approaching golf in much the same manner. Getting the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible is the agreed-upon objective. Short irons are more accurate and easier to use to accomplish that task.
What DeChambeau basically said was, “How do I get a wedge in my hands faster?”
Answer: Hit the driver as far as possible so you don’t have to hit long irons into greens.
Every player in the world is more accurate with a wedge than a 5-iron. This isn’t revolutionary thinking. Nor are bomb-and-gouge players a rarity these days. He’s not the first guy to figure this out.
He is, however, the first guy to plainly state his objective. That seems to be the part that rankles everyone.
Remember Tiger in the early 2000s? The PGA began to “Tiger-proof” courses to protect against his prodigious length off the tee. That did little more than make it harder for everyone except Tiger.
More recently, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson have been bombing and gouging their way to the top of the world rankings.
The difference is that none of them, save for Bryson, admit that they are bomb-and-gougers. Bryson just flat out admits that’s what he’s doing. The others, frankly, don’t have the courage to just come out and say it because they feel like that style of play isn’t becoming of a “complete golfer.”
You see, to the traditionalist, there are Bombers and there are Golfers. Until last week at Winged Foot, only Golfers were thought worthy of winning a Major. All summer we heard about how DJ was becoming a “complete golfer” with his attention refocused on his short game.
Brooks has always been held up as a complete player who, if his putter is hot, is virtually unbeatable. And while Tiger literally changed the game with how far he could hit it, it’s blasphemy to strictly call him a Bomber.
Bryson DeChambeau? All they talk about are his ridiculously long drives. All other commentary is focused on his imprecise short game and contortionist putting grip.
Other players aren’t even trying to hide their contempt anymore. Look what Rory McIlroy said about Bryson’s stunning US Open win.
“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does.” (emphasis mine)
Rory went on to add, “With the way he approaches it, with the arm-lock putting, with everything, it’s just where the game’s at right now. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. He’s just taking advantage of what we have right now.” (emphasis mine)
It’s not entirely clear to me how DeChambeau is “taking advantage” of the rules. Do you recall Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, or Bubba Watson getting raked over the coals when they used the arm-lock putter grip?
The real issue is that when a reporter asks Bryson DeChambeau, “Are you just trying to hit it as far as possible and hope for a good lie?” He basically agrees and says, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing”
How dare he be so honest!
All of it tells me one thing: Bryson is under just about everyone’s skin. The slow play is one thing, but winning the US Open is what turned annoyance into hostility.
He may be weird, unconventional, slow, frustrating, socially awkward, over-scienced, and a bit persnickety – but he’s also now a Major Champion.
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If his feelings are hurt from any of his peers and the press looking askance at his methods and victory, he’s got a giant silver cup to catch his tears. I’m guessing that will be plenty enough consolation for Professor Bryson DeChambeau.