Bryson DeChambeau’s brutal assault on the US Open won him his first Major in emphatic style. Now he has Augusta firmly in his sights... Words: Brian Wacker
Bryson DeChambeau: "My Ultimate Goal Is To Carry The Ball 400 Yards"
Bryson DeChambeau’s eyes light up and a devilishly happy smile stretches across his broad face. In an instant he has suddenly transformed, from the incredible bulk to a 12-year-old boy at Christmas. Only DeChambeau’s will come in November and it won’t be rung in by a jolly fat guy in a red coat, but rather by a cadre of serious men in Green Jackets.
Just the mere mention of The Masters and Augusta National is enough to turn golf’s mad scientist giddy. Imagine once he steps on to the 1st tee at Augusta? “Oh my god, there are so many holes that I can let loose on,” he recently told Golf Monthly. “I haven’t played there since I’ve added all this length. I’ll go back a few weeks before [The Masters] to prepare. I can’t wait.”
And why not? Since packing on 40 pounds of muscle over the last 12 months thanks to an extreme workout routine and a daily diet of – is your stomach ready for this? – four eggs, five strips of bacon, toast, two protein shakes, a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and protein bars, snacks, two more protein shakes, steak, potatoes and (you guessed it) two more protein shakes, the now six-foot-one 240-pound DeChambeau has altered his body and in turn the trajectory of his game, literally and figuratively.
The 26-year-old has gone from a moderately long hitter to the game’s longest player, leading the PGA Tour in driving distance at just over 321 yards a pop during the 2019-20 season. That’s the result of a swing speed of 140mph, a ball speed teetering on 200mph and the equivalent aggressiveness of a jack hammer on asphalt.
It’s not just all show, either. Consider that in a stretch from mid-February through to early July (a period that was interrupted for three months by the Covid-19 pandemic), DeChambeau finished no worse than eighth over a span of seven starts, culminating with an impressive three-stroke victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in early July.
But how would all that oomph play in a Major Championship, we wondered? The answer came the following month at the USPGA. DeChambeau bludgeoned his way into contention at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. That he didn’t go on to win, finishing three strokes back of champion Collin Morikawa, isn’t really the point. His tie for fourth was the first top ten in 13 Majors he’d played as a pro up to that point.
Victory, no, but validation? Yes. That he wasn’t the one holding the trophy in the end didn’t dissuade the brash American star, it only emboldened him further. He left San Francisco with a full stomach and full of confidence. “I learned a lot at the USPGA,” DeChambeau says. “Mostly that my game is good enough to play this way in a Major.”
Which perhaps explains why on a Friday evening in September more than two hours after finishing the opening round of the Tour Championship, DeChambeau, having tied for the worst score of the afternoon with a two-over 72 to drop 11 strokes off the lead of a tournament he basically no longer had any hope of winning, was the last man to leave the course. He’d tasted the spoils of all that work and the next Major was already on his mind. There was work to be done.
And boy did that work pay off. The dominant display which followed to win the US Open at Winged Foot by six strokes not only vindicated his new approach, it may well have changed professional golf forever. He coupled his brute force with a subtlety in his short game that no one in the field could get near.
“I’m always trying to improve,” DeChambeau says. “And I think I’ve figured a few things out. My ultimate goal is to be able to carry the ball 400 yards so I can drive the greens every week and have it be an unfair advantage. I’ve still got a way to go, but if I’m hitting it as good as I am now with the driver, it’s going to be a tremendous asset.”
Related: Bryson DeChambeau What's In The Bag?
And now on to Augusta National. Of all the Major Championships, none is quite as forgiving off the tee as The Masters. With wide fairways and no rough, it’s little wonder that DeChambeau is likely to attack Alistair MacKenzie’s Georgia jewel like we’ve never seen before. Tiger Woods turned heads with his length off the tee there in 1997, leading the powers that be to ‘Tiger-proof’ the course in subsequent years; DeChambeau might rip the cover off his ball to force them to buy the entire state of Georgia and stretch the course further than the eye can see.
Of course, he’s not the first bomber to invade the property. Jack Nicklaus won half a dozen Green Jackets while emphasising his driver, and Woods has been fitted for the famous coat on five occasions for similar reasons. Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, both among the longest of their generation, have also succeeded with the same approach.
What will DeChambeau’s strategy be? “Carry the right fairway bunker on the 2nd hole, drive the 3rd green,” he offers. “Drive it close to the green on the 7th. Carry the fairway bunker on the 8th.” At closer examination that would mean sending it more than 330 yards on the 2nd, which, if he does so over the aforementioned bunker, will see his ball catch the slope and race down the hill to leave him nothing more than a short-iron into the 575-yard par 5. Reaching the 3rd green? At 350 yards, it’s not unfathomable.
As for the difficult 7th, at 450 yards, even DeChambeau isn’t getting there. Still, he will get it as close as possible to leave a mere wedge into the flag. The 8th? A drive of 320 yards would carry the bunker he’s talking about, meaning he’d have just a mid-iron into the green on a par 5 where most of the field will have to navigate around the sand.
Then there’s the par-5 13th. While Augusta National has purchased land behind the tee from the adjacent Augusta Country Club with the idea of lengthening the iconic hole to keep up with the game’s current arms race, it still might not matter for DeChambeau. He says he might just rip his tee shot over the tops of the trees on the left and all the way into the 14th fairway to leave himself a wedge into the putting surface.
Don’t be surprised, then, if Augusta National in a future year adds more trees to the right of the 13th fairway. “They’ll do something, I’m sure,” DeChambeau says with a laugh. “But I’m OK with that. I like the challenge.”
All that distance or not, much of the challenge of The Masters is on its diabolical greens, a fact naturally not lost on DeChambeau. Last season, he ranked 119th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 111th around the green.
It cost him, especially early in his transformation. DeChambeau’s results were mixed. He finished 15th out of 18th at the Hero World Challenge last December and missed the cut in Abu Dhabi a month later.
Eventually, though, the short shots came around and so did the results. Before the pandemic hit, DeChambeau managed a run of three-straight top-five finishes in the spring. Then the Players Championship was cancelled and golf shut down for three months. Not that DeChambeau did.
After departing TPC Sawgrass, DeChambeau and swing coach Chris Como headed back to Dallas. Once there, Como traded his apartment for a house, calling an estate agent with one request: the new pad had to have very tall ceilings. Como essentially converted the living room into a biomechanics lab and the two got to work.
Once the tour resumed playing in mid-June, DeChambeau picked up where he left off with a tie for third at Colonial, a tie for eighth at Hilton Head and a tie for sixth at the tour’s stop in Connecticut. A week later, he finally broke through in Detroit, shooting a final-round 65 to coast to victory. That only fuelled his confidence further when it came to the USPGA, where at one point he had a share of the lead on Sunday but failed to birdie one of his last two holes to put additional pressure on Morikawa.
Still, a pair of 66s over the weekend proved the formula was working.
“Very, very validating,” DeChambeau said of the result in the USPGA Championship. “And something that I’ll take for the future and hope that will suit me well for these Majors coming up.”
If Harding Park was validation, Winged Foot proved the mad scientist’s theory beyond any shadow of a doubt. Next stop The Masters and Augusta National.
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