Vousden on DeChampeau

Thought for the Day
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong

It was great to see Scotsman Martin Laird win again in America after a seven-year drought, by taking the Shiners Hospitals for Children Open in a playoff. But the story of the week, as it seems to be every week, was following the fortunes of Bryson DeChambeau

Having won the US Open with an astonishing display of power hitting, deep inside the USGA’s headquarters, senior officials are inserting large pins into effigies of DeChambeau or, as we must now call him, DeChampeau. He has destroyed their life’s work.

Whether because of pride, arrogance or misplaced entitlement, the USGA regards itself as the guardian of golf’s heritage and values, obsessed with maintaining par scores as the only measure of excellence. Accordingly, it sets up its courses for the US Open in such a way that only a particular golfing animal can achieve parity. It is a tale with which we are drearily familiar.

It starts by reducing par from a difficult 72 to a sadistic 70, often by lengthening a couple of par fours to 500 or more yards. Then there are fairways so narrow that it’s advisable to walk single file. The rough is not so much deep as impenetrable; the sort of place where a caddie might put down a golf bag to look for a ball, find the ball and lose the bag (a concept originated by Lee Trevino, when Royal Birkdale tried to emulate the USGA one year).

Negotiate that, and the desperate golfer must now try to land on a green that undulates like a lazy Pacific swell, that’s as hard as an airport runway, on which the flagsticks are tucked away into corners so inaccessible that they cannot be found with GPS, a compass and sniffer dogs. The only things that would make it more daunting are a few landmines in the fairway and snipers in the trees.

It therefore follows that the template for the perfect US Open champion is someone who drives the ball laser-straight, whose long-iron play is a gift from the golfing gods, whose putting has the finesse and delicacy of a watchmaker, and who has a resting pulse of 40 beats a minute. He needs to be the golfing equivalent of a nerveless, emotionless automaton; someone who probably sleeps in a coffin and hates garlic.

This strategy was once again on full view at Winged Foot where none of the competitors managed to break par. None, that is, except Bryson DeChampeau, the man who emphatically does not conform to the model champion that the USGA has in mind. The Incredible Bulk, who famously gained 40 pounds in weight over a year, looks more like a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys than a pro golfer, with a neck thicker than most men’s thighs. He doesn’t look like a pro golfer when he addresses the ball either, with his arms flexed away from his body, as if he’s trying to demonstrate the most uncomfortable way of holding a golf club imaginable.

But the result of his unorthodoxy and bulk is drives that disappear from radar and travel into the next time zone; so much so that, on even the longest holes, he uses a wedge for his approach shots. This is a man, remember, who has officially driven a ball 428 yards* and for whom the 300-yard marker is something he only sees when looking backwards. But his heterodoxy doesn’t end there, he has a masterful short game and, when the mood is on him, can putt the lights out, even if he holds his putter in the same bizarre style as he does all the other clubs.

Nevertheless he is not the sort of golfer that the USGA has in mind when it sets up a penal course because no matter how jungle-like the rough may be, with his power, it provides no obstacle, so he can bomb and gouge his heart out. The interesting question, though, is why he is admired but not much loved.

First, he’s unconventional and the eccentric, anarchic and just plain odd will always attract critics because his unique style, and the success it brings, is silently but eloquently saying to every other golfer: ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ He first attracted attention because all his irons have the same shaft length, that of a 7-iron, and equipment manufacturers around the world must at least be experimenting with the idea of producing such sets for club golfers, who are always keen to find the next solution to their own golfing woes.

Second, he’s dreadfully, painfully, ball-achingly slow. Or at least, he used to be. When he was roundly (and rightly) condemned at last year’s Northern Trust for taking two minutes 40 seconds to hit an eight-foot putt, he became the fall guy for slow players everywhere. Initially stung into a rather feeble defence of his slothfulness, he has made serious efforts to speed up. He still wants to calculate wind direction and speed, humidity, temperature and the alignment of Jupiter with Saturn before hitting a shot, but does it more efficiently and should be credited for his efforts to move along a bit quicker.

Third, he’s unapologetic. He brings to the game what is, to him at least, a rational, scientific application of logic and physics in order to hit the ball farther and better. And who can seriously argue with the results? Iconoclasts who upset the existing order are never welcomed with open arms, at least at first. But if their methods stand the test of time and can be replicated, within a few years they are accepted as the new norm and widely copied. Scary thought though it is, Bryson DeChambeau may just be the future of golf.

He’s already the red-hot favourite for next month’s Masters and if he wins that, to take his second major of this bizarre season, USGA officials may have to put away their voodoo dolls and re-think the way they produce golf courses for their showcase event. So it won’t be all bad news.

*It was in the Travelers Championship in June but was helped by rolling down a cart path.

Quote of the Week
If you can get the ball in the hole regularly by standing on your head, then keep right on, and don’t ever listen to advice from anyone
John Jacobs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.