Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Bryson DeChambeau won the US Open playing Winged Foot in a manner everybody said would be disastrous. He only hit 23 of 56 fairways for the week but managed to gouge his ball into scoring position repeatedly. Second place finisher Matthew Wolff shot 65 on Saturday after hitting only 2 fairways. The rough at Winged Foot was deep and gnarly but still no impediment to long wayward drives. There doesn’t appear to be a defense against the kind of power wielded by players like DeChambeau and Wolff. As Xander Schauffele said, “It’s no longer a touchy-feely game.” We asked the question before when DeChambeau first introduced his new brawny look and smashed his drives exceedingly long distances, but it warrants asking again, “Is this style of play a major turning point in the professional game and one that will see more players bulking up to gain distance?”
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think there will be a smattering of young pro’s bulking up, in the belief that it’s their only chance to consistently compete. And I think that’s a terrible shame. I give BDC all kinds of kudos for his search for The Answer, and his success in achieving it, but I just hate to see our game becoming further and further separated from the pro’s and “the golfing public”. To borrow from Bobby Jones, BDC plays a game with which I am totally unfamiliar, and one I really don’t enjoy watching much. Watching on the weekend was like seeing Mussolini march into Ethiopia… lots of power, but he basically bullied Winged Foot into submission.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: We aren’t going back. The game we love so much has been passed to today’s players. Crazy as it might sound but it is OUR legacy. It happened on OUR ‘watch’. Today we saw a person outsmart the entire USGA, R&A and every other rules-oriented association. They/we gave him a set of criteria under which he is required to shoot a low score and he did it. He built clubs like nobody else in the field, he learned to swing like nobody else in the field, learned a short game to overcome the conditions like nobody else in the field, he taught himself a putting stroke and greens reading method like nobody else in the field and he built his body like a few others in the field. In short, he was given an equation and he solved it. Bulking up is a ‘crapshoot’. Some do it and improve others lose their ‘touch’. It is NOT a guarantee. Johnny Millar built a log house and ruined his body for golf. Gretzky wouldn’t lift weights because he feared losing his ‘feel’.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer @davykap): Definitely. Bryson’s success will likely inspire many of his current colleagues and countless up and comers, but it’s unclear whether they will have the same success. Let’s put aside the fact that Bryson’s swing is extremely unique to Bryson and get one thing clear: it wasn’t pure power that won Bryson his first major title last week; it was a mixture of power and artistry/touch. He was TRANSCENDENT around and on the greens all week long and no amount of protein shakes is going to add that to anyone’s arsenal of shots.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I hope not, it’s boring to watch. It’s impressive how well they’ve been able to score, but it’s not the kind of golf I like to watch on a regular basis. The way the tour is currently set up however, it looks like Bryson has confirmed that his new style works, so maybe guys will follow suit. Not sure they will get to the bulking up levels that he has achieved, but they may just continue to try to hit the ball into oblivion and find it and hit it again. But let’s not forget that a relatively short hitter won the last major before the US Open, just last month.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: A handful of guys hit it further than DeChambeau, including Wolff and McIlroy. The biggest benefit of his bulk and strength is the control and height his muscles can muster getting the ball out of rough as long as it was at Winged Foot. Wolff has the power to overpower that kind of rough too as he showed Saturday shooting 65 after hitting just two fairways. The top guys don’t have to hit the gym and protein drinks for distance; they need to work out to overpower the rough — with enough height to stop the ball on the greens — because hitting fairways ain’t where it’s at. The USGA and R&A should stop worrying over bifurcation of equipment and balls, and bifurcate courses (especially Major venues). A second cut of two-foot fescue for the Tour monsters, six inches for the everyday mortals. Done and done.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I don’t think so. There are already lots of players that can drive the ball a long way. DeChambeau didn’t win the US Open so much by outdriving everyone; he won it by not being afraid to hit driver and deal with the consequences. The prevailing wisdom for tough, tight US Open set-ups has always been “fairways and greens”. BDC found a way to get his approaches on or close to greens from just about everywhere, then used his short game skills to make birdies or save pars. I think it was a masterful display of analysis and execution of a game plan that few others would even attempt, and he pulled it off brilliantly. Absolute confidence in his swing and unshakeable belief in his strategy were the hallmarks of this win.
As it turns out, DeChambeau is more than a long hitter. He led the Open in a number of statistical categories, his short game was magnificent, and his putter was red-hot. What impressed you most about DeChambeau’s game and demeanour at Winged Foot?
Deeks: As I said above, he MARCHED through that golf course… clearly on a mission, clearly focused, laden with power and deft of touch. It was a masterful performance, and I give him full credit for it. But I hope he stays an anomaly. I’d hate to see his approach become the new normal because I won’t be watching. It’d turn the game into a form of wrestling.
Schurman: His ability to focus for the entire round. His head was stuffed with information, but he never relented. Second, was his obvious heartfelt appreciation of how much other people had contributed to his success. BTW He actually thanked the Rules Official for assisting him with a drop.
Kaplan: My biggest takeaway was how annoying it would be to play 18 holes with Bryson at a major. The guy talks non-stop like Rocco. Every time the camera was on him, he was talking a mile a minute about every thought that came into his head. That’s got to be so irritating for his playing partners.
Rule: He had a great week, it’s as easy as that. His putting generally isn’t one of his strong suits, but he had a great putting week, and I suppose that can happen with most players on tour. He has played very well and consistently since the restart, putting himself near the top of the list of best in the world, and as long as his body doesn’t fall apart from the amount of stress he puts on it, he should be able to continue for the foreseeable future. You’d have to think he’s the favourite for the Masters.
Quinn: Two things were very impressive: his short game (especially his putting) and his work on the range past nightfall on Saturday. He worked out the petulance that almost betrayed him in round three and stayed focussed and cool throughout the final round. It will be interesting to see how the work on the 48-inch driver and new Cobra driver heads goes this week. And remember, Augusta National doesn’t have rough …. for now.
Mumford: Probably his focus. He obviously had a game plan and stuck to it religiously. His notebook got a ferocious workout, caddie conversations droned on and pacing off yardages were taken to the extreme, all part of his obsessive analysis, but also exceedingly time consuming. DeChambeau got a break that there were no fans, especially New York fans, who can be brutal. The length of time he took on every putt would have had the hordes screaming, much as they did at Bethpage when Sergio endlessly gripped and re-gripped his clubs. Not sure if BDC could have maintained focus in the face of that, but it would have been fun to see.
Apart from DeChambeau, what else piqued your interest at the US Open?
Deeks: The fact that, BDC aside, the USGA showed that it can tame the young lions with sliver-thin fairways, knee-high rough, and marble counter greens. This too is not golf, in my view, but at least it’s somewhat of a schadenfreude pleasure to watch the best players face a real challenge. And for the most part, they came out pretty well.
Schurman: What this tournament showcased was a comparison of the skill level of today’s players compared to past years and how the game might evolve. Beginning with the Bobby Jones era each time Winged Foot hosted the Open the course has been set-up basically the same. Each time, it thwarted the best players as it did this time. Only one player broke par. We saw how the rough, green speeds, pin placements and length need to be ‘set-up’ to contain the world’s best players. We also might have had a glimpse into the future with Bryson. We need to study the measurements/statistical information generated and apply it to the Rules, equipment manufacturing and course design/maintenance. This US Open is a Petrie dish called Winged Foot.
Kaplan: A few take-aways: Matthew Wolff is now fixed on my radar after that performance on Saturday. I suspected that 4-inch rough with no fans was a combination for lost balls and poor Harris English experienced that the hard way on his FIRST shot on Sunday. Ouch. Hideki Matsuyama is never going to win a major. Taylor Pendrith might be Canada’s best chance for success if the tour shifts to Bryson/Koepka’s bulky, grip-it and rip-it style. Xander Schauffele (whose last name my girlfriend pronounced SHOW-FELL for the first 3 rounds of the tournament) now has 7 (!) Top 10s in 13 career major starts.
Rule: I loved watching the players attack the incredible Tillinghast greens, hitting creative shots that you don’t see most weeks. The number of chips and putts aimed away from the hole was astounding and at the same time the USGA did a good job of pinning the greens in fair spots that allowed for creative shots, but not impossible, as was the case in previous US Opens.
Quinn: Taken aback by how much more interesting and photogenic Winged Foot appeared compared to our last visit for Phil’s meltdown. Must be a combination of different time of year, advances in HD technology, and Hanse’s reno, but to my mind the visuals were greatly enhanced by the absence of spectators. Weather permitting, the same may hold true for The Masters.
Mumford: Matthew Wolff impressed, as did Xander Schauffele in another major. Winged Foot more than lived up to its reputation as an awesome, penal US Open venue. What I enjoyed most was watching players get creative with their approaches to some of the multi-tiered greens, using slopes and backboards to get close to the hole. Anybody that couldn’t adapt to that particular challenge probably went home on Friday.