The way Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot defies conventional thinking, so much so that we need to redefine what that thinking says in the first place.
To back up for a second, here is a recap of the DeChambeau story:
A great junior player from California, he won an NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur in the same year while attending SMU. At the time, he attracted eye balls for his odd equipment — all of his irons and wedges are the same length — and an upright, single-plane swing that matched the uniqueness of the clubs he played.
Many questioned whether that formula would still work as a professional, but the answer was a resounding yes. In his first two seasons on the PGA Tour, DeChambeau won four times and collected over $10 million in earnings to become one of the rising stars of the game.
But the 27-year-old who has been known to test the limits of how the game can be played decided to go in a completely different direction starting at the end of last year. He announced in November that he would be adding on some 40 pounds to his frame, all in an effort to gain swing speed and become one of the longest players in the game. To do so, he would go on a rigorous weight training protocol while downing any protein shake he could get his hands on.
Most in the golf community laughed at him. I know I did.
The experiment to gain power has gone awry for literally hundreds of professional golfers trying to transform their bodies and games. It can be done, but the path is perilous. For DeChambeau to put himself out there in that way at a time when he was a top-10 player in the world seemed reckless and fraught with danger.
He came back in 2020 looking like a linebacker, and his power numbers went up along with his weight. The results were almost immediate as DeChambeau tallied three consecutive top-5s prior to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
And then over the break, he got stronger and bulkier. When professional golf returned in June, DeChambeau started to bulldoze his way around courses by hitting driver on nearly every hole, escewhing accuracy for whatever extra power he could find. The formula worked as he led the PGA Tour in strokes gained against the field off-the-tee, won the Rocket Mortgage Classic and continued to be in contention almost every week.
Even as he found success, DeChambeau had doubters. Some said his aggressive, damn-the-torpedoes style of play would not work on more demanding courses and major championships. Some said he would not be able to maintain his current workout regimen.
The latter is still a curiosity moving forward, but the former has been proven false. DeChambeau tied for fourth at the PGA Championship and then found the ultimate validation this past week at the U.S. Open, a tournament famous for punishing players and inducing fear from start to finish.
Over a century of history tells us that hitting fairways at the U.S. Open is mandatory if you want to win the event. It says that 5-inch rough will eliminate any hope you have of success, that accuracy and precision are the hallmarks of a champion.
DeChambeau didn’t care. He only hit 23 of 56 fairways for the week, lashing drivers across the property and extracting himself out of the thick rough with relative ease. No U.S. Open champion in history had hit fewer than 30 fairways on their way to victory, but DeChambeau rewrote that thinking — and did we mention that he dominated the field, winning by six strokes and finishing as the lone man under-par for the tournament.
It would be no revelation to say that power is an advantage in golf, one that is growing by the year. The best players are not the most accurate, nor are they the best putters. The best players are, far and away, the most powerful.
But there is a revelation in how the game will be played and how players will train to get there. During the U.S. Open telecast, commentator Jim “Bones” McKay said that he has one piece of advice for junior golfers who want to be professionals one day: swing as fast as you possibly can.
Whether that is right or wrong is a discussion for another day, but DeChambeau has proven that the quickest path to being a dominant player is to do whatever is necessary to follow McKay’s advice. If that means putting on weight, gaining strength and wailing on the ball with everything you have, that is what it will take.
So let’s introduce a new conventional thinking. The new kings of the game are not the ones with the gorgeous, Fred Couples-like swings. They aren’t the ones who can strategically place their ball around the course with nuance like a game of chess.
They are the kings of speed, and everything else comes secondary.