Column: Bryson DeChambeau ups distance debate with Open win

APTOPIX US Open Golf Bryson DeChambeau
Posted at 3:03 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 15:03:56-04

If Bryson DeChambeau was looking for validation for his obsession with distance, all he had to do was glance at his reflection on the U.S. Open trophy.

If the USGA is looking for an image to reign in those distances, a picture of DeChambeau holding that trophy works, too.

The people who make the rules in golf better hurry. The Masters is coming up in November and, if there was ever a course ripe for DeChambeau’s power game, it’s Augusta National.

``If he can do it around here, I’m thinking of Augusta and thinking of the way you sort of play there,” Rory McIlroy said.

If the future of golf was on display Sunday at Winged Foot, it’s one a lot of people in the game can do without. A beefed-up DeChambeau overwhelmed a venerable golf course in a way that was once as unimaginable as playing a U.S. Open with no spectators.

He came in vowing to hit it as far as he could for as long as he could. Then he went out and did just that, with no apologies to the ankle deep rough and slick greens that took a piece out of every other player in the field.

He may not have embarrassed the host USGA the way it likes to embarrass players at its championships. But DeChambeau understands what the stuffed shirts must be thinking.

``He’s hitting it forever. That’s why he won,” he said. ``I mean, it was a tremendous advantage this week. I kept telling everybody it’s an advantage to hit it farther.’’

Indeed, DeChambeau hit only 23 of 56 fairways off the tee, but it hardly mattered. The ball flew so far that DeChambeau was often left with little more than a pitch out of the rough to a nearby green.

How good was he compared to everyone else? In the pressure of the final group in the final round, DeChambeau shot a nearly flawless 3-under 67 — the only round under par by anyone at Winged Foot on Sunday.

``It’s not about hitting fairways,″ Xander Schauffele said. ``It’s about hitting on the correct side of the hole and hitting it far so you can kind of hit a wedge instead of a 6 iron out of the rough.”

That’s not the kind of game that usually wins U.S. Opens, which are set up to reward players who drive it in the fairway and keep their approaches below the hole. But that formula may be outdated now that a player who set about to change the parameters of the game did just that in winning the national championship.

Turns out bulking up isn’t just good on Sundays in the NFL. It works on the golf course, too.

``This is validation on steroids for Bryson and the second guessers are going to have to rethink,” NBC analyst Paul Azinger said as DeChambeau made his way up the 18th fairway with a six-shot lead.

That there’s a distance debate in golf is nothing new, of course. It’s been ongoing since John Daly overwhelmed the field to win the PGA Championship in 1991 and intensified with the arrival of Tiger Woods, who was so long that they lengthened Augusta National to try and make things fairer for everyone else.

The USGA and R&A are so concerned about the impact of long hitting on the game that they issued a report earlier this year that said, in part, that advances in distance off the tee were threatening to ``undermine the core principle that the challenge of golf is about needing to demonstrate a broad range of skills to be successful.”

Now they may have to update that report. It was done before DeChambeau added 40 pounds during the pandemic break and began swinging at every tee shot like Barry Bonds used to swing at baseballs.

It was impressive to some, worrying to others. The fact is, golf has always evolved, from the days of hickory shafted clubs and gutta percha balls to today’s big headed drivers and balls that fly far and stop fast. But the beatdown DeChambeau gave Winged Foot this week might have been a tipping point in the debate over just how far the evolution of the game is allowed to go.

``It’s tough to rein in athleticism,” DeChambeau said. ``We’re always going to be trying to get fitter, stronger, more athletic, and Tiger inspired this whole generation to do this, and we’re going to keep going after it. I don’t think it’s going to stop. Will they rein it back? I’m sure. I’m sure something might happen. But I don’t know what it will be. I just know that length is always going to be an advantage.’’

That figures to be the case in November at the Masters, where DeChambeau is already the betting favorite in Las Vegas. And the distance debate will get even louder if he starts adding major championships almost as quickly as he gained his recent pounds.

His first major championship came in relative silence, applauded by only a smattering of workers and officials off the 18th green at Winged Foot.

But the way he won it sent a loud message through the sport.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.