Bryson DeChambeau is the world’s least boring golfer. That’s why the game’s establishment regard him as a barbarian inside the gates.
he top of the World Golf Rankings is a charisma-free zone. All those technically gifted and utterly anonymous players seem to blend into one. Would you honestly recognise Justin Thomas or Brooks Koepka on the street? If a guy arrived at your door claiming to be Patrick Cantlay, could you be sure he wasn’t actually Xander Schauffele in disguise?
Then there’s Daniel Berger, Matthew Wolff, Webb Simpson et al. They seem to roll off the same production line that made all those pallid Republican senators who got hammered by Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries.
DeChambeau is different. This is a man whose experiments include dipping his golf balls in Epsom salts to determine their centre of gravity, using a compass to give himself a fix on the position of the hole, employing a bizarre ‘side-saddle’ putting style, having all his irons the same length and developing a single plane swing unlike anything previously seen in the game.
His latest innovation is perhaps his most simple. Convinced that piling on muscle would enable him to drive the ball far enough to gain a significant edge, the Californian bulked up during the lockdown. He returned to action looking like a bodybuilder barely encased within the seams of the sensible knitwear favoured by the PGA fraternity.
The three stone DeChambeau put on has made a massive difference. When he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July his average driving length of 350 yards was an all-time record for a PGA tournament.
And when last Sunday he demolished both the feared Winged Foot course and his rivals to win the US Open by six strokes there was much talk of this being a watershed victory with the potential to change the way the game is played.
Some people are not happy with this. There is much talk of DeChambeau going against some unwritten ‘spirit of the game’. Jack Nicklaus has called for the introduction of a new type of golf ball which will stop players driving so far while Colin Montgomerie said DeChambeau has reduced the game to, “brute force and a sand wedge.”
Even that nice Rory McIlroy found it hard to hide his bitterness on Sunday when commenting, “That’s just the complete opposite of what a US Open champion does. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know . . . I think he’s taken advantage of where the game is at the minute.”
Lee Westwood and Tony Finau have praised DeChambeau’s transformation, but by and large the reaction has shown how suspicious golf tends to be of anything different. An awful lot of comment on the game resembles a meeting of a residents’ committee unsure about whether to admit a new tenant to their exclusive gated community.
That was the case when Tiger broke the mould and a lot of the comments decrying his offences against on-course decorum were obviously motivated by another more significant factor which distinguished Woods from his competitors. After Tiger crashed his car, the moralising frenzy which followed betrayed a relief at finally being able to give this interloper both barrels.
The same kind of mean spiritedness was obvious when Patrick Reed’s 2018 Masters victory was followed by a gutter press effort of a story revealing that the Grumpy One didn’t get on with his family. The story was bad enough, the praise showered upon it by the golf media was even worse. It’s hard to imagine any other sport where such a character assassination would have been lauded as the second coming of Woodward and Bernstein.
But what else would you expect from a sport whose idea of a character is Bubba Watson, a man whose sole personality quirk is his nickname? No game is in greater need of a good kick up the arse to jolt it out of complacency than golf. Bryson DeChambeau may be just the man to administer it.
Though in the interests of balance it’s only fair to point out that golf is “the only sport where players call penalties on themselves”. Because golf people never mention that. This may even be a world exclusive.