Let’s all take a breath here.
A long, deep, calming breath like Bryson DeChambeau does.
Eight seconds in, eight seconds out.
Are you woozy now?
Even breathing, DeChambeau’s numbers are bigger than almost everyone else’s because, well, he’s Bryson and his deep-breath count goes to eight.
The point of the deep breaths is to bring us down from the frenzy that has followed DeChambeau’s heavy-handed six-stroke victory in the U.S. Open.
Even before DeChambeau could drink his first glass of celebratory chocolate milk after winning the American national championship, it felt as if the game had been enveloped by a dark cloud of doom and despair.
Crank up the R.E.M. It’s the end of the world as we know it.
But it’s not the end.
It’s just different, as it was when featheries gave way to gutta perchas, persimmon gave way to titanium and Sansabelts gave way to those stretchy pants that fit too tightly now.
DeChambeau has not clubbed the game into submission but he may be hammering it toward a reaction. He is merely the latest and perhaps most extreme manifestation of where golf has been headed for a while now. He has gone searching for advantages and found them.
To be fair, there have been complaints about the ball going too far for more than a century now and, like the weather, no one has done anything about it other than look for a few more yards off the tee. Still, the game has endured and will continue to endure.
Is DeChambeau changing the game as dramatically as Tiger Woods did?
That doesn’t mean it’s not jarring to watch how DeChambeau dismantled Winged Foot, defanging the beast. He took conventional wisdom, tossed it aside like a banana peel, and he determined the narrative, not the other way around.
Here is what one e-mailer sent along and his message echoed many others:
“He can be commended on his single mindedness, and his reduction of the game to algorithms and raw power, but yes he achieved his goal! However, what did he actually contribute to this most magical game, and its illustrious history. Well one thing was coarse brutality.
“Is the loveable game that artists like Trevino and other Masters of awesome, breathtaking control, set in the annals of golf’s Mount Rushmore, to be jettisoned, in favour of blind brutal power?”
For all the angst in some corners, remember that DeChambeau was the only player who finished under par at Winged Foot.
The game, which has always rewarded power, is now being more often reduced to a long drive contest in which accuracy, like newspapers and neckties, matters less and less.
Still, the outcry is predictable. The game, which has always rewarded power, is now being more often reduced to a long drive contest in which accuracy, like newspapers and neckties, matters less and less. If Winged Foot West can’t stand up to what DeChambeau is doing, what hope does Augusta National and its modest second cut have?
If the wind doesn’t blow, DeChambeau can carry the fairway bunker at No. 1, he’ll have a short iron into the par-5 second, he can drive the third, and so on …
He could play Augusta National like Nicklaus did and like Woods did, relying on his power to put him in the most advantageous spots. If he does that and can turn those opportunities into birdies, they’ll find a green jacket for him like they have 11 times for Nicklaus and Woods, who didn’t win there just because they could putt.
It might also spur action.
It’s not like we haven’t seen this coming, maybe not in this beefed-up package but it’s not new. The past five U.S. Opens have been won by Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka (twice), Gary Woodland and DeChambeau.
Notice a trend there?
But before Woods’ Masters win last year, the previous four winners were Patrick Reed, Sergio García, Danny Willett and Jordan Spieth, who didn’t do it with power.
The past five Open Championship winners? Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari, Spieth, Henrik Stenson and Zach Johnson.
Don’t forget Collin Morikawa won the PGA Championship in August, breaking Koepka’s two-year hold on the Wanamaker Trophy.
Golf is not yet a one-size-fits-all game.
For all of his protein-packed body shaping and the power that has come with it, DeChambeau still feels more like an outlier than a pioneer. Even he’s said he doesn’t know how long he will try to pack on more pounds, but given the results – and as long as he remains healthy – he’s understandably pushing the limits.
DeChambeau trusts science, a concept lost on many these days.
It’s worth noting that DeChambeau ranked seventh in the U.S. Open field in driving distance, more than 8 yards on average behind leaders Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolff. He did, however, rank fifth in greens in regulation, though he hit just 46 of 72 greens.
He chipped and putted beautifully, cashing in on the critical currency of U.S. Opens – saving pars to keep rounds going. He did it largely by leaving himself in good spots, in part because he was able to play short irons and wedges from the thick rough, bouncing shots into the open fronts of Winged Foot’s greens.
And, yes, he has an equation for how hard he hits each putt with his distinctive method. Is he anchoring the putter against his left arm? Yes, but so are others and the rules-makers aren’t going to wade back into that mud puddle again.
For many, there still is a disconnect with DeChambeau. Part of it is personality, though he’s an enjoyable guy to be around. Maybe it’s more accurate to say it’s attitude, the same way many couldn’t warm up to Woods because of his self-centered style.
There’s also the sense that DeChambeau is taking the artistry out of the game. Rather than a paintbrush, he’s using a sledgehammer.
To traditionalists, DeChambeau can be seen as the guy who’s destroying what was great about the game. He’s not, but it can look that way.
What DeChambeau seems to be doing is forcing change. To borrow a line from Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, the future just happened.
DeChambeau has shown that his way works and others will follow a version of what he’s doing, or at least consider it.
He is also bringing the distance debate front and center again. If the USGA and the R&A want to put a halt to the continued increases as they’ve stated, this is the moment. There are whispers there could be proposed tweaks to drivers and balls down the road but that will take compromise and conviction.
And a few more deep breaths.