Author: Sam Gemini
MADISON – Winged Foot’s west course had her claws out and her teeth bared last weekend at the U.S. Open. The wild undulating greens and heavy dark rough gave the entire field fits. One man, however, was far less affected by the grueling layout at Winged foot: Bryson DeChambeau lapped the field with a finishing score of six-under-par, six strokes ahead of second-place and the only under-par finisher of the week.
Bryson has always been an unorthodox Tour player, with his unique hats and his calculating nature. The physics major has golf down to a science; he and his caddy compute the effects of wind and slope on every shot to determine both club choice and the size of the swing: DeChambeau knows the yardage of each of his clubs down to the exact yard, as well as the exact yardage with a 75% swing and a 60% swing. Bryson’s irons are also quirky in that all of them are the same length (that of a seven iron), no doubt to minimize variables in stance and swing speed.
In the past year, the California native has totally revamped his swing, his style of play, and his look, all with the goal of maximizing one thing: distance. Using a driver with just five-and-a-half degrees of loft, Bryson’s swing off the tee generates club and ball speeds never before seen in the game of golf; it is stunningly similar to that of MLB star Giancarlo Stanton, who was compared side-by-side with Bryson in the broadcast. This has allowed him to overpower golf courses, something that was apparent at Detroit Golf Club in his June win at the Travelers Championship.
But the U.S. Open is not your weekly Tour event: It is a grueling, grinding marathon; each shot requires full attention; there are no physical or mental breaks. And Winged Foot is no Detroit Golf Club; it presents a tough mental test from start to finish. Many golf courses begin with a welcome hole, a friendly handshake to begin the round; the opener at Winged Foot is better compared to plunging into a freezing-cold pool in first-period gym class: With one of the most extreme yet beautiful green complexes A. W. Tillinghast ever designed, the first played as one of the hardest holes all week.
There is no let-up in subsequent holes, the second and third playing as tough as the first on multiple days. Six through twelve offer the slightest relief, then hold on for dear life the rest of the way. The eighteenth makes a strong case for the most difficult hole on the property, with a putting surface that looks more like a ski slope than a golf hole. A very difficult, very distinctive finishing hole is the mark of a top tier championship track.
So DeChambeau can bomb his way around Detroit Golf Club, but surely the narrow fairways and lush rough of Winged Foot would defend itself against such an assault? He definitely can’t miss fairways and expect to hit the severe back-to-front sloping greens of these monstrous holes . . . can he? For these reasons, many DeChambeau critics, including myself, thought his game would not translate to the majors. He proved everyone wrong by putting on a clinic of sheer power, while also exhibiting world-class precision and control over his short game.
To win any major championship is an incredible accomplishment, but the U.S. Open feels different. No other tournament is set up with such relentless difficulty, and its tightness and penalizing nature are why I thought this event would be out of reach for Bryson. But he arrived at golf’s toughest test and passed with flying colors: At the championship that is said to try every aspect of a golfer’s game, DeChambeau earned, in my opinion, the highest validation in the world of golf. Congratulations, Bryson, you are a U.S. Open Champion.