Bryson DeChambeau’s powerful US Open victory will surely intensify arguments dominating the distance debate which lies at the heart of golf’s future.
Not even Winged Foot, set up at its most demanding with narrow fairways and thick rough, could derail the big-hitting American who won by six shots and was the only player to beat par.
The course is as muscular as they come – only once in five previous US Opens held at the New York course has the winning score been under par – yet the bulked up DeChambeau was too strong for this feared and famed layout.
And among the many points he proved was that distance remains king. Finding fairways did not matter as much.
DeChambeau more than justified his prediction that bombing his ball long and gouging it to the green was the most efficient way to score at the 120th US Open.
He was in the top five for finding greens in regulation despite hitting only 23 of 56 fairways, the lowest proportion of any US Open champion.
Indeed, the penal set up played into his hands. The fairways were so narrow and so firm, balls were constantly running into the rough, no matter what tactics any golfer used from the tee box.
Stats reveal the players only hit 39.6% of fairways, the lowest percentage in the US Open since data was tracked. It’s also the lowest in any PGA Tour event of the last 30 years.
DeChambeau was the player who spent lockdown bulking up to find more power and therefore length. He was able to enjoy utter vindication with inflated driving distances that helped land a first major title. His average distance off the tee last week was 325 yards, the longest of any US Open winner.
“It’s tough to rein in athleticism,” the champion said after lifting the trophy. “We’re always going to be trying to get fitter, stronger, more athletic. Tiger Woods inspired this whole generation to do this, and we’re going to keep going after it.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop.” Why should it if the authorities do not intervene? Especially at US Opens where bomb and gouge trumps all.
Just look at the list of the most recent winners; Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka (twice) and Gary Woodland. Now DeChambeau has joined this supersized winners club.
The accepted blueprint for great golf used to be swinging the club like 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who was third at Winged Foot but now the South African’s balanced and technically perfect action looks outdated.
It was not just DeChambeau’s unique approach that reinforced this point because there is also the Winged Foot runner up Matthew Wolff to consider.
With his baseball induced hip-hitch trigger, exaggerated leg action and extremely unorthodox swing, the 21-year-old is another who relies on raw power.
DeChambeau uses a straight-armed clock face motion, along with techniques borrowed from competitive long driving specialists.
These are methods youngsters are more likely to emulate rather than the elegance of an Adam Scott, who was one of those who first put the distance debate on golf’s agenda a few years ago with the length of his driving.
And authorities attempted to ‘Tiger-proof’ courses when the 15-time major winner was in his pomp 20 years ago, but where do they go next?
The R&A and USGA’s Distance Insights project is on temporary hold because of the global Covid-19 crisis but they know the next step is vital in a hugely complex issue for the game.
DeChambeau’s triumph reinforces the notion that the ball is travelling way too far for golf courses to cope, but any restrictive moves face opposition from golf equipment manufacturers and the main tours.
“Will they rein it back? I’m sure,” DeChambeau said. “I’m sure something might happen. But I don’t know what it will be.
“I just know that length is always going to be an advantage.”
You don’t need to be Einstein, or even a self-styled “golf scientist”, to recognise such a fact. Furthermore, long hitting has been the most sought after skill throughout the game’s history.
The biggest hitters should always be able to enjoy the benefits of belting the ball the furthest. The challenge is to fit their skills to current courses rather than relying on constant and expensive expansion of layouts.
Keep in mind that DeChambeau also possesses great touch, imagination and an increasingly reliable pendulum putting stroke. What might he do to Augusta, the home of the next two men’s majors?
“Length is going to be a big advantage there,” DeChambeau noted. “I know that for a fact. It’s always an advantage pretty much anywhere.”
To prepare for November’s Masters he will experiment with a driver shaft lengthened to 48 inches. We used to laugh at such concepts and scoff at the notion that he could be effective with a bag full of irons with shafts of equal length.
Not anymore. DeChambeau has ripped up the golfing playbook.
As a result he has the capacity to be the game’s next big thing and a character capable of transcending the sport. “I hope I can inspire some people,” he said.
“I’m just trying to figure out this very complex, multivariable, multidimensional game. It’s very, very difficult. It’s a fun journey for me.”
DeChambeau splits opinion. He is self absorbed; bombast accompanies the bombs and his glacial pace of play still infuriates despite significant improvement in the past year.
But never forget the depth of his dedication. Last week he kept the floodlights burning on the range trying to straighten his drives and work out how wedge shots would react to cooler temperatures.
When it becomes possible, people will want to pay good money to cram next to a tee box to witness the US Open champion’s ferocious hitting. Rivals will try to copy aspects of his unique take on the game.
The authorities, meanwhile, will continue to wrestle with how to keep DeChambeau and the other athletes at the top of the game from hitting the ball further and further.
And with justification because when finding fairways at places such as Winged Foot no longer matters, it is time to act.
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