When we think about Bryson DeChambeau and his level of success in the professional golf world, it’s easy to view him as some sort of cyborg golf caricature. That view, of course, misses a crucial point: DeChambeau is a fantastic athlete. The fine-tuning of his golf game is dependent on an extremely high athletic baseline, one he has been developing from an early age.
“That was one of the things my dad always wanted to instill in me was that versatility in sports, just to have good feeling and understanding of how to utilize my body,” DeChambeau said on this week’s Drop Zone podcast (which you can listen to here). That versatility in turn made him a better golfer.
“When I got to the golf course, when I was swinging a golf club, I could adapt to the course more easily, or the golf swing I was trying to make that day, that point in time.”
DeChambeau remembered taking to volleyball in 5th grade. In 7th grade, he played golf in the fall, basketball in the winter, volleyball in the spring. In 8th grade, he swapped out hoops for soccer. He loved the variety.
When DeChambeau enrolled in Fresno, Calif.’s Clovis East High School, though, volleyball and golf were both in the spring. He had to ditch his second-favorite sport.
“That was super disappointing because I loved [volleyball] and it kept me really fit and agile and I felt like I could explode off the ground, use lots of ground reaction forces in my legs,” DeChambeau remembered.
That didn’t mean he had to ditch every other sport, though. In high school, DeChambeau would skip the cafeteria to squeeze in another hobby: ping-pong.
“I used to play ping-pong in high school all the time,” DeChambeau said. “At lunch, I’d just go into the art room, Mr. Guaglianone’s art room, and he was so nice to let us go in there and we’d play ping-pong on his art tables. We’d put a little net up there, we’d play on them, and we got really good! Marcus Hernandez was my best friend in high school and we’d just play for hours.”
This isn’t the first time DeChambeau has mentioned these lunchtime sessions — a couple years ago, he casually dropped that he and a couple friends would train against a ping-pong robot that would shoot out balls at different speeds and spin rates — but it’s interesting hearing DeChambeau, newly-minted major champion, talk about high school ping-pong with such nostalgia. Even better, he said he has “no doubt” that all this cross-training — the ping-pong, the volleyball, the basketball, the soccer — ultimately helped him become a better golfer.
By the time he got to his senior spring, DeChambeau had earned a full ride to SMU, where he would play golf under Josh Gregory, so he decided he could squeeze in one more season of high school sports.
“I played volleyball without Coach Gregory knowing,” he said. “I’d already committed, he’d already given me a full ride, I didn’t tell him about it, I went out and played volleyball the same season as golf.”
That’s right — DeChambeau spent his senior season playing two sports in the same season for his high school team. (And that’s not counting ping-pong!)
“This was the schedule, and again, this is me being over the top,” he said. “I would finish school at like 2:40 p.m. At 3 p.m. we’d start volleyball practice, I’d change and get ready, all the way to 5 o’clock. And we’d get done and I had my golf clothes with me and my golf clubs in the back of my car and I’d drive straight to the golf course and practice ’til dark.”
If DeChambeau has a particular fondness for nighttime range sessions, like the one he conducted Saturday night before his U.S. Open win, maybe it’s because they’re so familiar.
“It was spring, still starting to get light, so by the time it got to 5 o’clock at the beginning of the season it was almost dark already. I only had 30 minutes to practice. So I’d go straight out there, practice for 30-40 minutes, there’d be a little light on the Belmont Country Club range, and I’d just hit in the dark. I just kept practicing,” DeChambeau remembered.
“And the coach was okay with it because he knew that I’d be fine, that on Saturdays and Sundays I’d be practicing golf and he knew I was obviously committed to SMU, he had no problems with it. So I did it.”
DeChambeau admitted that his volleyball team wasn’t terribly good that year — not enough to keep up with the tall titans of Clovis West and Clovis High — but he loved playing. Even now, he’ll dial up some old hobbies from time to time.
“Even you look at what I do today. I still play ping-pong, I shoot some hoops, I’ve played volleyball at one of my buddy’s houses and so I still enjoy it today,” he said.