Unlike many of golf’s top names and newsmakers, Bryson DeChambeau didn’t give a full press conference in advance of this week’s PGA Championship. For those of us curious at how the course will play — and how the game’s best will attack it — that was a bummer. But then Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis caught up with DeChambeau after his practice session on Wednesday. In just under two minutes, DeChambeau laid out a simple, aggressive game plan for TPC Harding Park and revealed plenty about how he sees the golf course.
1. It’s playing long
Recent Tour events have all been contested in some version of sweltering summer heat. This week? Not so much. You’ve seen the sweaters, the gloves, the players blowing on their hands. That means adjusting expectations.
“This week, it’s a bit different, cooler conditions,” DeChambeau said.
We know what that means, and other players have told us what it means, too: Jordan Spieth estimated his irons are flying 10-13 yards shorter while his driver is a full 20 yards short of full. Justin Thomas said he’d lost 5+ mph off his driver swing speed. Tiger Woods said players were “laughing” at their Trackman numbers.
But the cold weather will be equally cold for everyone, so if DeChambeau’s drivers are 20 yards shorter than usual, they’re still likely to be 20 yards longer than most of the field.
2. It’s built for the long ball
“I think this golf course suits a bomber, if you can hit it straight,” DeChambeau said. Duh, you might be thinking. But he’s got a point, one echoed by several of the game’s other big hitters. Dustin Johnson was asked what he’ll need to do the best this week and said, without missing a beat, that it’ll be driving.
Rory McIlroy agreed. “A lot of courses, they try to pinch it in at 320 and try to handcuff the longer hitters, whereas here the course just lets you play, which I like,” he said.
3. It’s straightforward
“I’d say it’s pretty straightforward, to be honest with you,” DeChambeau said. “There’s not really too much to it if you can keep it in the fairway this week.”
I think this is where some people can take DeChambeau’s words differently than he intends them. He’s not saying TPC Harding Park is a bad golf course, or easy, or a lackluster test. Instead, he’s describing it from a gameplan perspective. There aren’t many blind tee shots, forced layups or other complications. TPC Harding Park is what it appears to be. You’ll hear versions of the phrase “not tricked up” a bunch this week. Golfers seem to like that.
4. The rough is playable
This DeChambeau’s most interesting — and most disputed — take from the interview.
“As the rough stands right now I think the risk is definitely worth the reward,” he said, when asked about the tradeoff of maximizing distance off the tee. “If you hit it into the rough, I still think you can get it to the front edge of the green, and from the front edge with these greens you can kinda get it to any pin. Yeah, so for me as of right now I’m going to hit it up there as far as I can and hopefully wedge it close and making some putts this week.”
There are some conflicting reports when it comes to the rough. Johnson said he thought players would have to hit a lot of fairways to score well. Rory McIlroy, who had apparently seen DeChambeau’s interview, pointed out that he’d had “some pretty bad lies in the rough over the last few days.”
Tony Finau, who has garnered attention for his distance chase in recent weeks, laid out the luck of the draw when it comes to rough lies.
“I’ve had two lies yesterday on Hole 12 that were three feet apart,” he said. “One I could easily get a 7-iron on and the other one I was just trying to hack out 40, 50 yards. It’s almost luck of the draw when you hit it in the rough.”
Thursday, we’ll have a better idea of who’s right.
5. The greens are (relatively) flat
One of the reasons DeChambeau suggested that bomb-and-gouge is still an optimal strategy this week is because of the greens. From the front edge of greens, he pointed out that it’s relatively easy to get to any pin, and that’s because Harding Park’s greens are flatter than a typical major championship venue. Remember, it’s a muni! They have to keep players moving around this place.
Our own Luke Kerr-Dineen broke down the nuance of each green here, and you can see that there’s still some treachery once players start getting towards green edges. But in general, if you can play one up to the front middle of the green, good things will follow. DeChambeau is counting on it.
6. He thinks (believe it or not) that he can win
Lewis closed with a question about whether or not this is DeChambeau’s best chance to win a major. I’m not sure what DeChambeau’s options were for answering — he’s never won a major, and this is the only one that’s currently available for him to play this week — but his response underscored his approach this week.
“I’m just going to do my absolute best out there, I’m not going to hype myself up at all, I’m going to just treat this like another tournament, for me, even though it is a great event, a great venue, for me it’s going to be about doing my work, hitting fairways, hitting greens, adding the score up at the end of the week and hopefully it’s the lowest score.”
Simple as that!