Sobel: DeChambeau Bringing Big-Boy Game Plan to Masters This Week
Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryson DeChambeau.
Once upon a time, Tiger Woods was the most dominant and longest hitter in golf, piling up so many Masters victories that Augusta National officials felt the need to lengthen their golf course with a project that was deemed “Tiger-proofing,” which is akin to adding more hot dogs to a competitive eating contest, then calling it “Joey Chestnut-proofing.”
The game’s seemingly eternal debate over distance has actually lasted more than a century, but there’s no debate over the power of such power. Just as going fast is a key component to winning car races, hitting the ball further than all opponents seems a vital ingredient toward success in golf.
As the great golf writer Dr. Seuss once hypothesized: “It helps on courses short and long, helps when it goes straight and when it goes wrong; it helps in heat and helps in cold, helps win green jackets — or so I’m told.”
All of which should lead you to the foreseeable fact that, yes, this is indeed another Bryson DeChambeau column.
The man who won this year’s U.S. Open by bombing and gouging his way around Winged Foot put a slight crack in golf’s ambient snow globe that week, but has an opportunity to smash it to pieces at Augusta National with a strategy that will leave purists feigning hefty palpitations.
During his Tuesday press conference, DeChambeau disclosed that there’s still a chance he might employ the much-ballyhooed 48-inch driver – “or 47½,” as the game’s preeminent, sweat-the-small-stuff player said — to mash the ball distances that seem unfathomable to everyone except the guy doing it.
“No. 1, if I hit it in the fairway, I can have a 60-70 yard shot, I guess, even in wet conditions…”
“… No. 3, I can get to the green…”
“… No. 8, I’ve had as little as 6-iron in…”
“… at 10, it’s a 9-iron at worst…”
“… 13, I had pitching wedge in. I cut the corner drastically…”
“… then 18, I mean, I hit it over the bunker. You can have 110 yards into the green.”
Just your classic NBD from BAD, whose matter-of-factness regarding his power might be more off-putting to some than the power itself.
In the span of a 27-minute interview session, DeChambeau calmly spoke about taking lines off tees that would normally interfere with patrons enjoying their pimento cheese sandwiches, about constantly searching for greater distance and about a workout regimen that is “20 years ahead of everybody in the physical therapy and muscle therapy and training world.”
The numbers are new, of course, as he recently posted a 400-yard carry to his Instagram account, but the philosophy isn’t. When Woods burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old phenom, winning by a dozen strokes, the 38-inch khaki crowd was in appreciative disbelief of the kid who was hitting it miles past ‘em.
When Bubba Watson country-stronged his way to a pair of titles, he was widely hailed as an unrivaled anomaly, just a good ol’ boy who swung hard, walked after it, then swung hard again.
It feels different with Bryson. If that so-called “Tiger-proofing” was a tipping point in golfing lore, a DeChambeau triumph could be the breaking point.
Think about it: If a soft, near-7,500 yard golf course can’t harness his power, then what chance does any other venue really have? And in sport’s ultimate copycat pursuit, DeChambeau’s peers are already gradually starting to emulate his blueprint, seeking more speed and distance.
Even four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, a frequent foil for Bryson, the Brutus to his Popeye, took the high road when offered a chance to tweak that game plan.
“He wants to put a 48-inch driver in, good for him,” Koepka said. “Length is always an advantage. He’s done a good job of working his tail off to hit it that far. It’s worked for him.”
The genie has clearly been let out of the lamp — and as most purists decry daily, she’ll only get squeezed back in once the ball gets rolled back to fly shorter distances.
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That’s another conversation for another day, though admittedly that day could be Sunday, if all goes according to DeChambeau’s plan and he’s able to bludgeon his way toward a second consecutive major victory.
If trying to shimmy his biceps into a member’s green jacket becomes the big story of this week, then the ensuing narrative will surround that century-old debate of the ball going too far and players hitting it too long and oh, why the lords of golf won’t finally fix this great injustice.
Then again, if he does win this tournament, maybe the good folks at Augusta National could simply just “Bryson-proof” the place, making it so long that nobody has a chance to play well. You know, other than the guy who just happens to hit it longer than everybody else.