There’s a very precise process that Bryson DeChambeau goes through before hitting every tee-shot. A fit of composing sighs and increasingly furious set of practice swings, all designed to transport him into a zen-like state of blood-pumping aggression. The intricate tics are, perhaps, most closely relatable to that of an Olympic weightlifter, all anger and concentration, mustering every ounce of spite and vehemence imaginable. It’s a comparison that should seem ludicrous – that is until you see the hefty American coil into a jackknife and let fly.
The eccentric and divisive new face of golf, DeChambeau capped a streak of three top-10 finishes with victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday. Over the course of three months in lockdown, he added another 20lbs to a rugby player’s physique, via a “secret sauce” that includes seven protein shakes per day, and is consistently breaking the once rarified 350-yard barrier. The result has seen him reduce some of the world’s most imposing stretches to pitch-and-putts.
Put simply, DeChambeau is the brutish image of modern golf. A triumph of brawn over artistry that many have long-feared would strip and redefine the game’s fundamentals. Purists treat him with scepticism. He is, in their eyes, the vulgar vision of Trumpian America: bigger, longer, louder.
Prime evidence of that came on Saturday. After splashing a bunker-shot 20 feet past the hole, DeChambeau hacked his club angrily into the sand before confronting a TV cameraman. “He was literally watching me the whole entire way up after getting out of the bunker, walking up next to the green,” he later explained. “And I just was like, ‘Sir, what is the need to watch me that long?’ I mean, I understand it’s his job to video me, but at the same point, I think we need to start protecting our players out here compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image. I just don’t think that’s necessarily the right thing to do.”
It is the type of self-importance and general impudence that has always drawn a sharp sense of loathing, particularly within golfing circles. There’s an undercurrent of bitterness, too, with DeChambeau tarnished by the notion that primitive power is eclipsing precision. But to paint him as some sort of a golfing philistine is rather reductive.
What he has already achieved is, by most markers, astonishing in such a short space of time. Nor has he simply followed golf’s answer to a get-ripped-quick scheme: Gary Woodland, last year’s US Open champion, for example, has in fact lost 20lbs in an attempt to improve his performance.
In contrast, DeChambeau’s success is a result of painstaking experimentation and gruelling introspection. He is a student of Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine, a 41-year-old manual that reduces the swing plane to a series of diagrams and conflated geometrics – often described as one of the most controversial instruction books in sport, stripping personality and overlaying it with rigid mechanics. In that vein, DeChambeau, a physics major, uses custom single-length clubs and the unique shaft in his driver went through 26 iterations of prototypes before he deemed it satisfactory. This week, he was not just the leader in distance, but also in shots gained on the greens. His putting, still following that same stiff-armed science, is equally exceptional and currently unmatched.
It is the unorthodoxy of a maverick, and in DeChambeau’s case, often a tortured genius. There have been spells of consistent brilliance – a record-breaking college career in Texas, six PGA Tour win and a highest world ranking of No 4. There have also been blunders and melodramatic breakdowns – his 57-second lost at sea breakdown at The 2018 Open being the most memorable example.
There is a hereditary aspect to his persona, too, clearly inherited from his idol in Tiger Woods. A solitary nature, an unhinged competitiveness. In particular, a religious adherence to practice and training that DeChambeau has taken to extremes to countenance any short supply of natural talent. Unlike Woods, you get the sense his skill is learned rather than honed.
“I’ve gotten to know Bryson very well, and what an amazing talent, and an unbelievably hard worker,” Woods acknowledged himself in 2018. “He’s figured out a way to play this game his own way, he’s very efficient at what he does, and he’s not afraid to think outside the box on how he can become better. That’s one of the things if you look at all the great players of all time, they figure out their own way.”
Despite the criticism and outcry from some corners these past weeks, that is praise that cannot easily be protested. Like all sporting revolutionaries, DeChambeau is bending the paradigms in a way few ever considered possible – and in doing so will leave a legacy of copycats and imitators in the future. On current form, no other player can meet those new boundaries. DeChambeau may be flawed, but for better or worse, he is the new face of golf, whether people are comfortable with it or not.