‘The Mad Scientist of Golf’: DeChambeautiful or DeChamb*llocks?

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Image courtesy of Kevin C. Cox – golfdigest.com

Bryson DeChambeau. Anyone who has watched any golf coverage over the last year or so will be rather familiar with this name. A year ago, Bryson was strutting around the golf course with his flat cap and flat stomach looking like a Hollywood movie star. A year on, he now looks like he has eaten his former self. 

When he spoke about his weight (in November) he had put on over 45lbs (over 20kg) since February – that’s nine months! The result of all of this is that his stats are out of this world. But he’s not a brute; he’s not just someone who’s gained weight and smacks the ball a long way. He’s an incredibly hard worker and studies his game perhaps in more detail than anyone has ever done so before.

Golf has long since been a purist sport. It’s all about getting a ‘feel’ for your swing and being natural with it. Bryson is controversial because of the depth he goes to study the physics and geometry of his game. He was inspired by a rather controversial 1969 book called ‘The Golfing Machine’; this book depicts 144 ways to swing a golf club and gives detailed geometrical guidance for each one – all the way down to the specific angles of the backswing and the axis of swing rotation in relation to the spine orientation. 

With the weight that he has gained and a focus on swinging the club as hard as he can, Bryson is now the longest driver on the PGA Tour and is hitting an average of 337.8 yards. This is about 50 yards further than the average driver on the tour. His average ball speed is also at 192.8mph in comparison to a tour average of 169.84mph. These distances and speeds are phenomenal. His longest drive was 428 yards; to put that in perspective, that’s about 3 ¾ football pitches. He also has the fastest ball speed of 203mph.

But, as I said, it’s not all about brute strength. His average drive accuracy has gone up by a few percent and he has gone from 157th on the tour for putting efficiency to reach the top ten. He hasn’t just studied the biggest hitters in golfing history, he’s studied the straightest hitters and applied his scientific orientation to green-reading to improve his putting. Bryson doesn’t believe in trade-offs: it’s not hitting hard OR hitting straight, and it’s not being scientifically methodical OR using your intuition. He believes that developing a mechanism to hit it hard helps you to hit it straight and he believes that scientific knowledge can help to hone your intuition. 

Bryson also exercises his brain. He trains whilst watching thrilling or intense movies whilst hooked up to an EEG. His goal is to keep as mentally calm as possible during the stressful scenes. This is directly taken onto to course where he measures his brain activity throughout his round to ensure he remains calm and doesn’t let anything impact his game.

Dechambeau is controversial. But really he shouldn’t be. The argument goes, golf should be about natural beauty, not methodical mathematics – but this then overlooks the appreciation of hard work and commitment. Not everyone is born with a natural god-given gift to play from day one; some people grind it out and find their ability through determination – and this is no less impressive, commendable or beautiful. The other argument goes, ‘Where do we draw the line? If people follow his lead then the golfers who can hit the furthest will demolish the rest of the golfers on tour and could make Par 5s into Par 3s’. I personally don’t agree with this argument either; it’s like saying it’s not fair if someone can throw the javelin further because they bulk up and study technique.

Sport develops because of those who push the boundaries, and because of those who test the limits of the rules. When Dick Fosbury decided to jump back over the bar in high jump, he did something that no one else had done before; but nothing in the rules says that you can’t and now everyone does it. Bryson is another example of one of those unique individuals, he even signs his autograph backwards and with his weaker hand.

Bryson is DeChambeautiful in my eyes. Someone who is committing every second of every day to push the boundaries and be the best they can be – whilst progressing the game they play – deserves nothing less than credit and adoration. The only limits for Bryson are the laws of physics and the rules of the game – and, remember, he’s not breaking any rules; he’s just finding a different way of doing things that are working. Ultimately greatness is gruelling; it might not seem as beautiful as watching natural golfers like Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson, but there’s a sexiness in the science and beauty in the determination it takes to swim against the tide. It’s time we stopped moaning about upholding the purist beauty of golf and begin to accept that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes – sometimes it even puts on 45lbs in nine months.

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