He reduced the golf course to a pitch-and-putt with power that got everyone’s attention.
That was John Daly at Crooked Stick in 1991 when he followed his caddie’s instructions — “Kill it!” — on his way to winning the PGA Championship.
It was Tiger Woods at Augusta National in 1997, when he hit pitching wedge into a par 5 and won the Masters by 12 shots.
Not to be forgotten is J.B. Holmes at the Phoenix Open in 2006. He hit 4-iron from 263 yards — back when a 263-yard shot over water to a par 5 was considered a risk — and finished with a tee shot that took bunkers, water, everything out of play.
Fascination with the long ball is nothing new, and the hype gets even stronger when it leads to the lowest score.
Bryson DeChambeau took that to another level last week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Along with getting the result that matters — the trophy — he had some of the gaudiest numbers golf has ever seen, at least since the PGA Tour developed the statistical tools to measure them.
DeChambeau finished with a 367-yard drive at Detroit Golf Club — his fourth-longest shot of the week — that set up a flip wedge to 3 feet for birdie and ultimately a three-shot victory.
Since the PGA Tour resumed its schedule a month ago, it was the 29th time he’s had a drive go 350 yards or longer.
Sixteen of those were in Detroit, where he was able to “unleash the Kraken” far more often than he could at Colonial or Harbour Town. He hit a 374-yard drive on the 13th hole Saturday, which is why in the final round he waited for the green to clear on the 399-yard hole and let Troy Merritt go first.
“I don’t do that very often,” DeChambeau said. “And hopefully, I can have that going on a lot more down the road. That would be a lot of fun.”
Is there no end to how far he can hit it?
DeChambeau is taking a week off before returning for the Memorial at Muirfield Village, where Jack Nicklaus is constantly tweaking his prized golf course in a losing battle against the modern game.
What DeChambeau is doing looks more futuristic.
It’s a different brand of technology, for sure, one involving muscle activation and ground force as much as polyurethane and titanium. Whatever the case, it appears to be working.
DeChambeau is 69-under par in the four tournaments he has played since golf was shut down for three months by the COVID-19 pandemic. That was ample time for DeChambeau to work out and eat. Considering his size, he did plenty of both.
The real measure of his plan is whether DeChambeau changes the way golf is played. Woods didn’t invent fitness, but his dedication to becoming more athlete than golfer inspired a generation.
Will anyone copy DeChambeau?
“I’m going to come back next year and look like a different person,” he said Oct. 6 in Las Vegas. “You’re going to see some pretty big changes in my body, which is going to be a good thing. Going to be hitting it a lot further.”
That’s what impresses his peers the most. He did what he said he was going to do. He looks like a different person. He’s hitting it farther than anyone in an era already ruled by power.
“I’m sure there will be people trying to do it,” DeChambeau said. “And when I say that I’m going to keep pushing the limits, I’m going to keep doing that. I’m going to see how far, how fast I can get and how straight I can hit it. As a result of what I’ve done, I think it’ll affect some people.”
He also believes players will stick with what works for them. As Dustin Johnson said when he won the previous week at the Travelers Championship, “It doesn’t matter how far you hit it. You’ve got to get it in the hole.”
DeChambeau led the field in Detroit in driving distance and putting. That’s a winning combination.
Based on his last four weeks — particularly his victory — he now is the betting favourite in the three majors this year. That, too, will be a greater measure than 350-yard drives or consuming 3,500 calories a day.
For now, he is getting his share of believers, though not yet followers.
Justin Thomas recalls being on the range next to DeChambeau at the Travelers Championship. It was one thing to see DeChambeau pounding 350-yard drives. It was another to see where they landed.
“You could put a blanket over about half of them,” Thomas said. “That’s what’s unbelievable. People don’t understand how hard it is to hit it that straight at that high speed. … Obviously, he had some foul balls at a place like last week where it looked like he could hit it anywhere, but for the most part, he’s driving it on a string really far.
“I went from being a little skeptical about it to maybe saying some things to realising he was beating me every week and I should probably shut up and just starting playing better for myself.”
Thomas had a one-year start on the PGA Tour and has twice as many victories as DeChambeau (12-6), along with a major championship and a World Golf Championship title. What he does seems to work, too.