What We Learned from Bryson DeChambeau’s First Tournament of 2021
In a recent tweet, Bryson DeChambeau poked a little fun at himself, simultaneously celebrating the fact that he was famous enough to be a question on Jeopardy, ad lamenting the fact that nobody got the answer right.
The Californian should feel a little aggrieved that Alex Trebek had to provide the answer. DeChambeau’s game was arguably the story of professional golf in 2020. Sure, there were other big news stories – Dustin Johnson taming Augusta, the cancellation of events throughout spring. But from a perspective of looking at aspects of the game, nothing gained as much attention as DeChambeau’s physical transformation and tactical approach.
The story of Bryson DeChambeau is fairly well known by now. The 27-year-old, while always viewed as a good player with a bright future, bulked up for 2020, putting on a huge amount of muscle. The main consequence of that has been power, with DeChambeau open about the fact that he intended to sacrifice accuracy to get further off the tee. To an extent, it worked. DeChambeau bagged his first Major in 2020, the US Open, finished 4th in the PGA, as well as winning as the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
DeChambeau underwhelmed in Augusta
But DeChambeau only climbed to 5th in the world, a peak he had already hit in 2018 (he played fewer tournaments in 2020, as most golfers did). He also did not light up The Masters in the way that many expected: He was bookmakers’ favorite leading up to the event, but could only finish tied for 34th. After the Masters, DeChambeau informed golf’s media, which hasn’t been as hungry to hear from a player since Tiger Woods’ heyday, that he would take a break until the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii (7th-10th January).
DeChambeau has just finished that event, posting a score of 20 under in a tie for 7th place. While the event was noted for Harris English’s fine comeback win, DeChambeau’s game is still what the golf strategists were studying after the players had left Hawaii. The Californian, who seemed to have put on more weight (or, more aptly, muscle) was hitting the ball at a speed of around 135mph. According to the Golf Channel, that’s 20mph more than the average on the PGA Tour. An incredible statistic at the elite level of golf.
Driving power giving DeChambeau and advantage
But there were other statistics that demonstrated DeChambeau’s prowess, and his flaws. His driving led to him gaining almost seven shots against the field in Hawaii. Again, that’s a massively impressive stat when you consider the talent that played in the Tournament of Champions. On the downside, the rest of DeChambeau’s play cost him 1.259 shots versus the field (all stats from the Golf Channel).
It seems, then, that we can learn a few things from DeChambeau’s first outing of 2021. Firstly, he is not going to change his tactics; if anything, he seems to be putting more emphasis on power over accuracy. Secondly, something has to give on his play if he is really to take the mantle as the world’s best golfer, which is an ambition that DeChambeau is open about.
It’s conceivable that DeChambeau wins more Majors in 2021, and he might improve his world ranking. But conquering Augusta, as well as courses like Royal St George’s, which will host The Open 2021, will require more than big drives. DeChambeau has done well on courses that reward power, but he has also been punished on those that do not forgive mistakes. On the evidence of Hawaii, golf’s mad scientist is going to have to think about more than his tee shots if he wishes to reach the very top of the professional game and stay there.
That is an amazing stat – gaining 7 shots against the field on tee balls. Has anyone else ever come close to that, like maybe Tiger when he won by big margins in majors early in his career?
It’s good for golf in my opinion that he is doing this distance experiment – and not winning. Because it shows that it is necessary to have a total game to win week in and week out at the pro level and that courses can be set up at current distances to mitigate the awesome driving skill of the long hitters. Therefore leave the ball alone and move on.
Golf is so interesting.