The recent U.S. Open Championship may be the most consequential four days of golf since Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997. Bryson DeChambeau stormed to victory at Winged Foot to claim the title, reshaping how golf is interpreted in the process.
DeChambeau has always pushed the rules of golf, trying to find new techniques which could give him the edge. This has varied from using side-saddle putting (which has now been deemed illegal by the USGA), to having all his clubs the same length. Now, he is pushing physics to the limit, gaining three stone of mainly muscle in roughly six months and outdriving his competitors.
After Tiger won in 1997, golfers began to follow his regimen and golf became a sport played by athletes who sought to improve their power and fitness in his footsteps. DeChambeau has sparked a new trend as golfers try to push themselves to the limit off the tee; increasing their swing speed and reaching new distances.
While other golfers saw the break from golf due to Covid-19 as the perfect opportunity for rest and rehabilitation, DeChambeau pushed his body to new limits. His daily training routine was vigorous and extreme, as he drank eight protein shakes a day to reach 200g of protein daily. This regime helped him reach a driver swing speed of 203mph on a charity live stream. When this is compared to the PGA tour average of 113mph, it is outstanding to think of what he has achieved.
Many golfing traditionalists squirmed watching his transformation and claimed it would not have a positive impact on the course as it was uncontrollable. However, DeChambeau was quick to prove them wrong when golf resumed play, by winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the start of July with an outstanding average of 350.6 yards per drive. DeChambeau continued to prove his critics wrong with an impressive T4 finish at the PGA Championships alongside fellow long-driver Tony Finau.
His sheer distance and surprising skill with wedges took him to victory
In the lead up to the U.S. Open, the fundamentalists were hoping that the ridiculously difficult 5 ½ inches of rough at Winged Foot would prove that driving distance cannot defeat ‘true’ golf skill. However, DeChambeau defied them again on the final day and ended up as the only golfer to finish below par at -3, eight shots ahead of Matthew Wolff in second place. Despite only hitting 23 of 56 fairways, the lowest proportion of any U.S. Open champion, his sheer distance and surprising skill with wedges took him to victory.
His victory has reignited the debate about the increasing driving distance in golf with more intensity than ever. In an interview after his first major victory, he admitted that he is ‘definitely changing the way people think about the game’. His driving distance has almost completely made his long irons redundant, eliminating one aspect of the game which is meant to test golfers’ range and ability.
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the Royal St Andrews golf club, commented on DeChambeau’s victory at Rocket Mortgage Classic saying ‘all credit to him; he’s a true athlete… But I still come back to the belief that golf is a game of skill. And we believe we need to get this balance of skill and technology right.’
DeChambeau’s performance and successes will continue, as will golf’s biggest debate that modern equipment and technology is reducing the skill required for long hitters. However, there is no doubt that his first success in a major will make others pay more attention and follow in his suit.