By GEORGE WILLIS
Bryson DeChambeau finished the first round of the 2020 Memorial Golf Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, on Thursday at 1-over par, which was seven strokes off the lead. But nobody really cared. All anybody wanted to talk about was how far golf’s new incredible hulk was smashing the golf ball with his drives.
DeChambeau threatened to turn Muirfield Village Golf Club into his very own pitch and putt with his prodigious launches off the tee. In the span of three holes, he hit two drives of 400-plus yards. After starting his round on the back nine, DeChambeau came to the 17th hole where his ball carried 348 yards before coming to rest 407 yards from where it started. Then on the 1st hole, he took a short cut over bunkers, belting a drive that measured 423 yards. That’s not a misprint. It left him with 46 yards to the pin where he made an easy birdie.
It’s a continuation of the herculean approach the buffed up DeChambeau has displayed since the restart of the PGA Tour. “I sometimes can’t believe it,” he told reporters at Muirfield. “There were years where I hit 5-iron into that hole, and now I’m hitting a 30-yard little shot. It’s wild. I’m just blessed that I’ve been able to figure some stuff out with the driver. Got a lot more to work on with the wedging and the iron play.”
His short game wasn’t as impressive in the first round, but that doesn’t mean he has been all grip it-and-rip it. DeChambeau, who ranks first on the PGA Tour in driving distance at 323 yards, won the Rocket Mortgage Classic two weeks ago and has seven consecutive top 10 finishes dating back to the Genesis Invitational in mid-February. He currently ranks seventh in the world.
Now the question becomes whether this is good for the overall game of golf? Sure it. Chicks dig the long ball, right? At least that’s what baseball has told us. The same applies for golf or why would there be a long drive circuit where seeing how far a golf ball can fly is the only thing that matters?
Jack Nicklaus, who serves as host of the Memorial, has been talking about changing the golf ball for more than 20 years. But even the greatest golfer of all-time (at least until Tiger Woods breaks his majors record) sounds like a fan. “Bryson’s golf swing is not a fluid golf swing that really whips the club into the ball,” Nicklaus said before the tournament began. “Bryson’s golf swing is pretty much firm going back and firm going through with a lot of body rotation. It’s a little different than a lot of guys. And can you believe the power he’s getting from that? I mean, it’s unbelievable.”
It’s also good for the game because it’s something different. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved baseball in the summer of 1998 with a spectacular home run race. Check out the 30-for-30 documentary. People came to the ballpark not looking for a one-hit shutout, but to see a baseball go over the fence. DeChambeau, 26, is going to earn his share of fans, who simply want to see how far he can pound it. That’s why people still love John Daly from his grip it-and-rip it days.
Give DeChambeau some credit. The mad scientist of golf, whose shafts are all the same length and swings as stiff as a board, has made it work from him. It won’t work for everybody. You don’t win golf tournaments just because you can hit it a mile. The most difficult distance to master is between the ears.
For those paying attention, DeChambeau’s massive muscle gain wasn’t a result of being quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was noticeable at the President’s Cup last December in Melbourne, Australia, where he explained to me why he gained 20-plus pounds.
“Kyle Berkshire was my inspiration,” he told me referring to the long-drive champion. “He has a 230 miles per hour ball speed. To swing it like he does is an inspiration for me. I want to be able to hone that in. If I can hone that in that’s Happy Gilmore stuff.”
Don’t hate him because it has worked. He’s still not going to win a tournament over even finish in the top 10 unless he has a short game and a hot putter. That’s the essence of world-class golf. But if people are drawn to the game because they want to see how far DeChambeau can hit it, the more the merrier.
“I’m surprised,” he said in Muirfield. “I didn’t think it was going to make this big of an impact this quick. I figured if I work out this hard and I keep going it’s going to take me a year to get up to the speeds that I’m at. But surprisingly I’ve found some methods in the golf swing that allowed me to hit it a little bit straighter than I thought I was going to be able to do. Consequently, I just felt like the harder I swing, sometimes the straighter it goes and that’s been a tremendous benefit of being able to play out here.”