AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | It is difficult to overshadow the Masters, but Bryson DeChambeau’s pre-tournament aura has threatened to do that.
As much as this Masters is about playing in November for the first time, it’s also about DeChambeau’s potential rewriting of the book on how to play Augusta National.
For all that is quiet around this Masters – and it’s difficult to overstate the silence here – the pre-tournament chatter about what DeChambeau could do to this week is at a full Metallica head-banging level.
“It’s a substantially easier golf course for him than it is for everyone else,” Justin Thomas said after playing a Monday practice round with DeChambeau.
That’s coming from the third-ranked player in the world who, despite weighing roughly two-thirds of what DeChambeau weighs, is among the game’s longer hitters. Thomas likes his game and likes his chances given that he’s considered the best iron player not named Tiger Woods.
Still, if it’s possible for a 27-year-old to be wistful, Thomas is.
“I sure would like to be hitting from his tee shots as opposed to mine, distance-wise,” said Thomas, who averages 301 yards off the tee.
That’s where things are at the moment: playing the what-if game with DeChambeau and his distance.
It’s like gossip, only there are numbers behind it.
In practice rounds here, DeChambeau has driven it over the third green (350 yards) with a 3-wood, hit a 6-iron second shot into the uphill 570-yard eighth and had a 130-yard second shot into the 510-yard par-5 13th hole.
It’s almost like Bigfoot sightings. The magnificent media center sits 400 yards from the tournament practice tee and DeChambeau has put more than a few balls just short of the building’s back porch as he continues to tinker with finding just the right driver.
DeChambeau may play a conventional length driver (that’s about the only thing conventional about his approach) or he may use a 47½-inch driver if he can conquer the spin rates and fit everything else to his liking.
Regardless, he’s like the elephants in the circus parades back in the day. He’s drawing all the eyes.
“What Bryson has done has been absolutely incredible, and we have all been amazed at what he’s been able to do in such a short span of time,” Tiger Woods, a famously tough guy to impress, said.
DeChambeau, who can come off as condescending at times when discussing his methods, did his best to sound like one of the guys Tuesday in his pre-tournament media session.
“I’m trying to look at it as I’m still an underdog to the field. Anybody can win this week. There’s a lot of unbelievable players out there,” DeChambeau said.
“So I will never look at myself as someone that is better than anyone out here until the scores are written in stone afterwards. It’s just not what I do, it’s not what I will ever do. The attention that I’ve gained has been awesome. I love it. I think it’s fun. But I’ve got to set myself back and go, ‘Look, again, anybody can win this week.’ ”
Based partly on speculation and partly on the numbers delivered by various measuring devices, what DeChambeau does over the four potentially rain-soaked days of this Masters could reset the pilings that uphold the game.
It’s conceivable this is where the proverbial line in the Trackman data is drawn, by a performance with the potential to force change regarding the increasing advantage of power in the modern game.
Like Democrats and Republicans debating politics, what DeChambeau is doing has expanded the divide between traditionalists and modernists. One camp wants to roll back the ball or tone down driver specs.
“I don’t share that concern,” Rory McIlroy said.
The other sees DeChambeau not as a threat but as the vanguard of a new era.
Phil Mickelson thinks 48-inch drivers will be standard a decade from now. It may sound unlikely at the moment but here we are on the cusp of a November Masters.
Someone suggested to Thomas that perhaps he should have played a practice round with someone else. “It just confirmed what I already knew,” Thomas said.
Here is DeChambeau detailing what his power off the tee means:
“No. 3, I can get to the green. No. 1, if I hit it in the fairway, I can have a 70-yard, 60-yard shot. I guess even in wet conditions, I’m able to get it up that close to the green.
“No. 2, I think I had 7-iron in the other day.
“And No. 5, I had 9-iron in, 8-iron. Yeah, it was in the wind, so it was 8-iron that day.
“No. 7, this is a wedge shot. Nothing crazy. It was into the wind every day I played it.
“No. 8, I’ve had 6-iron in, as little as 6-iron in.
“No. 9, it’s a 53- to 48-degree for me. Trying to think here really quickly.
“At 10, it’s a 9-iron at worst.
“(No.) 11, yesterday with Tiger and Freddie (Couples) and J.T., I had pitching wedge in. I asked Tiger, I said, ‘What did you hit in in ’97?’ And he goes, ‘Pitching wedge.’ I’m like, ‘That’s cool, all right.’
“(No.) 13, I had pitching wedge in. I cut the corner drastically. That’s one of those where you do cut it over and you can hit it high enough and draw enough, you can gain a pretty big advantage there.
“(No.) 14, nothing crazy. It was into the wind.
“(No.) 15, 8-iron.
“(No.) 17, into the wind. I hit 8-iron, as well.
“Then 18, I mean, I hit it over the bunker, you can have 110 yards into the green.”
Someone suggested to Thomas that perhaps he should have played a practice round with someone else.
“It just confirmed what I already knew,” Thomas said.
For all the focus on DeChambeau’s protein-enriched power, his success or lack thereof will be built on other elements: keeping his tee shots in play while chipping and putting as efficiently as he did in winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot by six strokes.
If he does that, DeChambeau may be right in his assessment that he can turn Augusta National into a par-67 course.
“You have plenty of unbelievable players that can beat you this week,” DeChambeau said. “(The hype) doesn’t mean that I’m going to win. I could be the favorite. I could be in dead last …
“How it plays out, I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’m going to give it my all. If I don’t play well, I miss the cut, I’m still going to be gracious and walk off and go, ‘You know what, I’ve still had a great year and I’m going to try and come back better next year.’ ”
Top: Bryson DeChambeau bashes away on the second tee during a practice round Tuesday at Augusta Nationial. Photo: Patrick Smith, Getty Images
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?