It’s just after 8 pm on Saturday at Winged Foot Golf Club.
The golf course is bare. Darkness permeates this precious property.
Only four people remain on the premises at this time. Most notable is Bryson DeChambeau, who had just recorded a third-round even-par 70.
On the driving range with his team, DeChambeau crunched ball after ball. They soared into the darkness, out of sight.
Most golfers before the final round of a major get away from the course to ease the tension. Not DeChambeau. When there’s a problem that needs fixing, the 27-year-old is quick to address the concern.
Even if it requires a practice session in darkness on the range.
Winged Foot's only weakness: Bryson DeChambeau
The only player under par and he was 6-under. 😳 pic.twitter.com/9CwnFqjuuw
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 20, 2020
“My driver was not performing in the way I wanted it to,” DeChambeau said on Sunday. “Thursday, Friday, I felt super comfortable with the driver. Saturday wasn’t comfortable. So I knew I needed to go to the range, figure something out, so I could play for tomorrow and be super comfortable because, if I’m comfortable with the driver, I knew I could play golf and shoot under par on this golf course.”
While feel and instinct are often ingredients to successfully navigating around a golf course, DeChambeau embraces a different approach. One that relies heavily on science, physics, and numbers.
He realized on the range that his left arm was rolling over, causing him to hook the ball. The face of the club needed to be closed, leading to more accurate shots off the tee.
“Once I straightened that out, got the face back a little more square, I felt like I could hold it off the whole way, and gave me so much comfort for the rest of the round,” DeChambeau said.
If Johnny Miller’s U.S. Open victory was classified as “The Miracle at Oakmont” then DeChambeau’s inaugural major championship was “The Surgery at Winged Foot.” DeChambeau’s final-round 67, the only under-par score on Sunday, displayed brilliance on a punitive test. An operation made for a professor of DeChambeau’s intellect.
The Preoperative Phase
In 2019, at the end of his PGA Tour season, DeChambeau made a commitment. He promised he’d come back a different physical player on the golf course, heightening his efforts in the gym to add weight and muscle.
When the golf world stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it provided DeChambeau an opportunity. To not only put in more work in the gym but also refine his diet to build muscle.
Enter steak and potatoes for almost every meal, along with six protein shakes a day.
All of this, according to DeChambeau, is to make him physically stronger to attack any golf course with force.
DeChambeau propelled to the top of leaderboards when the PGA Tour restarted, including three consecutive top-10’s, and a victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. His T-4th finish at the 2020 PGA Championship gave DeChambeau the belief that he could compete and win major championships with his unconventional approach.
“I felt like it was an opportunity to do something great — change my lifestyle, make it healthier, make it better — and I hope it inspires everybody else to do the same,” said DeChambeau on how he used the pause. “When you have time, when you have that little free moment, don’t squander it. Look at it as an opportunity to make yourself better.”
The Intraoperative Phase
Entering the final round of the U.S. Open, DeChambeau sat two off the lead. Paired with 54-hole leader Matthew Wolff, DeChambeau liked his chances after his practice session Saturday night.
Winged Foot was at its most difficult on Sunday. With the greens firming up and winds swirling, only one golfer recorded an under-par round.
DeChambeau continued to adapt the strategy he employed from the start of the tournament; swing the driver as fast as possible. It didn’t matter where it ended up, as long as it was long.
A truly dominant Sunday at Winged Foot.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) September 20, 2020
DeChambeau hit just 23 of 56 fairways the entire tournament, the fewest for any U.S. Open winner. But his strength and iron play from the rough proved to be sensational. DeChambeau ranked second in strokes gained: approach and third in strokes gained: around the green.
DeChambeau made up 7.9 strokes on the field in the final round, bolstered by his putting performance. When DeChambeau arrived on the PGA Tour, he ranked dead last in putting. Working with his team, calculating slopes of greens, and using an anchored putter helped DeChambeau increase his putting statistics.
No bigger putts for DeChambeau on Sunday than his eagle on the par-5 9th and the birdie on the par-4 11th, extending his lead over Wolff. He credits a conversation with Phil Mickelson earlier this week that aided his short game throughout the tournament.
“He said, in 2006, I had the best short game week of my life, and that really stuck out to me for some reason because I just knew that, if I did hit it in the rough, I’m going to have to get it up and down quite a bit,” DeChambeau said. “So I made sure that I needed to practice those shots coming into the week, and I did that beautifully, and I felt super comfortable out of the rough no matter the situation.”
The Postoperative Phase
DeChambeau’s final round is one that will stand out for its dominance and completeness. The win is transformative, demonstrating how an unconventional method based on science is enabling DeChambeau’s success. He joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only golfers to have U.S. Amateur, NCAA Championship, and U.S. Open victories on their shared resumes.
Players to win the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and NCAA Div. I individual championship:
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) September 20, 2020
Many were skeptical, including four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, about whether DeChambeau’s strategy could work at major championships.
“I played with him at Colonial the first week back out, but I sort of said, okay, wait until he gets to a proper golf course, he’ll have to rein it back in,” McIlroy said. “This is as proper as they come, and look what’s happened. He’s got full belief in what he’s doing, and it’s pretty impressive.”
Xander Schauffele, who shot a four-over 74 in his final round, doesn’t feel DeChambeau is revolutionizing the game. He believes that the seven-time PGA Tour winner is taking advantage of greater distance, like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus did before him.
“The only way to make a golf course really hard is to firm up the greens and grow the rough,” Schauffele said. “It’s going to make it hard for everyone, and you’d rather be the guy in the rough with a lob wedge than with an 8 iron or 7 iron.”
This debate about distance and accuracy will continue until the USGA steps in and implements regulation on the equipment. No one can take away DeChambeau’s accomplishment at Winged Foot.
Sunday’s victory silenced the naysayers who believed DeChambeau’s approach wasn’t built for majors. While the validation is “surreal,” DeChambeau desires to keep pushing the barriers of what’s possible in this complex sport.
By winning the U.S. Open, DeChambeau hopes this inspires younger people to think about golf in a different way. Don’t be afraid of failure and if there is a facet that needs fixing, practice to make it correct, as DeChambeau did on the eve of his first major championship win.
“I’m not going to stop. Next week I’m going to be trying a 48-inch driver. We’re going to be messing with some head designs and do some amazing things with Cobra to make it feasible to hit these drives maybe 360, 370, maybe even farther. I don’t know,”
“I hope I can inspire some people. My goal in playing golf and playing this game is to try and figure it out. I’m just trying to figure out this very complex, multivariable game, and multidimensional game as well. It’s very, very difficult. It’s a fun journey for me. I hope that inspires people to say, hey, look, maybe there is a different way to do it. Not everybody has to do it my way. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying in general that there are different ways to do things.”