The biggest transformation in Bryson DeChambeau’s golf game has nothing to do with his driver
CROMWELL, Conn. — It’s an age old cliche, and an especially relevant one nowadays, as Bryson DeChambeau threatens to topple golf’s existing world order. Yet the simple phrase, uttered by every golfer at some point in time, endures.
Drive for show, putt for dough.
In the current context, it’s usually wielded as a speculative critique against what Bryson is doing with his own game. Sure, he can hit the ball far, they say, but it’s still about “golfing your ball,” as Jordan Spieth said on Tuesday ahead of the Travelers Championship.
Conveniently left out of this narrative is that the transformation DeChambeau’s game underwent closer to the hole has been arguably even greater than his physical one.
When DeChambeau first emerged on the national golf scene, his putting technique was surprisingly traditional posture given the uniqueness of the rest of his game. He set up in a pretty textbook posture, kept his arms close and connected to his torso, and focused on trying to keep the putter face square throughout his stroke. To help with this he used two lines on his ball — a horizontal one that ran perpendicular to his target line and a more vertical one — and an Edel “Brick” putter. The model didn’t feature any lines the putter and, unlike most putters that are balance either face-up or toe down, the Brick balanced toe-up.
By every objective measure, it worked. Bryson won the U.S. Amateur and NCAA Championships in 2015, and the following year finished as the low amateur (T-21) at the Masters and T-15 in the U.S. Open, his two best finishes in majors to date.
But as he embedded on the PGA Tour, the results started to wane. He made 10 starts as a professional in 2016 and lost an average of .302 strokes on the green per round. Had he had enough rounds to qualify, he would’ve ranked 157th on tour. The next season, he lost .193 on average per round, ranking him 145th. Something needed to change.
DeChambeau began to study and learn about biomechanics, and in particular became obsessed with end ranges of motion. A joint’s end range of motion, in simplest terms, is a joint that has moved so far in one direction that it simply can’t move any more. Hold your arm out in front of you, with your palm facing downward, and try rotating your wrist as much as you can in one direction. At some point you won’t be able to rotate it anymore, because you’ve reached your end range of motion.
DeChambeau wanted to use that to his advantage in his golf game. After all, if you put your arm into a position where it simply can’t move anymore, you’re effectively locking in place, which in theory makes it more repeatable.
“That’s been my biggest thing in life,” DeChambeau says. “Trying to reduce variables.”
That led to a brief dalliance with side-saddle, which didn’t stick, but just as startup companies credit early failures as the backbone for future success, DeChambeau had started cracking the code.
DeChambeau returned to his previous method at the Honda Classic, lost 3.2 strokes on the green in two rounds, missed the cut, and ditched it once and for all. He put an arm-lock putter into play, gained .555 shots and finished T-27 at the Valspar and runner-up the next week in Puerto Rico.
Along the way, DeChambeau partnered with SIK putters, and he began focusing intensely on the launch conditions of his putts. The perfect speed, DeChambeau says, is a putt that finishes “two feet past the hole.” Before every round he uses a Foresight launch monitor to dial in his technique and the speed of the tournament’s greens.
Equipment-wise, he uses an ultra-stiff LAGP graphite shaft, he’s raised the lie angle of his putter to near the 80-degree limit to promote a more straight-back, straight-through stroke. He keeps his arms pin straight and rotated to their end ranges of motions in opposite directions, and uses an arm-lock putter to remove any further variables.
“I guess you could say this sensitivity to error that’s in this higher level where I just feel like I’m less sensitive to error,” he says. “It just allows me to be more consistent over the course of time.”
The result has been a total transformation on the greens, from a struggling putter to one of the most consistent — and best — on Tour. Over the past three season, he’s ranked 32nd, 28th and 32nd in SG: Putting
“I struggled with my putting my whole life,” he says. “But my putting has progressed over time. It’s taken time to understand a lot of these variables that were unknown to me in college, unknown to me in junior and amateur golf. I just didn’t know some of the things that the best putters in the world do out here to make them the best putters in the world.”
Assured on the greens, and powerful off the tee, DeChambeau’s evolution happened in that order, and no matter how far his drivers fly, the bedrock of his success will be the flatstick.
Drive for show, putt for dough.