Tour Confidential: Has Bryson DeChambeau cracked golf’s code?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Bryson DeChambeau, Fox’s coverage of golf, bad golf shots and more.
1. In just over a year, Bryson DeChambeau added 40 pounds and added distance across his bag because of it. Now that DeChambeau’s transformation has helped him add a trophy, at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday, it must be asked: Has Bryson cracked the code?
John Wood, PGA Tour caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): Bryson seems to have broken the code for Bryson. And I think he has transferred what has been done at the long driving competitions for a while now to highly competitive golf. I couldn’t be more impressed. I was watching today and thought how economical this type of game is to practice. You practice drivers, wedges, chips and putting. He won’t often have to hit mid-irons, ever. Maybe a couple a day to par-5s. But for the most part, playing the game like he is playing it, and how courses are allowing him to play it through setup, why would you spend the time on fairway woods and hybrids and long/mid-irons when they will be used so seldom.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): I like what John said. Bryson found Bryson’s template — bomb it a mile, hit easier clubs into greens and if you putt well you’ll win. The difference between his template and other players’ is that his template works better at 80 percent of courses on Tour. That’s the bottom line. It makes it hard to imagine him missing the cut at a cookie-cutter Tour course. Does it work in Scotland? It’s hard to say right now, but across parkland America, he’s going to be dominating if he putts well.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: John’s insights are valuable. If Bryson has broken the code, it’s only on certain types of courses. The most interesting golf of the past year was played at Royal Melbourne. What Bryson is doing would not be meaningful there, at the Old Course, at Cypress Point, at Olympic. But it’s good at a soft Colonial and a soft Detroit Golf Club. If Bryson and Matt Kuchar were going to play 10 matches in 10 days and you gave Mike Davis the assignment of picking the courses and Nick Price the assignment of setting them up, Matt would win seven or eight of the matches.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Exactly, guys. Bulk works for Bryson. It might not for everyone. Tiger sure seems to be better off when he’s leaner and meaner. This weekend was a reminder of how little defense so many fine designs have against the super power game. Bryson pulled his drive into the rough on 17 today, then flew an 8-iron more than 210 yards to pin high. Is that even golf? Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem fair. At Detroit in early July, Bryson is going to beat Matt about eight times out of 10.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): It makes me feel deeply inadequate, I’ll tell you that much. But yeah — in his past seven starts, Bryson hasn’t finished worse than T8, which is enough of a sample size to tell you this is working. He’s been the best player on the planet since the restart. Does he have to prove stuff like sustainability, durability, adaptability and major mettle? For sure. But right now he looks like a man amongst boys on these Tour setups.
2. Matthew Wolff started the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic with a three-shot lead, quickly lost it, then rallied late. Wolff has been on golf fans’ radars for some time, but what did you learn about his game/approach this week that you didn’t know before?
Wood: Not a lot. Knew he was really really good before, and still know he’s really really good.
Zak: Loved that he didn’t melt down today, and even when he wasn’t playing his best on the front nine, he absolutely striped it coming in and gave himself really great birdie chances. I think if this tournament went nine more holes, he catches Bryson because he’s just a little shorter than him.
Sens: I was impressed with his composure after that shaky start. He just needed a few more of those birdie putts to drop down the stretch (not to mention that eagle bid on 17 that hung on the edge), and we might have seen a playoff.
Dethier: He’s got some swagger to him. Bryson stole all the long-drive hype, but holy hell, Wolff can smash it and seemed to relish chasing after the big bomber in the group in front of him. He hit a few drivers 350+ down the stretch (including a 367-yard nuke on 13 that nearly rolled into DeChambeau’s group) that seemed to really get him excited.
Bamberger: I learned that the kick-start hip turn gets faster when he gets more excited.
3. DeChambeau got angry after a bunker shot during the third round of the Rocket Mortgage, then got angry that a cameraman would televise it. “I mean, I understand that it’s his job to video me, but at the same point, I think we need to start protecting our players out here compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image. I just don’t think that’s necessarily the right thing to do. Not that I was going to do anything bad. It’s just one of those things that I hope he respects my privacy.” Should broadcasts protect players from blowups?
Wood: I know Bryson likes to play percentages, so I would say 107 percent no. Want to be protected from blowups? Don’t have them. Blowups are interesting. They’re fun to watch when they’re not happening to you. I want to know someone is human in any sport and has the same frustrations all of us have at some point. If you’d like to see golf ratings go in the tank, then field 156 really boring, very silent golfers every week.
Zak: Bryson has often displayed a thorough misunderstanding of media, so this was sadly unsurprising. Players should not be protected from blow-ups at all. In fact, the opposite needs to happen. We need MORE blow-ups and high scores shown on broadcasts. It helps us realize these guys are human after all, despite their wanting to be robots between the ropes.
Sens: Sorry, Bryson, but such are the burdens of having one of the sweetest jobs on the planet. Consider it a teachable moment for him. Not for the cameraman, who did nothing wrong.
Dethier: To Sean’s point, this feels like a media literacy issue. The Tour has set it up to protect these players’ “brands” as best they can, and it’s clear that Bryson has taken that to heart. But I think what he misunderstands is that he doesn’t have to be “perfect.” Fans respond to authenticity, even if that means a temper or a bad word on camera. What fans don’t like is the idea that a player is over-controlling his image and showing us something less than the truth. That’s much harder to come back from than a fiery reaction.
Bamberger: No. The broadcasts should try to reveal the players as they actually are. People watch golf for a lot of reasons and one of them is to see the players reveal themselves.
4. The Rocket Mortgage represented the fourth of five fan-less events on the PGA Tour before spectators will rejoin the fray at the Memorial in two weeks. What will you remember most about this strange stretch on Tour?
Wood: The uncertainty. And honestly how well the Tour has handled all this. It was unchartered territory, but they’ve really done a great job. I think things are still very uncertain with the national numbers spiking again, so what I’ll remember is the day-to-day thinking of: “Are we still playing?”
Zak: How quiet it was/is. On Thursday, I walked around the course simply listening. I talked to people about what things they were hearing. I watched pros hit shots while Golf Channel streamed audibly from a neighbor’s backyard. The greatest players in the world playing this game to zero applause will forever remain an oddity. [I kinda hope it doesn’t go away just yet.]
Sens: Probably the strangest part for me was how quickly I forgot that there weren’t fans and how relatively normal it all seemed. I’m sure it would have been different if these had been higher wattage events where the contrast would have been more striking. A fanless U.S. Open or Ryder Cup. A patron-less Masters. THAT would stick in memory. I think that this period will fade pretty quickly in our minds, and, years from now, we’ll stumble across some footage of a spectatorless event and we’ll think, oh, yeah, that happened.
Dethier: Bryson. I think I’ll remember Bryson. This feels like a moment of change on Tour. We’ll see the extent of that change in the months to come, but right now, it feels like there’s one guy on Tour who is changing the game.
Bamberger: The nervousness I felt every time I went on GOLF.com that I might encounter more bad news. Nothing to do with the fanless tournament. I would like this experiment to be a success for any number of reasons. Playing without fans for now is the only safe way for the PGA Tour to proceed.
5. Fox is out of the golf game, as the network and the USGA ended their broadcast partnership less than halfway through a reported 12-year, $1.1-billion agreement, with NBC picking up the coverage of events, including the U.S. Open. What is Fox’s legacy as a golf broadcaster?
Wood: Gosh, NBC is pretty damn good.
Zak: Fox’s legacy will be a gradual learning and pushing of the envelope. As I wrote last year, in five years’ time, it became the best broadcast in golf. They worked hard to bring more context to the broadcast than any other competitor. That’s the bottom line. As John said, NBC is good, but Fox was better. That costs money, for sure, but the investment made for a better product.
Sens: No doubt Fox made great strides in those five years. But you also get only one chance to make a first impression. So for all the engaging additions to the broadcast, people will also remember the glitches and some prominently miscast personalities.
Dethier: The travesty at Chambers Bay was bad news both for that fantastic golf course and for the Fox broadcasts in following years, which were excellent. It was good for the industry at large to have a big player come in and take a look at how to cover a tournament from scratch. That sort of thinking forces innovation across broadcast networks, and I think that will be Fox’s U.S. Open legacy. I’ll miss those cinematic widescreen shots, though.
Bamberger: Fox put together a dream team, with Loomis producing, Azinger in the booth, Curtis on the ground, Joe Buck keeping it wry. There were missteps of course, but Fox had assembled some major broadcasting talent. The U.S. Amateur coverage, which is what I watched most, was outstanding.
6. Viral sensation Hosung Choi almost completely whiffed on a tee shot, with the ball going 1 inch. What’s the worst/most alarming shot you’ve witnessed by a professional golfer?
Wood: Well, I didn’t witness it, but it’s a story I was told by David Sutherland, and to me, it’s one of the best. David was paired with John Daly, and Daly drove his ball into a bush. He took a whack at it and missed, then tried again and hacked it back into the fairway. David was keeping his card, and after the hole, here was their exchange:
JD: “Hey I had a double there. I don’t know if you saw, but I whiffed one in the bush.”
David: “Thanks, John. I didn’t see it.”
JD: “Yep, second whiff of the day.”
David, perplexed: “Well, that’s news to me, John. Where was the first one?”
Bamberger: Hale Irwin, whiffed 2-inch putt, 1983 British Open, Royal Birkdale, while contending. Irwin finished one shot behind the winner, Tom Watson.
Zak: The first hole of my career caddieing for Dylan Dethier (still a pro golfer), he sent his tee shot drifting right of the fairway. A little first-tee nerves? Sure. The alarming part was when we found it in the crook of the tree trunk. Unplayable.
Sens: I didn’t see it in person. On TV. But the shot that stands out is Ian Baker Finch’s snap hook across two fairways on the first hole at the ’95 Open. The fact that Baker Finch was such an easy guy to root for, that his game was in a death spiral, that he was paired with Arnold Palmer, that it happened at the Old Course – all of that made it a hard memory to shake.
Dethier: I had a prime view of Steve Stricker hitting a marvelous cold shank into the road right of Merion’s 2nd hole at the 2013 U.S. Open. If memory serves, he followed that up with a second consecutive shank, which would have found the road, too, but a lucky bounce kept it in play. For a steady fella like Stricker, it was a real thrill to see the hosel come into play on such a big stage.