Bryson DeChambeau’s resistance to conformity is at the core of who he is
If Bryson was normal, he would have had his hands full on Friday at Royal St. George’s, second round of the British, one day after “the driver sucks.” The usual American golfer abroad is playing for self, family, country — and sponsor. He’s aiming for leaderboard yellow, the itty-bitty jug if it’s in grasp, the 36-hole cut at a bare minimum. But Bryson — PTL! — doesn’t do normal, whatever that is.
Yes, on paper, after an opening-round 71, one over, BDC was playing on Friday to make the cut. It appeared he would need 70 or better to make it to the weekend. Except that Bryson doesn’t concern himself with such trifling matters. His mind doesn’t go to such places. It goes elsewhere.
Cobra likely pays DeChambeau far more in a year than the average American working person will make in a lifetime. You could say he made a fool of himself, and showed a stunning lack of gratitude and his own history as a driver of the golf ball, by criticizing the driver Cobra staffers spend hundreds of hours trying to get exactly right for him.
You know what he said after signing his card on Thursday because everybody who follows golf knows what he said. All together now:
“If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that’s great. But with the driver right now — the driver sucks. It’s not a good face for me and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits. I’m living on the razor’s edge, like I’ve told people for a long time.”
People means his Cobra peeps.
Mis-hits uses its hyphen like a shield here.
Sucks used to be considered a profane word. It’s unlikely DeChambeau would know or care.
He no doubt meant what he said — in the heat of his frustration, despite the cool wind of a summer afternoon on coastal England. He sounded like a child. At age 27, with a degree in physics from Southern Methodist University, you might expect something else. Thousands of players through the years, practiced in the art of it all, have conditioned us for it’s-all-good post-round commentary.
None of that has settled in DeChambeau’s beautiful mind. Yes, there’s a book and movie that uses that phrase, about John Nash, a Nobel-prize winning mathematician who did not play standard-length irons. Nash didn’t traffic in normal. That’s why he won a Nobel, and why Russell Crowe played him in a movie.
We know about DeChambeau’s single-length irons. His fat grips. His backswing. His downswing. His locked-arms, deeply vertical putting stroke. His body, always a work in progress. His nighttime range sessions. His steak-and-potato dinners. His oddness. No, I am not using that critically.
That word has been used forever for people who think for themselves. If that word is aimed at you more than you can stand, you might go into a corner and refuse to come out. Because you know nobody will understand you if you do come out. Steve Carlton, the great lefthanded pitcher, can tell you all about that, if you could get him to talk to you. DeChambeau, you may know, is deeply ambidextrous. He can shoot even most anywhere with left-handed clubs.
It has to be exhausting, working for DeChambeau. (Ask Tim Tucker, his former caddie.) Or working with DeChambeau. (Ask Ben Schomin, Cobra’s Tour rep.) Or being DeChambeau.
One year, at Riviera, after a long session on the range, in which he hit dozens of shots with a driver, I asked DeChambeau about tee height. Dustin Johnson was down the range, hitting one power fade after another with his ball about three stacked M&Ms over the turf. You might remember the phrase, but power fade is out. Bombs are in.
DeChambeau leaned his head back, closed his eyes and said, “Tee height.” He reached deep into his gray matter, to pull the card marked Tee Height, range of.
He then gave me a mechanical answer about when he tees it low, when he tees it high, when he goes in-between, depending on whether he wanted to hit a hook, a slice, a moon shot, a line drive. That he answered at all was an unlikely nod to social convention. He surely didn’t want to do it. As a starting point, what would be the chance that I would even understand what he was talking about? Zero.
On Thursday, DeChambeau hit four of 14 fairways, using driver nine times. On Friday, in more benign conditions, he hit 10 fairways and used driver six times. He shot a second-round 70 that left him right the good side of the cutline.
David Dusek of Golfweek got Ben Schomin of Cobra to respond to DeChambeau’s comments. It was so refreshing, to hear somebody in the golf business meet inane candor (Bryson’s) with insightful candor.
Schomin, per Dusek:
“Everybody is bending over backwards. We’ve got multiple guys in R&D who are CADing this and CADing that, trying to get this and that into the pipeline faster. [Bryson] knows it. It’s just really, really painful when he says something that stupid.” CAD is an acronym that DeChambeau knows well: computer-aided design. Acronym has Greek roots, as every schoolchild knows. Its suffix means name.
The British tabloids, having a good time with the meaningless Brooks-‘n’-Bryson contretemps before the first shot was hit in anger, ran with DeChambeau‘s post-round comments on Thursday and the Cobra man’s response. Golf’s best talkers couldn’t get enough of it.
“Yesterday, he got just reamed out,” Paul Azinger said during the NBC Sports telecast.
“I’ve never seen a golfer take it on the chin from a manufacturer like that,” said Jim “Bones” Mackay.
You could also say that Cobra could not have possibly drawn-up a better marketing campaign. Cobra could go all-in and take a page from Nike, from Wieden+Kennedy, from the ironic age in which we live, and which golf resists.
You open with Bryson, on camera, from the press conference: “This driver sucks.”
Then show Rory McIlroy, watching DeChambeau in awe at Colonial, when the PGA Tour returned to action there last year in May, and DeChambeau came back with a new body and a stunning driving game.
Cut to a highlight reel of DeChambeau driving it at last year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot and at Bay Hill this year. One zonk after another. The 370-yard smash on the 6th at Arnold’s place, trying to drive a dogleg par-5.
Then a shot of DeChambeau driving it in the hay at Royal St. George’s.
Bryson, in voice-over: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
In other news, Brooks Koepka shot a second-round 66, putting him at five under for the two rounds. “I drove it great,” Koepka said in a post-round interview with Golf Channel. “I love my driver.”
DeChambeau does, too, when it responds to his every command. When it doesn’t, out comes his inner-child. In it you will find his issues and his genius.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com