MAMARONECK, N.Y. (AP) — The road to his U.S. Open title might have been tougher than anything Bryson DeChambeau faced at Winged Foot.
And there were plenty of bread crumbs along the way.
It was just under a year ago that DeChambeau tied for fourth in his final PGA Tour event of 2019, and upon leaving for a two-month break he said with a grin and a measure of mystery: “I’m going to come back next year and look like a different person. You’re going to see some pretty big changes in my body.”
If only it were that simple.
“How many people have changed their body, changed their golf swing and lost their career?” said Chris Como, who works with DeChambeau as a swing coach and speaks his language with his background in biomechanics.
Como had just watched DeChambeau dismantle Winged Foot with four rounds at par or better — never before done in five previous U.S. Opens — to finish with the lowest score ever at the fabled course (6-under 274) to win by six shots.
DeChambeau had been the talk of golf since it returned from a three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also moved the U.S. Open from June to the September, the week of his 27th birthday.
He was big. He strong. His tee shots were enormous. He was everything he said he was going to be. And now he’s a U.S. Open champion who made a radical change for moments like this.
Change doesn’t away guarantee success.
“It’s about being aware of that risk, trying to be really intelligent about making big changes and big progressions in a way you can hopefully mitigate risk as much as possible. But the risk is still there,” Como said. “He put a lot on the line.”
He built up his body, sure, adding some 40 pounds of muscle and mass. DeChambeau said he weighed 235 pounds, and he wants to add 10 more. He’s a steak-and-potato guy, along with protein shakes that he was drinking down the fairway in the final hour and in the middle of his news conference. He’s relentless.
And then it was time to apply his new body to a swing that would be stronger, enough to send a golf ball some 200 mph off the face of his driver. Even the practice swing is so powerful that DeChambeau occasionally will huff and puff, much like an Olympic weightlifter, before he steps to the ball.
It worked when he won at Detroit Golf Club in early July, and 16 of his tee shots went at least 350 yards. It worked reasonably well at the PGA Championship, the first major experiment, when his 66-66 weekend gave him a tie for fourth.
Winged Foot? Why not?
“I’m hitting it as far as I possibly can up there,” he said in the days leading up to the U.S. Open. “Even if it’s in the rough, I can still get it to the front edge or the middle of the greens with pitching wedges or 9-irons. That’s the beauty of my length and that advantage.”
Rory McIlroy didn’t see it working.
“It’s not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played,” McIlroy said. “It’s kind of hard to really wrap my head around it.”
Not many did.
And there were no assurances this plan would even work. That’s where the bread crumbs come into the picture.
Key to this grand experiment was DeChambeau doing the research, developing a plan and committing to it. And it helped to have a team around him who worked just as hard, believed just as much and kept detailed data. It was science.
“There’s doubt in the micro directions you go with stuff,” Como said. “It’s having a big-picture game plan, and there’s a little trial and error to it. You leave enough bread crumbs so you don’t get lost in the forest. And that’s where, in my opinion, one of the better uses of technology is to keep up what you’re doing, taking inventory of how the swing is changing over time.
“If it gets off, you know where you were before and you can fall back to the original baseline that you knew worked pretty well, and then make progress from the baseline maybe in a different direction.”
It never ends.
The finished product was the U.S. Open trophy, his first major, a big piece of validation that the “mad scientist” might be onto something.
Except that DeChambeau is not finished.
No sooner had he won the U.S. Open than he already had plans to try a 48-inch driver. Maybe that will help him launch drives in the 370-yard range. Maybe it won’t. He will try anything if he thinks it will make him better.
“We are constantly leaving bread crumbs,” Como said.
Even amid the skepticism, there was admiration among players that DeChambeau not only tried something new, but put in the time and effort to see if it worked.
His U.S. Open victory will be remembered for his strategy of swinging for the fences. He also had marvelous control of his irons and he made putts. That’s a winning recipe for anyone.
DeChambeau is all about finding an advantage and stopping at nothing to get there. His way is not for everyone. He said he hopes it inspires others not to be afraid to trying something different, even if it’s never been done before.
Como was asked to explain what DeChambeau has done in the simplest terms.
“He worked really, really hard. He did his research. He made a decision. And once he made a decision, he had conviction,” Como said. “That, to me, is the spirit of what he’s doing.”