Babe Ruth changed the home run. Kareem Abdul-Jabar changed the dunk. Many have said that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady changed football. Well, now Bryson DeChambeau is changing golf.
You can go back through all the years of the U.S. Open and say you never saw a player win the way DeChambeau did on Sunday. When the USGA grew out the rough to reward good shots and penalize the bad ones, they didn’t think one player would just shrug it off and say “it doesn’t bother me.”
DeChambeau found a way to shoot par or better each day in difficult conditions during his four round conquest at Winged Foot. While many players tried to strategize their way around Winged Foot to try and avoid the thick stuff, Bryson just pounded it as far as he could, got as close to the hole as he could, and hacked the ball out, bouncing it onto the green thanks to his transformed body filled with muscle mass and pure brute strength. He was the only player to break par; more impressively, he shot a 3-under final round while hitting just six of 14 fairways that last day. The next closest score on Sunday was even par. He won by an incredible six shots to earn his first major championship.
DeChambeau drove the ball an average of 325.6 yards, the longest ever for a U.S. Open champion. Even more mind-boggling is that he hit just 23 of 56 fairways for the week, a success rate of 41.1 percent. Since 1981, no player had ever won a U.S. Open hitting less than 27 fairways. Somehow, some way, he managed to shoot even par or better each day while hacking it out of that five-inch stuff and win in a rout.
Whether it’s good for golf or not is a separate discussion. DeChambeau is doing nothing wrong. He’s taking advantage of what is out there in front of him. By lifting weights and becoming strong while keeping all his other talents in place, he’s hitting it as far as possible while taking less of a premium off of accuracy given he can get on the green no matter where he hits it.
It was DeChambeau’s first major championship, but very likely not his last. He moved to No. 5 in the world golf rankings and will be one of the favorites when the top pros in the game make their way to Augusta National in mid-November where Tiger Woods will defend the green jacket.
“FORE” Questions from the U.S. Open
1. Will the PGA/USGA Accept DeChambeau’s Style of Winning?
I go back to 1997 when Tiger Woods destroyed Augusta National and other golf courses, leading to the “Tiger proofing” effect. Augusta National transformed their golf course to counter Tiger’s distance so he wasn’t hitting pitching wedges into par-5s. Courses were lengthened as other players also added distance to their games and technology enhanced. Expect a similar outcome here.
DeChambeau credits Brooks Koepka for his body transformation and change in philosophy for scoring birdies. Koepka, who is built like a linebacker himself, used weights as a way of bulking up and adding distance. Dustin Johnson has also been a gym rat. It helped Koepka win four major championships. However, Koepka is a different style player than DeChambeau. He used more strategy around the course while using his strength when he needed to. DeChambeau is using driver as much as possible, not caring where it ends up.
The PGA Tour and USGA will likely look into at least stalling the advancement of technology. If distances continue to be added by the players, they can’t make these courses long enough to combat it. Courses will continue to try and lengthen rough and narrow up courses to make it more of a penalty when missing the fairway.
But let’s be honest: Bryson is a great golfer even without his length. It’s what makes him one of the best in the game. Distance is just adding to his other skills. He made the putts all week at Winged Foot and has an exquisite short game that can get him out of trouble. He hit just 64 percent of greens for the week so he he had to use that chipping magic to bail him out a lot as well. So even if the PGA Tour does try and “Bryson proof” golf courses, like Tiger, he’s still going to win tournaments. He’s that good.
2. Did Winged Foot Live Up to its Reputation?
After one day, no. After the next three, a most definite yes. The first round saw scores like Winged Foot had never seen before at the U.S. Open as players took advantage of friendly pin locations, softer greens, and no wind. Twenty-one players broke par and the Winged Foot superintendent was livid as players took apart “the toughest course in the world”, a reputation they thrive on.
But the next three days were anything but easy. Scores soared as pins got tougher, the wind picked up, greens dried out, and temperatures dropped. By the final round, five-over par was good enough for a top-5 finish. If it had played this tough for all four days, five-over could have been good enough for second. I don’t think it could have stopped DeChambeau, though, who was just too good.
The USGA did a fabulous job as it regained its reputation of being the toughest test in golf, something it had lost some of in 2017 and 2019 when players broke par at record rates. They always want to protect even par, but sometimes you can’t help it when a guy like DeChambeau goes out and plays the way he does. Winged Foot will likely host the U.S. Open again in eight years and expect a similar setup with even-par being a good score come Sunday.
3. What is Happening to Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler?
These were two of the biggest names in the game just a couple years ago and their golf game has completely unraveled. Simply put, it’s a loss of confidence. Anyone who plays the game knows it’s not easy to get it back when it goes. Personal lives likely play a role as well as both players are young and getting accustomed to marriage while trying to improve their golf game.
Spieth, who was just No. 1 in the world three years ago, has fallen to a jaw-dropping 72nd in the world rankings. He has three consecutive missed cuts with his best finish this season being a T9 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He hasn’t finished in the top-10 since early June. Once being compared to Jack Nicklaus after winning three majors at such an early age, he’s quickly starting to become compared to David Duval whose career went south fast and furious (although illness played a role with that).
As for Fowler, he has dropped to No. 39 in the world. You have to go back to January to find his last top-10. Fowler has not won a tournament in nearly two years. Once known as the best player in the world not to win a major, he has fallen far down that list.
4. Can Tiger win Augusta?
It seems like he has an awful long way to go, but yes he can. It’s the one tournament where Tiger can go into cold and contend. He’s done it before when his game was in worse shape. Augusta is different in that it takes a lot of knowledge and experience to play well there. I expect Phil Mickelson to make another run at another major one day at Augusta, nowhere else. There are just certain players whose games fit the course no matter what form they’re in, and Tiger is one of those.
Now will he win? That’s a different question. Defending any title is tough and Tiger isn’t playing as well as he was going into Augusta last year. But he has time to try and turn it around and get his game back into tip-top shape. He will defend the ZOZO Championship next month in California as he seeks his record-breaking 83rd win.