Sobel: Bryson DeChambeau Ushers in Golf’s Moneyball Era With Rocket Mortgage Classic Victory
Stacy Revere/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryson DeChambeau
Welcome to The Bryson Era.
Oh, stop it. You can’t send the mean tweets before reaching the second paragraph of the column, so allow me to explain: It’s not that Bryson DeChambeau has been so dominant on leaderboards over the past month, even if he did contend in the first three events before claiming the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday afternoon. It’s more about the fact that he dominated headlines — from positive (“a transformative game-changer”) to negative (“an insufferable gobshite”) and everything in between.
Just as Tiger Woods not long ago passed the torch to Patrick Reed, it’s now been passed to DeChambeau, who has become easily the most polarizing golfer in the world.
Some people like him. Some people hate him. Everybody has an opinion on him.
First things first: This isn’t necessarily a bad progression.
In our little corner of the world, so often painted in varying hues of beige and khaki, DeChambeau has offered some color, simply because he paints with a different brush. The number of golfers who inspire passionate responses from the masses can be counted on one hand, which suggests the game needs a few guys who can not only move the needle, but send it spinning in opposite directions.
We all know the backstory. He is a firm believer in using scientific data in his game, calculating things like air density and wind vector, employing a member of his entourage to spritz water on his range balls, even revealing when his quadratus lumborum isn’t working and when his proprioception is.
It’s not just lip service, either — he’s used these analytics to become a top-10 player in the world. He’s also used them to deduce the not-so-secret formula to professional success these days, which is to hit it longer than everyone else, then go chase it and hit it at the hole.
He’s gained some 40-45 pounds since last year, the byproduct of a daily training regimen and gallons of protein shakes, making him look like a photo of himself through a bloated filter. And while his words offer little evidence of arrogance, his affectation suggests a certain smarminess, a modern-day equivalent to Phil Mickelson’s famed FIGJAM perspective.
Then again, DeChambeau hasn’t done much to deflect this narrative. When a cameraperson followed him during a mini-temper tantrum on Saturday, he berated the person, who was just doing their job, later saying, “We need to start protecting our players … it could really hurt if they catch you at a vulnerable time.” He also added that it could impair his brand. (Here’s a hint, Bryson: Nothing hurts your brand like talking about your brand).
All of which leads to that polarization factor — a combo platter of reasons why some love to hate him.
Perhaps the biggest one, though, is this: By swinging like the fourth player in a scramble group whose other three teammates have already pounded their drives — he released the “Kraken,” as he says, to the tune of 350 yards per tee shot this week — DeChambeau is changing everything we’ve come to know about the game. It doesn’t take a purist to understand that he’s figured out the cheat code. This is essentially “Moneyball” for golf; it’s the equivalent to NBA teams realizing the math behind hoisting up a greater percentage of three-pointers.
So, sure: Maybe some observers don’t like Bryson because he’s too smug or too jacked or too whiny. But there are undoubtedly those who aren’t rooting for him out of a fear that he’s going to change the entire way golf is played. If he continues to find success for the remainder of the year — a notion which might be inarguable — his fellow pros will soon follow in his footsteps, seeing his use of physical science as their only way to replicate his results, starting a chain of motion which leads to an entirely new ballgame.
It’s not difficult to envision how this could happen.
Prior to winning the Rocket Mortgage, DeChambeau had finished 6th-8th-3rd-4th-2nd-5th, a run of results which might not portend longevity, but at least confirms consistency.
He’s dominating the headlines right now, but it might not be long before he’s similarly dominating golf, having found a previously hidden key and used it to unearth all of the classified information on how to succeed.
If he does it, it’ll happen under the glare of an intense spotlight, with many fans pulling for him, but just as many — or more — rooting for him to fail.
That’s true polarization right there and for whichever side of the fence you’re on, whichever direction you’d like to see DeChambeau’s progress continue, we can all at least agree that he’s self-aware of the criticism.
Just minutes after clinching his sixth career PGA TOUR victory, he used his pulpit to address the haters.
“No matter how much you say about me, I love everyone,” he said. “And I hope everyone appreciates the work I’m putting in.”