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Ashway: DeChambeau shows us golf’s future
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

We have seen the future of golf, thanks to Bryson DeChambeau.

The 2020 US Open champion evokes the words of Bobby Jones, who won his own US Open at the treacherous Winged Foot Golf Club in 1929. After watching Jack Nicklaus set a new scoring record at The Masters in 1965, Jones famously said, “He plays a game with which I am unfamiliar.”

In his prime, Nicklaus hit the ball farther than anyone. At his best, he was better than anyone. He remains the career leader in majors wins. He broke the record held by Jones.

A generation later, we watched Tiger Woods dominate the game by hitting the ball farther than anyone. Woods brought an athleticism to golf that had been missing from the game, setting a trend that continues to this day.

Of course, there was much more to their games than distance. But that gave them a head start.

That evolution continues with DeChambeau. He defied conventional wisdom for playing Winged Foot. He wasn’t about to club down and try to keep the ball in the fairway. He wasn’t going to try to make par and sidle on to the next hole. He wasn’t going to be timid.

No, DeChambeau’s philosophy was clear: show Winged Foot no fear.

“I’m going to keep hitting it as far as I can,” DeChambeau told Bill Pennington of The New York Times after Friday’s round of 68 left him in second place at 3-under, one shot behind Patrick Reed.

“My approach is to hit the ball as close to the green as I can get it, and as straight,” DeChambeau continued. “But if I miss the fairway, and I’m in the rough, I’m comfortable with that result. If the ball goes as far as it usually does, I’m comfortable in the rough, because with a wedge or short iron, I can still get it to the green or to the front of the green. That lowers the intimidation factor of the rough.”

For the week, DeChambeau’s average driving distance was 325 yards. 

Gasp!

DeChambeau hit only six fairways on Sunday, but shot 67, 3-under par. He was the only player in the entire field to break par on Sunday.

For the week, he hit only 23 of 56 fairways, yet he was the only player to finish under par for the tournament. Winged Foot has hosted the Open six times over the years, and DeChambeau’s 6-under total of 274 is the best score ever posted. He’s also only the third player out of 894 to finish an Open at Winged Foot with an under-par total.

In short, he brought the Winged Foot monster to its knees.

“It’s a game we’ve never really seen before,” Harris English, who finished fourth, told the Associated Press.

Add former Open champion Rory McIlroy to the list of skeptics amazed by DeChambeau’s performance. “I don’t really know what to say, because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a US Open champion does,” McIlroy told the AP. “Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know. But it’s just not the way I saw this golf course being played, or this tournament being played.”

But don’t think DeChambeau’s just a mad bomber who blasts his way around the course. The physics major from SMU incorporates a scientific approach into his game. He also works as hard as any other golfer on his game. 

Saturday night, he was out on the driving range past 8 o’clock, trying to figure out why he was pulling his driver so much.

“My driver wasn’t performing the way I wanted it to,” DeChambeau said at his post-Open press conference. “I was able to find something out last night, and then on the 6th hole today, I figured out a little bit more, and that gave me the confidence to play for the rest of the day.”

And yet, for all his length, DeChambeau has a fabulous touch around the green. He’s not a one-dimensional player. This week he focused on a comment made by Phil Mickelson, who almost won here in 2006.

“I think I’ve got a lot of creativity,” DeChambeau continued. “Phil said it to me earlier this week. He said, ‘In 2006, I had the best short game week of my life,’ and that really stuck out to me for some reason, because I just knew that if I did hit it in the rough, I’m going to have to get it up and down quite a bit.

“So, I made sure that I needed to practice those shots coming into the week, and I did that beautifully, and I felt super comfortable out of the rough, no matter the situation.”

Never more so than on the 14th hole Sunday, where his drive, pulled left, found the longest grass, 135 yards from the hole. With an uphill lie, DeChambeau hit the ball with the top of his clubface, reducing the impact, causing the ball to land short, but keep rolling. 

It stopped 10 feet short of the hole, and DeChambeau made the putt. When Matthew Wolff missed his putt, the result was a two-shot swing which gave DeChambeau a five-shot lead with four holes to play.

“That was huge,” he recalled. “If I don’t make that, and he makes his, you know, we’ve got a fight.”

The new Open champion hopes his style of play inspires other golfers. “My goal in playing golf and playing this game is to try and figure it out,” he said. “I’m just trying to figure out this very complex, multivariable game, and multidimensional game as well. It’s very, very difficult. It’s a fun journey for me.

“I hope that inspires people to say, ‘Hey, look, maybe there is a different way to do it.’ Not everybody has to do it my way. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying in general that there are different ways to do things. If you can find your own way, find your passion, like Arnie said, swing your swing.

“That’s what I do. Hopefully, my way inspires people.”