Bryson DeChambeau’s incredible drives at Bay Hill provided pure entertainment and a display of sporting excellence attracting wider coverage for the game.
Bryson’s Bombs – Boosting Golf’s Box Office
From the moment Bryson suggested he might attempt to (kind of) drive the par-5 6th green at Bay Hill in practice last week, the sporting world’s interest was piqued.
Videos, columns, comments, tweets… The mere suggestion of a 340-yard plus carry triggered a huge wave of interaction and interest that transcended our game – News and general sports pages picked up on the story and followed it through the tournament.
Inevitably, the suggestion and subsequent completion (twice) of Bryson’s “short cut” stimulated further debate and discussion about distance and the need to curtail it at the game’s top level.
For certain, it provided a clear indication of just how far the power game has progressed in recent years – This was a risk/reward shot that wouldn’t have been considered by anyone in a top professional field a few years ago.
Even last week though, that shot was only considered by one person. Only Bryson could generate the necessary club and ball speed, plus have the self-belief and sheer guts, to attempt such a carry.
It was only possible in the right conditions and was hugely risky. A gust of wind in the wrong direction or a slight miscue could have seen a splashdown and left DeChambeau scratching his head on what to do next.
But he gambled and won, earned some serious kudos and went on to win what, even without those couple of history-making drives, was a hugely exciting golf tournament.
Afterwards, there were the usual dissenting voices on courses being overpowered and the game becoming one-dimensional.
But the tournament at Bay Hill actually showcased why this is not the case – DeChambeau displayed all-round excellence to claim victory. His accuracy, his shot-making and his putting were all superb.
Lee Westwood, aged 48 now, pushed Bryson all the way – He may not have the power of the American, but he’s one of the best drivers in the history of the game and his precision play at Bay Hill showed there remains very much more than one way to successfully negotiate a championship golf course.
After the final round, Westwood was asked about Bryson’s power game.
"It's great to watch, I like it," he said. "I think golf's in a good place. I don't know why everybody is panicking about it, I think it's exciting to watch right now, there's a lot of different combinations.”
And with regards those audacious “Bryson bombs”, how could one not be entertained? It seemed from news coverage and feedback that the vast majority were.
The image of a player standing up and pointing in a, seemingly crazy direction, trying to blast a ball over 340 yards of open water was like a scene from Happy Gilmore – Pure Box Office.
And Bryson’s reaction when he let fly on Saturday said it all – The double fist pump towards the target that joyfully exclaimed – “I knew I could do it.”
Top level professional golf is all about entertainment. It wouldn’t survive if it didn’t provide it.
Arnie, Seve, Tiger, Phil – All have been great showmen who wowed the crowds with physical brilliance that, pretty much, nobody watching could even contemplate replicating.
Bryson follows in that tradition of excitement and entertainment. He has trained his body and honed his skills to be able to deliver precise and powerful golf shots that leave spectators open mouthed and starry eyed.
In any sport, fans like to see the top protagonists push the boundaries.
In athletics, fans want to see world records tumble. In alpine skiing, spectators want more spins off jumps, more speed in the downhill.
And human nature is such that those who compete will always strive to do better… To win!
When you see a golfer like Bryson exploring every avenue for how he can do that, producing shots that would have previously been considered impossible; isn’t that simply moving the sport forward?
The governing bodies aren’t totally convinced. In their Distance Insights Project released in February 2020, the R&A and USGA suggested increased hitting distances are detrimental to the future of the game.
In early February of this year it was announced, as the next step of their work into distance insights, that they would be looking at three equipment change options, including limiting maximum club length and modernising testing procedures.
There clearly remains a desire at a high level to make changes to limit the importance of the power game.
Of course, there are other options than simply changing equipment rules. Looking more at course design and set-up to reward accuracy over distance is perhaps foremost amongst these.
But perhaps the governing bodies need to consider whether they’ve misjudged the public mood on the distance debate?
Is it the right thing to pursue when men’s tournament golf appears to be in such a good place?
The top of the World Ranking is filled with young, exciting players who display a range of skills and strengths.
As an example, Collin Morikawa who won the WGC event a week plus back, is ranked 125th in driving distance on the PGA Tour but excels through his supremely consistent approach play.
With such excitement surrounding Bryson and the other young stars of world golf right now, perhaps the focus should be on seeing what they can achieve and how far they can push the boundaries of what’s possible in golf.
As displayed by the swell of interest in “Bryson’s bombs.” Embracing his (and others’) efforts to excel and move forwards can inspire youngsters and those currently outside of golf to take an interest in our sport in order to grow the game… That’s what we’re all aiming for, right?
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Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly.
Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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