US Open 2020: How Bryson DeChambeau silenced the critics by powering his way to major victory
Much of golf's establishment scoffed at Bryson DeChambeau's approach to tackling Winged Foot, last year's US Open venue and one of the toughest in major history, only for him to silence the critics with a dominant victory
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 15/06/21 4:52pm
On Tuesday of last year's US Open week, the warning shots were fired by Bryson DeChambeau.
"I'm hitting it as far as I possibly can up there. Even if it's in the rough, I can still get it to the front edge or the middle of the greens with pitching wedges or 9-irons. That's the beauty of my length and that advantage."
Much of golf's establishment scoffed at DeChambeau's tactical approach to taking on Winged Foot, one of the toughest courses in major history. Yet, a few days later, DeChambeau's much-talked-about biceps were flexing as he hoisted the US Open trophy aloft.
The manner of his six-shot victory was a bitter pill to swallow for many, coming a little over six months after the R&A and the USGA had released the findings of their Distance Insight Project, in which they practically admitted that the ongoing increase in distance presented a credible threat to golf as we know it.
And the way DeChambeau set about negating the difficulties of Winged Foot was, arguably, not the way the game was intended to be played - and most certainly not on that track.
Wind the clock back 14 and a bit years, when a par at the 18th on US Open Sunday was a rare commodity among the main contenders. In Europe, it's remembered for Colin Montgomerie's final-hole blow-up, taking six having found the centre of the fairway with his drive.
In the United States, it's remembered for perhaps the most infamous of Phil Mickelson's six runner-up finishes in the only major to elude his collection. Like Monty, the left-hander arrived on the 72nd tee knowing a par would be good enough for victory. And, like Monty, he took six.
All the time, unflappable Aussie Geoff Ogilvy was observing the drama having pulled off a clutch up-and-down to save par at the last and close with a 72 - two over for the day and five over for the US Open.
Jim Furyk bogeyed the last to finish one back, Padraig Harrington was four over with three to play, and bogeyed all three. The scores, and the various mishaps from golf's elite players, was a fair indication of just how tough Winged Foot is when set up properly for a US Open.
And it was tough again last year, with only one of the 156 starters completing 72 holes under par. And that was DeChambeau, and he was six under, and it seemed he didn't need to hit a fairway to achieve that.
DeChambeau's physical transformation was the talk of golf heading into the US Open. Packed full of protein, he had packed on an astonishing amount of weight - around three stone and most of it in muscle.
Hard graft in the gym, coupled with the steadfast work on the range honing his swing to complement his new body had resulted in a new breed of power player. Bryson had put together a blueprint for success, and the main priority of his plan was plain and simple - hit the ball as far as possible.
Of course, he did not neglect his wedge game and his touch on and around the greens, having deduced that golf is much easier when you're hitting wedges for the vast majority of your second shots on most par-fours, and the occasional par-five.
DeChambeau's scientific approach to golf has been well documented since his amateur days, his thinking usually complex yet rational, and when he has an idea, he will see it through without hesitation.
The one-length irons have been in his bag for years, he factors in air density when discussing certain shots with his caddie, he calculates which "o'clock" he needs his club to be pointing to at the top of his backswing, and any missed green is often followed by a look of despair that he may have got his maths wrong rather than made a bad swing.
At Winged Foot, the science is traditionally simple; don't miss fairways or you'll be struggling to make par. DeChambeau made a mockery of that over the weekend.
The first two rounds were standard US Open fare. Decent scoring in the first round, with Justin Thomas leading after a 65 with DeChambeau off to a solid start on one under, one of 21 players to break the par of 70. On day two, only three shot in the 60s.
DeChambeau drilled his second to six feet at the ninth - his last - and converted for eagle to card a 68 and move within one of halfway leader Patrick Reed, and the champion-elect remained in second place after the third round as Wolff surged into the lead with a riveting 65.
With Reed out of the running after dropping eight shots in nine holes on Saturday afternoon, the final round soon developed into a two-way battle between DeChambeau and Wolff, playing in only his second major having finished tied for fourth on his debut at the PGA Championship.
DeChambeau assumed the lead when Wolff bogeyed three of the first eight holes, and both eagled the ninth to set up an intriguing final nine holes. But Wolff bogeyed 10, DeChambeau birdied 11 and was then content to grind out the pars with his playing-partner struggling to keep the mistakes at bay.
The last third of the round was a procession, and DeChambeau duly parred the last seven holes to close out an impressive win on six under par, with Wolff having the consolation of clinching outright second despite closing with a 75.
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Long before the post-tournament analysis started, various observers were already formulating plans to combat DeChambeau's bold new approach to major golf. But there was little doubt that he was a deserving champion, finding a recipe for success that his peers just could not match.
And DeChambeau himself felt that the manner of his victory would prompt others to follow the plans laid out in "Project Bryson".
"I hope I can inspire some people," he said. "My goal in playing golf and playing this game is to try and figure out this very complex, multivariable game, and multidimensional game as well. It's very, very difficult, but it's a fun journey for me.
"I hope that inspires people to say, 'hey, look, maybe there is a different way to do it'. Not everybody has to do it my way, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying in general that there are different ways to do things. If you can find your own way, find your passion, like when Arnie said 'swing your swing'.
"That's what I do. That's what Matthew Wolff does. That's what Tiger does. That's what Phil does. That's what everybody does, and we're all trying to play the best golf we can.
"I think I'm definitely changing the way people think about the game. Now, whether you can do it, that's a whole different situation. There are a lot of people that are going to be hitting it far.
"There's a lot of young guns that are unbelievable players, and I think the next generation that's coming up into golf hopefully will see this and go, hey, I can do that too."
The repercussions became all too evident when Rory McIlroy was interviewed after his second round at The Players Championship.
This is Rory McIlroy, the guy who has won four majors, who has spent over two years of his career as the world No 1, and who has long been regarded as one of the best - and longest - drivers of the ball in recent history. And yet here he was, after missing the cut at Sawgrass by 10 shots, explaining the main reason for his poor showing.
McIlroy admitted he had been battling swing issues that first emerged after "speed training" sessions last autumn. But why did he feel the need to add speed and distance?
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't anything to do with what Bryson did at the US Open," McIlroy told stunned reporters on Friday evening at Sawgrass. "I think a lot of people saw that and were like, 'whoa' - if this is the way they're going to set golf courses up in the future, it helps. It really helps'.
"The one thing that people don't appreciate is how good Bryson is out of the rough. Not only because of how upright he is but because his short irons are longer than standard, so he can get a little more speed through the rough than us other guys. And I thought being able to get some more speed is a good thing, maybe to the detriment of my swing."
So there you have it. The manner of DeChambeau's victory at Winged Foot prompted McIlroy to work on hitting the ball harder, and further. He wasn't the first, and he certainly won't be the last. Bryson DeChambeau winning the US Open will have a huge impact on the future of golf … it already has!