The John Daly and Bryson DeChambeau Show was a blast to watch (pun intended)
DeChambeau is muscular and cleanly shaven. Daly is built like Santa, and has a bleached blond beard that is the envy of every garden gnome. DeChambeau wears stylish, clingy Puma gear that shows off his chiseled figure. Daly wears purple pants adorned with flowers and skulls, and a baggy grey windbreaker from the Masters merchandise shop (yes, really).
DeChambeau once added 40 pounds of muscle on a diet of steaks and protein shakes. Daly once lost nearly 70 pounds in two-and-a-half months on a diet of popcorn and Jack Daniel’s. DeChambeau’s approach to golf is fueled by physics and speed training and the deeply technical teachings of Homer Kelley. Daly’s approach to golf is, well, grip it and rip it.
Daly smokes Marlboros. DeChambeau smokes Bridgestones.
All of which is to say, when DeChambeau and Daly set out together in the 7:52 a.m. grouping in the first round of the 150th Open Championship — with Cameron Tringale along for the ride — they were a study in contrasts.
Save for one obvious thing.
DeChambeau and Daly, who until Thursday had never played a competitive round together, are to golf-ball mashing what Bird and Curry are to three-point shooting. Superstars. Legends. Iconoclasts. Daly led the PGA Tour in driving distance 11 times, and, in 1997 — with a balata ball, Daly will be quick to remind you — became the first player to post a season-long average north of 300 yards. DeChambeau has been the longest driver on Tour the last two seasons with ball speeds (220 mph!) that even a few years ago were inconceivable. In 2019-20, DeChambeau broke the 17-year-old Tour driving distance record with an average poke of 322.1 yards.
So the opening round of this historic major gave golf fans quite a thrill: the Yoda and Skywalker of tee-ball obliteration, blasting their way around the Old Course together.
Before we proceed, let us be clear: Daly, who is now 56, is not the JD of Crooked Stick lore. Far from it. His swing is still long and flowy but he has lost some speed, and he lumbers around the course with a bum left knee. As he walked from the 13th green to the 14th tee Thursday, a marshal in a green golf cart joked to Daly, “Take the buggy.”
“Can I have it?” Daly quipped back.
At least we think he was joking.
A moment later, in the same walkway, Daly’s longtime girlfriend, Anna Cladakis, leaned over the ropes and handed her beau a cup of ice and a Diet Coke, of which he has been known to consume up to 12 in a round. Daly took only a few more strides before a young fan offered him a beer.
“I need a vodka,” Daly joked.
Daly also could have used something else on Thursday if he wanted to keep up with golf’s new long-drive king: about 50 more yards. “It was fun just to see the power he has,” Daly said after posting a more-than-respectable one-over 73, four shy of DeChambeau’s mark. “He’s hitting his 4-iron 280, 290 off the tee. On 15 [a 455-yard par-4], he hit 7-iron off the tee, which is amazing. It’s a blast to watch.”
The fans seemed to agree, urging on both players on every tee box. On the 465-yard par-4 13th, DeChambeau laid back with an iron. When Daly pulled driver, the crowd roared its approval.
“I want to get it past that left bunker,” Daly said later. “If he hits driver, he wants to drive the green.”
On another hole, DeChambeau did. Daly, too.
At the 351-yard par-4 12th, both players launched soaring drives that rewarded them with eagle putts, though, with the putting surface obscured from the tee box, neither was sure of it. DeChambeau arrived on the green first to find both of their balls within 40 feet of the hole. He looked back down the fairway toward Daly with a big grin and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Right here!” DeChambeau bellowed.
DeChambeau sounded genuinely happy for Daly, and not only on that occasion. When Daly nearly drove the green at 18, DeChambeau offered up a hearty, “Nice shot!”
DeChambeau and Daly aren’t close, but they clearly respect one another and undoubtedly appreciate each other’s go-for-broke style of play.
On the 15th tee, Daly appeared awed by how far DeChambeau had smashed his 7-iron. As Tringale prepared to hit, Daly pulled DeChambeau’s 7-iron out of his bag to compare it to his own. He put them side by side, shook his head and just laughed.
DeChambeau was equally roused by Daly’s game.
“It was something to see,” DeChambeau said of Daly’s five-birdie round. “He’s obviously wobbling a little bit around the golf course, but he’s getting through it. And, man, for him to shoot the score he shot today was pretty impressive. I was on 13 or 14, going, What is he, one over, still right there? And the crowds obviously love him. It’s great to feed off that.”
Indeed, everywhere Daly went, he heard some combination of adoration and playfulness from the usually decorous Scottish galleries. Along the 15th fairway, fans desperate to get Daly’s attention yelled things like:
“Love the trousers!”
“Hey, John, where we goin’ for drinks after?”
“Is he smoking a cigarette? What a legend!”
After the round, I asked DeChambeau if Daly — in his prime and with modern equipment — would have been longer than DeChambeau.
“That’s a question for him,” DeChambeau said. “But I think he could. He probably for sure had like around 85 to 88 ball speed back in his day. And that’s with equipment and the golf balls not being as firm. I’m sure he had the speeds that I have out there.”
I didn’t get a chance to ask Daly the same question, but Daly has previously spoken on the topic.
On the Full Send podcast last year, Daly said that, yes, peak Daly would outdrive DeChambeau — “by far.”
“Bryson, what he’s doing is phenomenal but most of the golf tournaments I played, I hardly ever hit driver,” Daly said. “I hit 1-irons. I’d fly that thing 300 [yards]. I’d cut it 280 into par-5s.”
On Thursday, let the record show, Daly hit plenty of drivers. DeChambeau, not so much.