Rory McIlroy is one of the greatest drivers of the golf ball in the history of the game. So it means something when McIlroy admits that he was blown away by watching his playing partner mash tee shots on Sunday.
McIlroy was paired with the increasingly-hulkish Bryson DeChambeau during Sunday’s final round at Colonial. It was a perfect setup for a long-drive showdown: Entering the week, McIlroy and DeChambeau were the two longest players on Tour. But things didn’t go according to plan for McIlroy, who was out of sorts all day. He birdied two of his last three holes just to salvage a 74.
DeChambeau seemed to rise to the occasion. By now, you’ve heard about the 26-year-old’s massive weight-gain regimen (he’s added about 40 pounds and about 40 yards, too). But it was quite something to watch him shred the world No. 1 not only in driving distance but on the scorecard, too. Through 15 holes, DeChambeau was 11 strokes better than McIlroy. He finished just one shot outside a playoff.
It’s easy to imagine McIlroy downplaying DeChambeau’s gains. The numbers suggest the latter could displace the former as the game’s preeminent driver of the golf ball; what great athlete wants to coronate his successor? But the wow-factor of DeChambeau’s tee ball is undeniable. Talking with reporters on Wednesday, McIlroy spoke freely about what it was like to play alongside DeChambeau in person.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously at the start of the year he came out and he was a bit bigger. You could see he was getting a bit of speed and stuff, and he was hitting it a long way. But he hit a couple drives on Sunday that [McIlroy’s caddie] Harry and I just looked at each other, and we’re like, ‘Holy s—, that was unbelievable.’
“He hit one into the wind on 11. I hit a really good one and probably hit it like 315, 320. He must have flew my ball by 40 yards. He hit it like 370, 375 into the wind. It was crazy. It was nuts. It’s unbelievable.”
McIlroy was effusive in his praise for DeChambeau, who has continued to push boundaries throughout his golf career and pursue unconventional strategies in the search for an edge.
“Look, it’s impressive. He’s big. He’s sort of gone down a path, and he’s got a conviction, and he’s following it. That’s what he’s done. He’s always thought outside the box and thought a little differently to most people. He’s really put his mind at wanting to get longer, and he’s definitely done that.”
Curiously, McIlroy was still unwilling to give DeChambeau the nod as the longest player in the game.
“I’d still say Cameron Champ,” McIlroy said, referring to the 24-year-old phenom, who just passed McIlroy to move into second on Tour in driving distance at just over 320 yards a pop. (DeChambeau is just past 323.) “It seems with Cameron, it’s a lot more — it’s smoother speed. It’s not quite as much of an effort as Bryson’s putting into it. But he’s getting there.”
As for McIlroy himself? He has little interest in pursuing the same strategy, despite seeing its effectiveness up close. He said he feels better when he’s lighter, more supple. Faster.
“I remember weighing myself at Torrey on the Sunday morning before going out to the final round, and I was like 155,” he said with a smile. “I think that’s half of Bryson now.”