ATLANTA — His career was in its infancy, the professional game still new and humbling. Bryson DeChambeau came to it with a good bit of fanfare, having won at the top levels of amateur golf, but now he had been beaten up and chastened and had little idea what lay ahead.
And so he decided … to go to the Ryder Cup?
Yep, two years ago, DeChambeau paid his own way to Minneapolis to take in the Ryder Cup as a spectator. He did it to see what the event was like, thinking he might be on that stage one day. Why he felt that at the time is a bit of a mystery, as DeChambeau had just earned his PGA Tour card at the Web.Com Tour Finals after failing to earn it in his first few months as a pro.
But while at Hazeltine, DeChambeau was looking for no favors. He wanted to experience golf’s biennial pressure chamber from outside the ropes. U.S. captain Davis Love III happened to recognize him in the crowd and invited the upstart golfer to meet with the team. Otherwise, DeChambeau was taking it all in like thousands of others on the grounds.
“I did want to get that experience because I knew two years was a long time and you could do some good stuff in two years,” DeChambeau said. “Or you could do some bad. But I was fortunate enough to go the right way and make a positive impact on my game and on my life.”
Call it hubris, self-belief or simply a fact-finding mission that is clearly a part of DeChambeau’s makeup, he made the unlikely two-year transition to become part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team next week in France, an obvious at-large pick for captain Jim Furyk after winning the first two FedEx Cup playoff events.
Victories at the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship gave DeChambeau three wins this year along with his triumph in June at the Memorial. Add in his John Deere victory in 2017 and he has as many PGA Tour wins as Rickie Fowler — four — and heads in to this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake as the FedEx Cup points leader, in position to earn a $10 million bonus.
— Bryson DeChambeau (@b_dechambeau) September 13, 2018
“There was a lot that had to change in order for me to get here, and I was fortunate to have a great team around me,” said DeChambeau, who rattled off several people, including his coach, Mike Schy. “All of them have combined to help me be the player I am today. It’s been a lot of work, and I can tell you that it’s paying off.”
DeChambeau, 25, is not your average golfer or your average student. He is called the “Mad Scientist” for a reason. The time he has spent to hone an already-complicated task is of another realm.
What makes DeChambeau different from others at the highest level of the game is his “single-length” irons and wedges. Each club measures 37.5 inches and is built with a 7-iron shaft — unlike traditional sets of irons that get progressively shorter as you go from a 2-iron down to a wedge.
All of the head weights in his irons are 280 grams, and he uses oversized grips on each of his clubs.
And it is a method used by — nobody else at the top levels of golf.
This discussion can get as technical as you want, and DeChambeau went through all manner of testing to get it right. He is no doubt bringing a unique approach to playing golf.
Jordan Spieth, who has known DeChambeau since their college days at Texas and SMU, respectively, is somewhat amused but also impressed with the approach.
“I think he phrases stuff differently than he needs to at times, but the belief in what he’s doing is very important in this game, and when you’re that exact on what you’re trying to do … . When you feel the slightest bit off, you’re trying to fine-tune to the nth degree,” Spieth said.
“He’s got a way about his game that is fine-tuning extreme, extreme small kind of millimeter amount within different parts of his swing. There’s a lot of ways to go about the way you swing the club. He likes his way; he’s found a way to get it down to that level where you’re swinging really, really well.
“I wouldn’t look for anything to change soon with Bryson. I feel like he’s really figured out what he’s doing right now.”
Yet it hasn’t all been smooth. As recently as The Open, there was DeChambeau on the range at Carnoustie, visibly frustrated and upset about issues with his swing, a viral video for all to see as he eventually tied for 51st.
A week later at the Porsche European Open in Germany, DeChambeau had a share of the 54-hole lead, shot a final-round 78 to tie for 13th, then received a good bit of criticism for seemingly blowing off winner Richard McEvoy when play was completed.
And then at the PGA Championship, with a chance to earn one of the automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, DeChambeau missed the cut and finished ninth in the standings — all of which has seemingly been forgotten in the wake of his good play of late.
(And during all of this, the United States Golf Association ruled that the compass DeChambeau had been using to help him figure out exactly where pin positions were on greens was against the rules.)
“I built something really, really consistent in the beginning of the year, and I kind of lost it,” he said. “Kind of got lucky finding it. And now I’m starting to understand why I was so good in the beginning of the year. And that’s kind of a scary thought for me, at least, because it shows what I can do, and especially with the last couple of weeks. It’s a good combination.”
The single-length-iron concept is an idea DeChambeau began experimenting with at age 15 with the help of his coach, Schy, who advocated a single swing. Schy also encouraged DeChambeau to read a book written by Homer Kelley in 1969 called “The Golfing Machine,” in which the method is discussed at length.
It took a couple of years of experimentation, but DeChambeau came upon the idea of making all the clubs the same length, then backed it up by becoming one of the top amateurs in the game.
In 2015, he won the NCAA individual title while playing at SMU, then won the U.S. Amateur in the summer — becoming just the fifth player to accomplish the feat in the same year, along with Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore.
When the SMU athletic department suffered NCAA sanctions later that year that included prohibiting the golf program from participating in the NCAA tournament, DeChambeau decided to leave school but continue to compete as an amateur. And it might have been the best thing that could have happened to him.
In November 2015, DeChambeau tied for second at the Australian Masters after a closing 67. In January 2016, he took part in the European Tour’s Desert Swing, competing in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai. He made the cut in every event and was the first-round co-leader in Dubai.
It turned into an internship of sorts that saw DeChambeau twice grouped with Rory McIlroy leading up to the Masters, his final event as an amateur and where he tied for 21st.
DeChambeau turned pro the next week, tied for fourth in his first start at the RBC Heritage — then suffered through the growing pains of being a professional golfer. He missed five cuts in 10 starts and was relegated to the Web.com Tour Finals — where he won the DAP Championship to secure his playing privileges for the 2016-17 season.
The visit to the Ryder Cup ensued, and now here he is two years later, leading the FedEx Cup points race, a member of his first U.S. Ryder Cup team and practice-round buddies with Woods.
Although they might seem an odd pair — DeChambeau noted that when he has gotten too technical in his discussions with Woods, the 14-time champion has told him to “shut up and hit the ball” — there clearly is an appreciation.
“I feel a lot of the things that he says, but we articulate it completely differently,” Woods said. “But I understand what he’s saying.
“A simple thing where he sees the flight of the golf ball, or shots that he plays around the greens, or shots just in general, he may describe it in a technical way, but I feel the same things. Just we go about it differently.
“It’s a lot of fun to needle him and give him a hard time about it, but I definitely respect what he says because of the fact that he does a lot of research. He’s very into what he is doing.”
Woods is quite likely to experience all of what comes with DeChambeau next week at the Ryder Cup, where it is quite possible the two will be teammates in the fourball or foursomes competition in France.
Despite all his wizardry, even DeChambeau would have had a difficult time working out that scenario two years ago at Hazeltine.