Let’s face it: Not everyone is a fan of Bryson DeChambeau. Or, at the very least, the 27-year old’s ‘revolutionary’ tactics and focus on his physique divide opinion. Regardless, whatever it is that DeChambea is trying to say about the game of golf is worth hearing; the results he has achieved in a short space of time make that the case. But is the big-hitting player truly changing the game? Or is he just an outlier who will continue to play his own game while the rest of golf moves at its own pace? Looking back at 2020, the year that DeChambeau broke out (at least in the eyes of the media), those questions are still not easy to answer.
The first thing that we should clearly stress is that the story of Bryson DeChambeau is a bit more complex than is sometimes portrayed in the media. Sure, the Californian did emerge in the late spring bulked up (he gained about 40lbs) and with enough power to hit the ball further than anyone has managed before. But it is not as if he came from obscurity. DeChambeau was pinpointed for stardom as a young amateur and throughout his college years. In 2015 became only the third player in history to win the NCAA Division 1 Championship and US Amateur Open in the same year. The other two men to complete that feat? Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
DeChambeau had a decent career before bulking up
DeChambeau’s PGA Tour record, while not spectacular, was also very good before his muscle gain. 2019 was something of a down year, but he won five PGA Tour titles across 2017 and 2018. That glut of titles alone is enough to match the record of someone like Rickie Fowler, who has had a professional career more than three times as long as DeChambeau. The point we are making is that DeChambeau did not suddenly burst onto the scene when winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July; he had plenty of success before that.
What we do know, however, is that DeChambeau failed to make an impact in the Majors during the ‘pre-bulk’ years of his career. His best performance was finishing tied for 15th in the 2016 US Open (his first as a professional). So, this year, where he won the US Open, finished 4th in the PGA and 32nd in the Masters (more on that later) was obviously a massive improvement.
But DeChambeau’s stats tell us a bit more about his game. Yes, leading the PGA in driving distance is impressive, and that is going to have a knock-on effect to other areas for DeChambeau. For instance, that big drive also helps him lead the PGA in eagles. But we can also see he is one of the best at his approach to the green (6th in the PGA) and around the green (13th in the PGA). Those elements help DeChambeau make up for this low placing in terms of driving accuracy (147th in the PGA). But there are also areas where DeChambeau needs fast improvement if he is to consistently challenge at the top of golf, including playing out of the bunk and improving on his putting.
Ups and downs at the Masters for DeChambeau
So, what happened at Augusta last month, then? DeChambeau went into the tournament as the betting favourite, but finished tied-32nd. Again, it was a little bit more complex than saying DeChambeau was ‘found out’ by Augusta. The man hit 18 birdies and an eagle, looking like he held the iconic course in the palm of his hand at times. But 18 dropped shots also tells a story. DeChambeau talked about mistakes, but often those mistakes were in his shot selection rather than execution. If you look back at his double-bogey seven at the 13th in Round 1, the same sort of calamity would never have befallen a Woods or a Nicklaus.
DeChambeau won’t be in action again until January, and he has hinted that he will be going back to the drawing board after the mixed bag at Augusta. And that, perhaps, is what wider media coverage misses about “The Scientist”. DeChambeau is not a one-dimensional thinker, and he will not be thinking about how he can drive the ball further. You can guarantee he will be looking at how to improve his shot selection, his putting average, his bunker play. That obsession with improvement is arguably what makes DeChambeau something of a revolutionary; not the big swing. If he can put all those elements together during his time off, then 2021 might be even more explosive for the US Open champion.