It’s 2020. Tiger Woods still has the green jacket, Rory McIlroy is guaranteed box office when he’s near a microphone, and the PGA Tour is still getting to grips with life in the midst of a global pandemic, yet Bryson DeChambeau has become the biggest story in golf. And it’s not even close.
Putting on three stone is something I can identify with – though our methods differ wildly – but mashing a golf ball almost 400 yards is something I cannot. Very few can, and those are generally restricted to long-drive competitions where you’ve got a hundred-yard wide target and it matters not if nine of your ten swings end up in a different area code.
But what interests me most about Bryson is not the gorilla that he’s become, but the reasons for the transformation. The official narrative is that the science suggested that a bigger, stronger player would gain considerable yardage and thus considerable advantage – and so it’s proving to be – but what if that were neither the only nor the main reason?
Last August at the opening FedEx playoff event at Liberty National, DeChambeau came under fire for taking more than three minutes to hit a 70-yard wedge shot and another two minutes to hit an eight-foot putt. In the ensuing media storm, then current world number one and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka was asked his opinion which led to an impromptu showdown on the putting green the following morning.
Now, the internet can be a cruel place and social media channels especially cruel. As news broke of the confrontation, poor Bryson became the butt of countless jokes. The high-school jock bullying the studious nerd is one of the most clichéd scenes in movie history, and Twitter was awash with people keen to cast DeChambeau as the weakling.
If Twitter were to be believed, in the midst of countless memes and video mash ups, poor Bryson would be “folded like origami,” would be on the painful end of an “atomic wedgie,” would get his “head flushed down the toilet,” “bundled into a locker,” or just simply get “knocked the f*** out!”
Nobody likes to be the butt of a joke. Ironically, in doing quite the manly thing in inviting Koepka to confront him – albeit through the backward channel of Ricky Elliott – Bryson’s manliness was ridiculed by all and sundry. And somebody narcissistic enough to search their own name on Twitter would find exactly that.
After playing a handful of events in the weeks following the Liberty National showdown, DeChambeau entered an intense training camp and re-emerged at the Hero World Challenge more than 25 lbs heavier.
Maybe it was a calculated gamble that the much heavier and stronger Bryson would become a better and more effective golfer, or maybe it was an attempt to turn the tables. That if he should ever have a face-to-face with Brooks Koepka again, that the roles would be reversed and Twitter would be ablaze with mocked up pictures of Bryson hanging Brooks up by his underwear.
Because considerably bulking up and massive distance gains haven’t always come hand in hand. Nick Faldo put on a lot of muscle and lost his game completely in the early 90s, David Duval likewise a decade later, and the 2007 Tiger Woods was barely recognisable from the lithe and lean ’97 version, but not really hitting it much longer even with advances in ball and club technology.
Not knowing Bryson personally, I can’t vouch for his intelligence or personality, but the scientific evidence didn’t exactly back up his theory. What I can say, however, is that in my experience, when somebody goes out of their way to look or act differently, then they are usually trying to be the centre of attention. The single length irons are unusual but they appear to work, there was even a method to the madness of the side-saddle putting technique that was swiftly banned, but the flat cap has no other benefit besides allowing Bryson to stand out from the crowd. Especially considering his social media posts generally feature him in a standard baseball-style hat if he’s wearing one at all.
And now weighing over 17 stone, averaging over 350 yards off the tee last week, and with his sixth PGA Tour win – his seventh overall – in the bag, he’s firmly in the spotlight. In fact, he’s dominating the spotlight, and it takes a stadium-sized floodlight just to fit him in.
Nobody is laughing now.
And maybe, just maybe, that was the point all along.