It’s among the most tantalizing questions in golf — always has been, even before Bryson DeChambeau went into hiding, tacked on the weight of a small canoe to his already sturdy frame and emerged swinging his driver like Paul Bunyan wielding his ax:
Who, at this moment, is the longest hitter in the game?
It’s Bryson, right? Gotta be. You can’t watch a golf telecast, or browse a golf site or walk out your front door in the morning without seeing or hearing some reference to the guy’s mind-boggling, seemingly mythical tee shots. Three-eighty! Four-hundred! Four–twenty-eight! (Yep, that last one actually happened, at the Travelers, back in June.) It all adds to up to a Tour-best driving average (through last week) of 324.4 yards. If DeChambeau keeps up that pace through season’s end, he’ll smash the Tour’s driving-distance record, set by Rory McIlroy in 2018, by nearly five yards.
Case closed, right?
Ah, if only it were that simple. That stunning display of power you witness on Tour week in and week out? You’re not seeing the whole show. The players have more in reserve, in some cases much more. Send the boys out to a range (Bryson, Rory, Brooks, DJ, Bubba, Kokrak, et al.) and ask them to get after it — like, really unleash their drivers — and a different picture likely would begin to take shape.
“I think if we were all to maybe tee up four or five golf balls on the range and just let loose, I have a hard time believing somebody is going to hit it further than I am,” Tony Finau said at Harding Park on Friday.
He wasn’t being boastful, only truthful. Earlier in the day Cameron Champ, a big basher in his own right, had said that Finau was “by far” the longest hitter on Tour. (“If he swung normal, he would fly me, and his swing only goes about half back,” Champ said.) Now, Finau had been asked to respond to Champ’s flattery.
“I’ve always kind of had that speed,” Finau went on. “When I was younger, I got up to about 212 ball speed with a standard driver, which is pretty fast.” (DeChambeau hit 203 mph in April, in a much buzzed-about video that streamed on his Twitch channel.) “I don’t know if I quite have that, but I got up to 206 there about a month ago, and that was only just trying for a day. I’ve got it in the tank.”
That’s the essence of what we’re getting at here, people: in-the-tank distance. Maybe we need a new stat. Call it DIR — Distance in Reserve.
“There’s so many guys that have got a lot in the tank, and if they unloaded, I have no idea,” Brooks Koepka (308.1 average) told me Friday evening. He was speaking via a Zoom call following his second-round 68 at the PGA Championship that has him tied for second, two back of leader Hoatong Li. “I’ve watched DJ unload it a couple times and he’s flown it 40 by me. Who knows, man? I don’t know.”
A few minutes later, Rory McIlroy (312.9) was on the line. He had just signed for a 69 at Harding Park to move him to one under, six off the pace. “I think it would be between Cameron and Tony,” McIlroy said when I asked him who would prevail if the Tour’s most monstrous mashers could swing with impunity. “They have very easy speed. Cameron has such easy speed. He doesn’t look like he even swings hard at it and the ball speed is up in the 190s. I think it’s between those two guys for sure. I think there’s a couple guys on the Korn Ferry that might compete with them I’ve heard, but from who I’ve seen and who I’ve played with, I think that the two guys that have the most potential to hit it the furthest are Tony and Cameron.”
That no one mentioned DeChambeau tells you one of two things: (1) DeChambeau’s peers believe that he is eking out every last ounce of his power when he steps onto a Tour tee box and twitches and fiddles before corkscrewing his body around his Bridgestone and sending it into orbit, or (2) for one reason or another the pros are reluctant to give DeChambeau credit for his, well, less glamorous brand of power.
“I was going to do a breakdown last night showing the grace with which Champ generates speed vs the violence in BDC’s move,” Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel analyst, told me via text Saturday morning. “Champ’s move is amazing. Bryson’s is compelling because it’s so different from his swing last year and because it doesn’t look like he’s ever going to hit a fairway with that move.”
As for the DIR leader, Chamblee also sided with Finau, pointing toward a video the 30-year-old dropped on social media a couple of weeks ago. “His ball speed of 206 mph that he posted hasn’t been reached by Champ or BDC anywhere that I’ve seen,” Chamblee said.
When Champ, who led the Tour in driving distance last season (317.9), was asked on Friday whether all the talk about DeChambeau has gotten under his skin, he responded with a quick no, followed by a brilliant bit of perspective.
“That’s something I first got over when I first came out here,” Champ said after a second-round 64 at the PGA Championship that has him three back of Li. “Everyone wants to talk about distance, yeah, it’s our new modern era. The long ball is what attracts everyone, which it should. Nowadays guys are hitting it longer and longer and longer. But it’s definitely not something that bothers me or anything like that. To me, yes, you can hit it far, but you’ve still got to put up a score.”
Two more good scores at Harding Park and Champ might have something far more valuable than long-drive bragging rights: his first major title.