Is Bryson DeChambeau the favourite to win the 2020 Masters?

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.

Commenting on Bryson DeChambeau’s prodigious distance, fellow pro Matthew Fitzpatrick said, “It’s not a skill to hit the ball a long way in my opinion.” Fitzpatrick is not one of the Tour’s bombers. Is this just sour grapes on his part or is he correct that bombers are taking skill out of the game?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I don’t have the full context of his statement, but on the face of it, I’d say he’s wrong, and it sure smacks of sour grapes, if not envy.  If it isn’t a skill to hit the ball 375 yards, wouldn’t we all be doing it? That said, I do believe that bombers are taking skill out of the game, in making fairway woods and mid-irons obsolete.  Corey Pavin’s brilliant 4-wood on the final hole at Shinnecock 25 years ago would be a pitching wedge for BDC today… and we all know it’s a lot easier to hit a wedge to 3-feet than a 4-wood.  I don’t like how bombers are making mincemeat out of courses, but I wouldn’t say it’s lack of skill that’s enabling them to do it.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (craigloughry): Well there is a skill, talent, whatever you want to call it to bombing it. Bryson went out and did it, he earned everything he has accomplished. I don’t think its sour grapes on Fitzpatrick’s part, he’s just wrong in his comments is all. Not everyone can hit it that long, no matter how much they bulk up. I’m surprised on a few fronts with how Bryson has done this; how accurate he is being that long, and the relatively good “touch” he still has around the greens. I say relatively because his wedges are not the best, but his putting has been quite good last year finishing 15th on Tour in total putting. You’d think the HULK wouldn’t be so good with touch on the greens, but he’s worked at it. So, as much as the length is a skill that he has gone after and harnessed pretty well, I’m just as impressed with his overall game.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame member, PGA of Canada: Saying driving the ball long distances isn’t a skill is correct! It’s a talent! Everyone has a given amount of talent regarding distance. They can maximize their ‘gifts’, but they are always limited to their level of talent. It isn’t unlike running the 100M dash. Through rigorous training, technique, dieting and wearing the finest shoes available, a runner can maximize their speed but there is only one Usain Bolt. I admire Bryson. He was provided with an equation based on what is required for him to shoot the lowest score. He sat down and worked out a plan that is beginning to work. I don’t like the style he plays and have said so repeatedly but Bryson isn’t the problem. The problem began in the 1970s with the introduction of graphite shafts which lead to over-sized, metalheads which lead to longer shafts. When combined with the ‘new’ ball in 2000, we had an extremely predictable perfect “storm”. Despite warnings from many, many sources the Ruling Bodies did nothing. Now other than CoR still nothing has been done. So, it took 50 years until Bryson capitalized on the inept people in charge. It has nothing to do with him other than he now gets the ‘spoils’.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): As much as I don’t like DeChambeau for other reasons (personality, slow play, handling of the media), you have to respect the hard work he has put into finding a new way to play the game. It’s unfair to say that there is no skill in hitting the ball that far, especially since he’s keeping it in play.  So, I think Fitzpatrick was a bit out of line with that comment, and was called out by some, including Justin Thomas on social media.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: If he’s only watching the behemoths missing the grid in the Long Drive fandangos, Fitz has a point, to a point. But if he’s watching DeChambeau hitting it 360 into a narrow fairway (over corner trees and not around them) Fitz is missing a precise combination of brute strength and skill honed by hours and hours in the gym and sim lab. He’s putted magically, his wedge play has vastly improved, so DeChambeau hasn’t taken the skill out of his or anyone’s game, he’s added one.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Talent you’re born with, skill is something that is learned, honed and developed. DeChambeau put in the work, so it’s not fair, or correct, to suggest that what he does is not skillful. If all he could do was belt the ball a long way, he’d be like all the World Long Drive guys who hit about 10% of their landing zones and can’t chip or putt to save their lives. BDC has a pretty complete game and that takes a lot of skill.

The 2020 Masters is less than a month away and many people are suggesting that DeChambeau is the early favourite, especially if he can harness the same combination of distance, deft touch and great putting that he used to win the US Open last month. Do you think DeChambeau’s game fits Augusta National and if he’s not the favourite to win the Masters, who’s going to beat him?

Deeks: My answer above pretty much applies here, too.  BDC will reach every par-5 at Augusta with driver and a short stick.  But that doesn’t mean he’ll win.  One of the great aspects of Augusta is that shorter hitters (like Mike Weir, Louis Oosthuizen, and even Nick Faldo) can master the course with patience, accuracy, and excellent touch on and around the greens.  I wouldn’t be surprised if DeChambeau wins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t, either. And I’d give a hearty “huzzah!” if Rory McIlroy pulled it off.

Loughry: If DJ can avoid staircases, he’d be a front liner in addition to DeChambeau. I think the two should be favoured, but my mini wildcard is TW. Tiger knows that place better than anyone, especially those greens which as we all know is one of the most important parts to scoring at Augusta. He knows where to hit it, the sides of the fairway to favour and areas of the greens to favour on approaches in relation o hole locations. So, nobody can dismiss Tiger.

Schurman: In sports nothing beats strength and/or speed. Lots of very good athletes have amazing strength and many others have speed but when they come in one package you have greatness. In golf, you can have ‘length’ and or a short game. When you get both, you have greatness. There is no course in the world that can withstand prodigious, accurate driving when accompanied with a short game.

Rule: You’d have to call BD the favourite at this time, and he may be able to overpower the course if he can keep his driver in play.  He’ll be reaching the back nine par 5’s with short irons. But he’ll still have to putt well, and that may be his undoing.  There are plenty of guys who could beat him, and the odds will change between now and the start of the Masters, but if I had to pick one now, it would be Justin Thomas.

Quinn: Rumour (one of my most trusted and favoured authorities) has it that golf’s mad (or genius) scientist for quite a while has been focussed on the distances to ideal landing areas at Augusta National, and the clubs and swings to achieve those precise calculations. It would not be much beyond conjecture that he has been hitting drives in the pre-Masters tournaments to Augusta-like targets. (Do we remember who won the Safeway Open?). If his performance lives up to his calculus, in the final pairing it’s gotta be Rahm or Rory to beat him.

Mumford: Many years ago, after watching Dustin Johnson overpower a course and the rest of the field, I remember thinking that if he plays like that all the time, then nobody else stands a chance. DeChambeau is more of the same. But DJ didn’t win every tournament and BDC isn’t light years ahead of everybody else either. When everything is working, they’re two of the favourites along with McIlroy, Rahm, Thomas, Koepka etc. and that will be the case at Augusta too. DeChambeau should be the favourite for another reason though. He may be the most focused player in the field. His belief in his system, his planning and his ability to execute is like an extra gear. Koepka has the same mental strength, although he displays it as cockiness. Neither cracks when the pressure is on. That would be an awesome final pairing on Masters Sunday.

English pro Tyrrell Hatton won the BMW PGA Championship on Sunday wearing a hoodie. Naturally, traditionalists were not on board with the look. However, others think the casual attire can attract new, younger fans to the sport. What’s your take, is the hoodie appropriate golf attire?

Deeks: Well, I’m a traditionalist and a snob, so I’d rather attract players to the game who are willing to adapt to the game’s accepted dress codes, and not show up in whatever they choose to wear.  It may well be that hoodies, T-shirts and track pants, and tank tops and yoga pants, will be accepted and common on public and private golf courses ten years from now, but hopefully I’ll be dead by then.

Loughry: I don’t find hoodies offensive. Quite frankly attire doesn’t really matter as long as its not blatantly offensive or inappropriate. Clothing with profanity, or nude depictions I just don’t want to see on the golf course. T-shirts, hoodies, mock necks, collars, shorts, pants, throw back attire, its all fine by me as long as it respects the host club/course code, and as long as you enjoy your golf. Hatton played pretty well in it, so maybe we’ll see a bunch of youngsters run out and snag them and try the game as a result, is that really so bad?

Schurman: I am a traditionalist! People enjoy golf because it doesn’t pretend to ignore certain standards. I know a ‘hoodie’ isn’t the same as wearing a bathing suit. But dress codes make statements about other things such as good manners. I always take my hat off when I enter a building. I don’t wear sweatshirts bearing large numbers. I tuck my shirt-in. I don’t play golf in bare feet. Some people say these are the things that restrict the growth of the game. If so, then too bad! I know this much; any time I was using ridiculously low pricing as a marketing tool or a very low threshold of dress code I attracted customers who were disrespectful of my property, treated other players with disdain and had zero loyalty to my business. In fact, they were loud, unclean, damaged our golf cars by playing ‘Bumper cars’ and in general cost more inconvenience, repair work and poor relations with other people including staff than the revenue we took in. Yes, there are standards. Why do we have to lower them to attract young players? Why don’t young players elevate their styles to suit the game? It might help them in the rest of their life activities!

Rule: There have been many fashion statements in the game of golf over the past couple of decades, including the mock neck, the jogging pant style pants (whatever they were) worn by Rickie Fowler, among others.  The hoodie is just fine, and if golf courses and traditionalists don’t agree, then they are just hurting the growth of the game.

Quinn: A few years back in the PGA Tour match play, guys were wearing Bedouin-like head wraps against the cold. Haven’t been to a course in years without seeing a lot of young players with peaked caps on backwards. It’s all cool as far as I’m concerned. But there is a line than cannot be crossed: Pork Pie and Tilley hats. Done and done. No one in history has looked good in either.

Mumford: Most dress codes are based on antiquated, exclusionary thinking. I used to be a member at a club that took 15 years to debate and finally do away with mandatory knee socks. Amongst a certain crowd, a hoodie is just the latest fashion statement that isn’t suitable attire downtown, at the Club or when meeting the Queen. Poppycock, I say. The hoodie has won six Super Bowls at last count and now a BMW PGA Championship. If it’s clean and presentable, it should be ok on the golf course. That goes for most other attire too. I do draw the line though at clothing with holes in it, intended or otherwise, and spandex that is testing the outer limits of its stretch capacity.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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