Many have focused on Bryson DeChambeau’s added bulk and strength and how that is the reason for his added voluminous distance. But I submit the reasons BD has increased his distance goes much further than that. There have been other beefy pros over golf history who haven’t achieved his numbers, nor have they equaled his win and major totals at his young age. Don’t misunderstand: His bulk hasn’t hurt him. He’s able to achieve ball speeds of over 200 mph which is pretty amazing. But the way he’s gotten there has just as much to do with the fundamentals of his swing than his body bulk and strength. At impact, The Bomber, doesn’t hit the ball, as most of us mortal handicappers do; instead, he swings his club, keeping the clubhead on a path that he intends it to travel. The ball is incidental to his intended results (sorry, ball makers, if this puts a crimp in your marketing plans). He uses a simple one plane swing, similar but not quite the same as the legendary Mo Norman, with minimal wrist break at the top of his swing, starting his hip turn a split second before his arms and torso make their move. This creates a kind of whipping action, bowing the shaft into position for the action that’s coming. And at that point, about a foot before reaching the impact zone, it’s “Katy, bar the door!”
To be clear, I don’t think Bryson has any thought of a ball waiting for his attention. He could swing blindfolded if he wanted. At that point he is Iron Byron personified, but multiplied twenty-fold or more in speed. So his fundamentals are the same as most one-plane golfers. What’s different is that he’s been able to bulk up and keep all that beef in control throughout the swing. To counter Brit Matthew Fitzpatrick’s contention that what Bryson has done does not involve skill, I say that it very much does depend on skill, and good instruction, and a whole lot of practice and determination. And this young man has done this within the current rules of golf. There’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t change your body, swing, mental attitude, or 401K account to hit the ball farther, straighter or in whatever direction you choose. BD has also stayed within the rules on his choice of equipment, as he now goes to a 48 inch shaft which he’ll use at this year’s Masters (and the Green Jacketed Gods of Augusta can’t do a thing about it). I demo-ed a shaft of that length quite a few years ago and I can tell you, if you can control it, you’ll get more length than you’ve ever thought possible. Needless to sadly say, I couldn’t consistently control it.
His clubhead path is classic inside out, unless he intends to fade it then the path is slightly outside in. The point is BD knows where his clubhead is at all times (as do the best of touring pros). He’s in the rough quite often, but so are most players. I’ve played Olympic in SF where majors have been played and fairways are unbelievably narrow. Landing in rough is endemic to the pro and amateur game. Bryson does have an advantage with his strength out of rough, but anyone can build muscle and hence swing speed. That’s how Tiger won a lot of tournaments, especially majors where the rough is brutal. The 72nd at Torrey Pines comes to mind in the ’08 U.S. Open where, before the great putt to tie Rocco, Woods hit an amazing wedge out of deep rough to 12 feet.
I don’t know for sure, but Bryson seems to follow the directions of an English teaching pro by the name of J. Douglas Edgar who published a book around 1920 called The Gate to Golf. It touted the importance of swinging the clubhead instead of hitting the ball, and even included in the package a simple training device to get you through the proper gate on the right path (you can pretty much do the same thing with two tees properly placed–see accompanying photo). Bryson, and many tour pros, do just this, which, I think distinguishes them from the average handicapper who is fixed on the ball like a carpenter a nail. (I’ll be covering this book and Edgar’s theories in a subsequent post. It’s harder to do than it sounds!)
So how to reign in Bryson’s now and future distance? As my friend Richard Schoellhorn advises, change the courses the pros play on. He suggested adding more out of bounds within the courses themselves like over onto adjoining fairways. That would encourage shorter more accurate drives. Other strategically placed obstacles could be added as well, like bunkers, water hazards, trees, teeing grounds, and waste areas, all designed to penalize a go-for-broke driver of the golf ball like DeChambeau. These changes could be cost-effective and reasonable, and within the rules. After all, unlike other sports with their highly regulated playing fields, golf courses are meant to be designed in multi-varied ways to test the skills of its participants. So leave the equipment and the players advance according to their own whims. We need their creative innovations to keep the sport attractive for beginners to enter. Set the course designers to work to change the courses…at least for the pros.
Congrats to Scotland’s Martin Laird on his win at the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital event this past weekend. Laird has a major and three other wins under his belt, this one being the first in seven years of drought. This time the European got there with some European-style of play. First, on number 9 in the final round he holed a seemingly impossible bunker shot that may go down as the most difficult such shot in golf history: a buried lie near the lip, short sided with the hole running away and his left leg needing to be out of the sand. After commentators predicted a bogey or more on the par 3, he splash it out perfectly, dropping into the cup for an eagle and a three-stroke lead. Unbelievable! But he wasn’t finished. On the 17th, another 3 par, he hit a ghastly tee ball way to the right of the green, possibly a half-shank, and he was faced with another near-impossible shot either under or over trees in front to the green. He decided on a very links-oriented route with a chip and run under the trees, through the fringe, onto the green, about 17 feet from the cup, sinking the putt for par when a double looked inevitable. Laird went on to win in a three-way playoff. Quite a game we play.
This week the boys stay in Vegas for the CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek. Defending Champ: Justin Thomas. Brooks Koepka returns to action. Enjoy!
Phil Russell says
Stephen, excellent post. You are right about BD playing within the rules.Although I Hope the rule makers do put in more changes in the golf courses to put in emphasis on fairway accuracy. Also I heard the suggestion that there is a way to make golf balls travel not as far.
My golf league ended the end of Sept. I have improved but still have along ways to go. My question is the last 3 times since the season ended I decided to not think as much and with the exception of making sure my left arm is pinned to my chest on the back swingI just swing away. I would like to continue this way next season. Is this a fluke? Thanks. I am just concerned that I will still have to continue to make sure that I follow all the other things necessary in my head with the golf swing.
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks for the comments, Phil. I agreed that course changes are the best way to encourage pros to go for accuracy over distance. Modifying the golf ball is possible but not probable. It’s the piece of equipment that is most profitable for the golf industry. As for advising you on your swing over a break in play, without seeing your swing, I would just say to keep it simple. The fewer swing thoughts the better. Stick with what works, go to the range to keep your skills up, and/or swing in front of a mirror at home.
Good to hear you’ve improved, by the way.
For once I agree with almost everything you say! especially as regards Bryson.
Golfers are obsessed with distance yet for the last 10 yrs Drivers arent getting longer but have got more forgiving allowing big athletes to hit it straighter! But they have still got to be good putters!
As Laird proved a good short game can still triumph on the right course didnt Na,a great putter win it last time.
Like gladiators great courses can still produce a battle of different styles which is why Im looking forward to the Masters.
Changing the tournament ball regs is the only long term solution,it would be cheap and effective, they should at least trial it, maybe as a sop to the golf companies they could allow more than 14 clubs! and i could play an extra wedge and hybrid!
Stephen Altschuler says
Well blow me down, Graham has actually agreed with me. A precedent has been set, ladies and gentlemen. I like your comment about gladiators and the Masters. Designers knew how to make challenging courses back in the day. That’s why that tournament is the world’s greatest. Pick the hottest chipper and putter when The Masters comes around and put your money down on that guy.
Thanks for commenting, Graham.