Bryson DeChambeau dazzled at the World Long Drive Championships, but can he actually contend?
MESQUITE, Nev. — When did it become real for Bryson DeChambeau at the World Long Drive Championships?
Was it 10:15 a.m. local time, when he arrived on-site at the non-descript athletic complex in the tiny Nevadan city of Mesquite with two golf bags, two drivers and four putters? Or was it 11:30, around the time he stopped his warmup to share some potentially significant news?
“One-ninety,” he said to no one in particular. “One-ninety ball speed.“
Why was 190 mph ball speed potentially significant, given the 200+ mph stars of long drive? Well, because DeChambeau was holding a 3-wood.
Perhaps it set in for Bryson at 12:05 p.m., when he emerged to an eruption of noise from a standing-room-only crowd of a few hundred. Or maybe it was minutes later, when he piped his first 400-yard drive of the afternoon, sending fists flying toward the sky and a primal scream from his lips. Or on any of the other half-dozen 400-yard drives Bryson tallied Tuesday afternoon, topping out at 412 yards.
“It was amazing — hitting it over 400 a couple times,” he said. “I felt like I just won something — like I won a big PGA tournament — even though I only qualified for the next day, because that was my first time. I’d never hit on that grid, that was my first time going out there and hitting.”
Truthfully, maybe reality never set in at all. It was all a bit surreal. DeChambeau, the U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup cog, competing in a professional golf event wearing shorts, using neon-colored golf balls and oversized plastic tees, as music blasted. His competitors — if you could call them that — looked like they belonged on an NFL roster, and shared more hugs, high-fives and knuckle-taps in an hour than DeChambeau saw in his very-fraternal week in Sheboygan.
Nothing about Bryson’s Tuesday at the Professional Long Driver’s Association World Long Drive Championships could have been expected, right down to the moment he solidified himself as one of the tournament’s legitimate contenders.
“I couldn’t believe what I did today,” he said. “The first set was a little nerve-wracking for me. It was uncomfortable, but then the second, third, fourth, fifth — I just got more comfortable as time went on.”
Nobody could believe what Bryson did. Not Bryson, not his big-swinging buddies Kyle Berkshire and Martin Borgmeier, not even his launch monitor, which registered a 214 mph ball speed during his warmup.
“I thought you’d be good,” Borgmeier said to DeChambeau seconds after advancing to Wednesday’s round of 64. “I didn’t know you’d be that good.”
Of course, Borgmeier and Berkshire are capable of swinging well into “the 220s” — in the parlance of the long-drivers — meaning so long as they’re capable of landing their tee shots “on the grid” (in the field of play), they’re likely to cruise past DeChambeau. But there were 80 players in the field when the tournament began on Tuesday, and the number of players who touch 220 mph ball speed is in the single digits. Now there are 64 players left, and DeChambeau is one of them.
At 214 mph ball speed with Bryson’s level of consistency, it’s not difficult to envision him finishing in the top 10 this week, according to conversations with a number of pros.
“I’m calling it right now,” said Bobby Bradley, the closest thing long drive world has to a wily veteran. “If I’m a betting man, he’s gonna make the final 8.”
Bradley has been on the Long Drive circuit for 15 years as a competitor, and while he freely admits his finest days are behind him, he knows a blueblood when he sees one.
“Bryson’s putting up 210-212 ball speed with no spin, he’s flighting it well and he hits it straight,” Bradley said. “When you hit the ball straight, and you’re not taking 30 yards left-to-right or right-to-left, you’re going to put up big numbers. That’s one of the reasons he had some of the longest balls of that set against some really, really good hitters who’ve made top-4s at Worlds.”
DeChambeau owned some of the longest drives of Tuesday in Mesquite. This despite a helping, left-to-right wind he said he “hated” because it worked against his ball flight. On Wednesday, the wind direction is expected to shift, which could prove a significant advantage for those who flight the ball, rather than skying it. One of the people in the field best-equipped to do that? You guessed it: Bryson.
But even if he is capable of making it through the second day of competition and into the final 32, there’s not much optimism he can actually win the thing.
He let out a low-pitched chuckle when asked about his chances of emerging from the week the world’s longest driver.
“I’m looking at it from the standpoint that I’m kind of an underdog,” he said. “If I come out and win that’d be amazing. But for me this is just highlighting these players out here. They’re so much faster, and they’ve got so much talent. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Bryson at the long drive. Goodness it’s strange, but after Tuesday afternoon, there’s no doubting it’s real.