MAMARONECK, NEW YORK | Is it possible, I asked Bryson DeChambeau, for a player to impose his will on a U.S. Open golf course, even one as increasingly unforgiving as Winged Foot’s West Course?
“That’s one for the gods,” DeChambeau said, a few minutes after finishing his second-round 68 with an eagle at the par-5 ninth hole set up by a 380-yard drive that offered a barrel-chested validation of his particular style of strongman golf.
Gods or not, Saturday and Sunday at Winged Foot will answer the question now that DeChambeau has played himself toward the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard after a Friday when a fresh breeze brought more than an autumn chill to this privileged hamlet north of New York City.
For anyone who worried that this U.S. Open was lacking bite, including the Winged Foot membership which was said to be bothered by the low first-round scoring, that notion vanished like free cookies.
“It’s a proper U.S. Open,” said Louis Oosthuizen shortly after finishing bogey-bogey-double bogey after getting to 3-under par for the championship.
Xander Schauffele, who is in contention again because he’s seemingly always in contention at big events, shook his head at the suggestion that Winged Foot was something less than dangerous.
“I felt like I played my ass off (Thursday) and I barely shot under par, and today really felt like a U.S. Open, I can tell you that,” Schauffele said.
By traditional thinking, DeChambeau should be swimming upstream at Winged Foot, insisting that he can overpower a course framed by ankle-deep rough and featuring putting surfaces that are as knobby as meringue on a pie. U.S. Open set-ups are designed to ask questions of the players, not the other way around.
But DeChambeau has never been content with the status quo any more than Elon Musk is willing to kick back and let someone else do the innovating.
Watching DeChambeau Friday, television analyst and major champion Paul Azinger marveled at how different the game is played now compared to in his prime, not that long ago. Rather than play to hit fairways, Azinger said DeChambeau and others “try to hit it as far as they can in case they hit the fairway.”
Even at the U.S. Open.
Here is how DeChambeau described his approach to playing Winged Foot:
“Even if I hit it in the rough, I still feel like I can make birdies out here. I still feel like I can run it up the middle of the green and make a 20-footer.
“Give myself opportunities to still make birdie, whereas most people are laying back, short of a bunker, hit it in the rough even. It’s not guaranteed if you lay up you’re in the fairway. Right? So there are going to be times that people hit it in the rough, and I think the person that’s going to win is going to hit the most fairways and going to make the most putts and also hit it on the greens.
“I still want to hit it straight.” – Bryson DeChambeau
“It’s a simple formula, obviously. But again, you have to execute it, right? That’s the whole point of a U.S. Open, is it’s supposed to be tough.”
Two days in, DeChambeau has hit exactly half of the fairways, which puts him in the top 25 percent of the field in terms of accuracy off the tee. That translates to 3.83 strokes gained off the tee, while averaging 322 yards, which surprisingly isn’t among the top 15 in the field.
While accepting the possibility of drawing a particularly nasty lie in the long, tangly fescue rough, DeChambeau is more concerned about where his misses go than the lies he may draw.
“I still want to hit it straight,” DeChambeau said.
He bogeyed the par-4 second on Friday because he left himself in bad position after hanging his tee shot to the right.
At the par-4 16th, DeChambeau hit another errant drive but because he had driven it 344 yards, he was left with a 156-yard wedge into the green and made birdie there.
Speaking of wedges, DeChambeau closed down the Winged Foot range Thursday night, solving the mystery of why his wedge play hadn’t been better.
Turns out the device he uses to measure every shot wasn’t calibrated properly and he was flying his 47-degree wedge 8 yards longer than the machine was telling him. Who isn’t confused when their wedge is flying 155 yards?
DeChambeau is the most intriguing player in golf because of his willingness to experiment, to change his body and to change his approach. The choices he has made have already been validated in his mind and a U.S. Open victory would be the ultimate reinforcement.
“Confidence is at an all-time high right now, driving it well, iron play is fantastic, wedging is getting better each and every day, and I’m putting it like I know I can,” DeChambeau said between sips of whatever was in his water bottle. “So, very happy.”
As for imposing his will on Winged Foot, well, the weekend remains.
“I don’t know if you can,” DeChambeau said. “Tiger (Woods) has been able to do something like that many times before, so I think there is something, but human scientific research does not say anything about that.”
DeChambeau will have to find out for himself.
Top: Bryson DeChambeau ponders his putt on the 17th green during the second round at Winged Foot. Photo: Jamie Squire, Getty Images
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