Not since the need to Tiger-proof Augusta National have we seen anything quite like it. Bryson DeChambeau, or Chambo as he is beginning to be called, has the golf world on tenterhooks. Is this the next step–and a giant step it is–after the amazing Tiger? Bryson hits drives 360+, at will, over trees, over traps, over lakes and rivers and harbors, shit, over bloody oceans. If he’s not then in the fairway, he muscles the ball out of thick rough–3, 4, 5 inches deep–onto the green to one or two putt, before he marches his armies over the Alps to the next tee box. The man is a phenom, there’s no denying it. At present, no one on tour comes close to him in swing and ball speed. Or confidence. Like the Babe pointing to the bleachers then slamming a homer in that very spot, Chambo announced to reporters before the U.S. Open on a wickedly difficult Winged Foot, rife with rough that could stop a Sherman tank, that his intent was to bomb every drive to the max and, Patton-like, to hell with the rough. And The Babe did just that, winning the major by six shots, the only guy in the field under par. The Babe. Hmm. Might even be a better moniker than Chambo.
But it hasn’t come easy to the Big Guy. He worked at bulking up, sloshing down six protein shakes a day. He worked at honing his swing. He trained like Ali. After the third round at The Foot, he was even out on the range at night under flood lights with his trainer Chris Como, hitting more balls–a lot more balls–Hogan-like, until perfection began singing like the nightingales in the trees above him. And whaddaya know, the next day, he steamrolled young Matt Wolff to take a trophy he’s dreamt about winning since he was 10. “I dominated Winged Foot,” Bryson stated quite bluntly.
Now BDC wants even more weight. Another 25, I think he said. And more muscle with it. All translating into more distance, his ultimate goal. At some point, I’m wondering if he switches to boxing or the WWF. Is there a pinnacle that when reached the benefits for golf begin to wane? Good question, as we say. We don’t really know, do we? This is new territory for the game.
And what does this mean for golf? Longer courses? More obstacles? Tougher greens? Distance-limiting balls? Modified clubfaces with softened trampoline effects? Bifurcation of rules separating handicap players from pros? Bryson has thrown the game into a tizzy.
The most obvious solution is to emasculate the ball, at least for the pros. But distance in golf is a sacred cow. Mess with distance and some folks may take great offense and leave the game for crochet. And golf cannot afford players leaving the game. Golf balls also represent the most profitable aspect of the marketing game, mostly because so many handicappers lose so many of them. So manufacturers stand to lose big bucks if the USGA doesn’t do the right thing by them.
Look what you’ve done, Bryson. By pushing the limits and getting longer and better, you’ve changed the playing field, literally. “But isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing?” he might retort. “Isn’t that what golfers have done since they knocked the first rock into a hole in the ground?” And he’d be right. Golf rules never placed any limits on how much players can improve. It never really planned for a Tiger Woods or, now, a Bryson DeChambeau. It just kept building courses according to how much land and money was available, never planning for the day that those courses might be child’s play for future beefy pros. Tiger never stopped improving through most of his career, even after his earth-shattering 2000 season. He bulked up as well, changed his swing, and, if it wasn’t for his period of temporary insanity, would have passed Jack’s major total with ease. And Bryson, given a fortuitous break by the pandemic shutdown, woke up one day and asked himself now how can I best use this newfound time. I can afford the best equipment and the best instructors on the planet. I’m smart and already an excellent player. Damn, I’m gonna get better. So the physics major got to thinking and determined that distance was the key to winning on the pro tour, so distance would be his focus. And, holy-guacamole, did he get that right!
Of course, there is a caveat I should throw in here: the susceptibility of the human body to injury. Golf history is peppered with examples of pros who, like all of us, experienced injuries to hands, wrists, shoulders, knees, backs, thumbs, elbows, hips, feet, all forms of cancer, nerve damage, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, not to mention, mental stress, anxiety disorders, vertigo, depression, burn out, slumps, yips, exhaustion, alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce, going broke, and just needing to change careers. But in particular, injuries to the body that most affect golfers have to do with overdoing it in the gym, practicing beyond one’s limits, and swinging a club hard and repetitively without being properly conditioned to do so. I know from experience, if I try to increase my flexibility, I can easily go beyond my limits and stretch a muscle, or worse, in the process. And then there’s the unexpected like the time I hit a buried stone in a bunker and wound up with golfer’s elbow that put me off golf for eight months! Pros can hit hidden tree roots, can step in a gopher hole, can get hit by lightning, get hit by a wayward shot, car and plane crashes…OK, OK, enough already…I know… I’m starting to sound like my mother back in the day!
My point? Despite Bryson’s size and conditioning, he’s got to stay healthy in body and mind to succeed over the long haul in this game. I wish him well. He’s providing us with quite a show. And so far, so good; as Chambo continues to point and hit homers over center field fences on his way to–what is it now?–10 professional wins including a major at the ripe old age of 27!
The ultimate effect on the game? Golf has survived many changes over the 600 or so years it’s been around. We’ll figure it out.
The Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. Ah, soft, clean ocean breezes wafting through my hair as I lay on the beach, fingering sand through my…fingers…hearing the waves lap the shore, seagulls overhead…life is good…life is goo…”Stephen, wake up, wake up,” my wife gently shaking me, the TV on and unattended. “Waat? Was I sleeping? Who won?”
Seriously, congrats to Hudson Swafford! Way to hang tough. Nice clutch putts on 17 and 18. He broke the ice for his hard to attain second PGA victory. Truthfully, though, I was pulling for Sean O’Hair who faded to 14th after being in contention starting the final round. He’s a family friend, four time PGA winner, and a really good guy, from Philly who is coming back from injury after a fairly long absence. Go get ’em, Sean!
Congrats, too, to John Catlin, winner of the coveted Irish Open on the Euro Tour. An American, John won for the second time in two weeks on that tour. He shot 64 in the last round, including three birds in the last four holes, to blow past Brit Aaron Rai for the win.
More congrats to the inimitable Jim Furyk for winning his second Champions Tour in two tries. Only Arnold Palmer and Bruce Fleisher have ever done that before. He beat Jerry Kelly in a playoff at the Pure Insurance Championship played at the equally inimitable Pebble Beach Golf Links.
And one more for the road about an event close to home. Britain’s Georgia Hall won in a playoff against South African Ashleigh Buhai at the Cambria Portland Classic, shortened to 54 holes due to smoke from the recent wildfires in Oregon.
Next up this week: Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi. Defending Champ, Sebastian Munoz. Enjoy!