Would Even Narrower Fairways Stop Bryson DeChambeau?

MAMARONECK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States plays his shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 20, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
MAMARONECK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States plays his shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 20, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Distance has been an issue in golf forever.  Everybody who plays wants to hit it longer but Bryson DeChambeau has taken it to a new level.

Many golfers were successful, in part, because of their length:  Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, John Daly, Tiger Woods and now Bryson DeChambeau.

Even DeChambeau said he could see that, after his U.S. Open victory, the USGA is most likely thinking, “He’s hitting it forever. That’s why he won.”

And DeChambeau is probably right.  But what everyone thinks is the solution actually plays into the hands of DeChambeau as well as other extra-long hitters.

According to DeChambeau, Mark Broadie, known for his strokes gained stats, and golf instructor Chris Como, said that what the USGA actually did at Winged Foot was to make the fairways too narrow “to have it be an advantage for guys hitting the fairway.”

That sounds a little nuts to us because we’ve been trained to think that a narrow fairway will eliminate all but the “best” golfers. Using hitting the ball in the fairway to define “best.”

But DeChambeau said after winning the U.S. Open that narrowing up the hitting areas is not doing what they think it does.

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“Let’s take an example of you going like a yard wide. Nobody’s got the fairway. Okay, length’s going to win,” he explained.

No one has said that before. But making the fairways ultra-easy to hit doesn’t solve the issue either.

“You make the fairways too wide, length’s going to win,” DeChambeau said.

In other words, that’s why he started chasing length because it often wins.

“Even if I hit a 4-iron off the tee, right, compared to somebody’s 3-wood or driver, it’s still a huge advantage to hit it farther,” he added.

The advantage comes because he would hit less club on both the first and second shots.  The second shot becomes an easier, higher-percentage shot for the long hitter than the medium or short hitter because the long hitter is hitting a shorter club to the green.

Rickie Fowler, who is not short, but is not in DeChambeau territory by any means said during his pre-tournament interview at the Shriner’s Hospital tournament, “to see how much his distance has been able to be an advantage at times, yeah, it makes you kind of work harder.”

Fowler, however, admitted he cannot play bomb and gouge golf.

“I’m not going to win in a distance contest or anything like that, so I got to work on making my strong points stronger,” he added.

However, he insisted he wasn’t worried about DeChambeau and other uber-long hitters.

“I know I can go and compete against any of those guys out here,” he said.

So, looking at what DeChambeau and others have said, making a course too narrow puts everyone in the rough, and the guy who can hit it the farthest has an advantage there because he’s closer to the hole. Making the course longer also plays into the hands of the long hitters, no matter what the fairway width.

The legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus, said during The Memorial telecast this year that he has been complaining to the USGA for more than 40 years about distance issues.  Nicklaus implored the USGA to stop studying the issue and do something about it, and that was probably before DeChambeau hit two drives over 400 yards at Nicklaus’ tournament.

Nicklaus often cites the ball as the issue. But how can the USGA just arbitrarily put a distance limit on the golf ball and have the manufacturers and the golfing public accept it?  Do you want to hit it shorter?

DeChambeau mentions the COR of the driver was “frozen” as far as trampoline effect in 2000. Maybe that can be throttled back.  But again, do you want to hit it shorter?

Here’s an unusual idea.

Jeff Sluman, 1988 PGA Champ, once suggested that all the rough be mowed fairway height at The Players. It was not in a conversation about distance. It was about just how the course played.

Sluman said the rough actually stopped poorly struck shots.  However, having the grass all mowed down would give the ball a chance to roll into sand and water and trees. It would bring more trouble into play for those who missed the fairways.  And maybe that’s an idea worth exploring.

If the safe area is 300 to 330 yards, and if there is trouble that can be rolled into beyond that, maybe that controls the issue by using design.  Maybe it’s a combination of cutting the grass down and having some undulating turf that repels the ball away from the center of the fairway the way Donald Ross, push-up greens do, with the addition of some kind of hazards between 330 and 400 yards.

This solution is hard on the members, but it’s one way to approach the runaway distance issue.  Perhaps a shorter member tee would take the trouble out of play for them, or rough could be grown up for member play that would keep them from having balls roll into problem areas. It certainly would take some thought.

Another approach might be to use angles in the design, ones that are hard to hit over and around, and that’s difficult to do when golfers routinely hit over trees.  Nicklaus is and Pete Dye was expert at angles in design.    But redesigning is expensive.  Certainly much more than mowing.

One thing is for sure, Nicklaus is right.  Something needs to be done because one golf course after another is becoming obsolete for tournament play at the highest level. If this keep up, we may soon we will be out of golf courses for elite play.