Bryson DeChambeau not about to dial it back for Winged Foot
Bryson DeChambeau to Winged Foot designer A.W. Tillinghast: “Give me your old-school, narrow, tree-lined, soul-crushing brute that is the West Course and I’ll raise you a 380-yard drive on your 557-yard par-5 ninth hole, leaving me a pitching wedge to the green and one putt for eagle.’’
DeChambeau to the USGA: “Give me your sadistic course setup with your gnarly, sneaker-swallowing rough and your bowling-alley-narrow fairways and I’ll raise you 3-under through 36 holes at the 120th U.S. Open whilst bombing drivers all over your yard. Dial-it-back be damned.’’
Golf’s quirky 27-year-old mad scientist is 36 holes away from winning his first career major championship — he’s one shot out of the lead held by Patrick Reed — and doing it the unconventional way in U.S. Opens: Fearlessly.
“Confidence is at an all-time high right now,’’ DeChambeau said. “I’m driving it well, iron play is fantastic, wedging is getting better each and every day and I’m putting it like I know I can. So very happy.’’
DeChambeau has been one of the prominent stories on the PGA Tour since it restarted its season in June after the pandemic pause because he reappeared as a hulking, long-driving “Popeye’’ cartoon character following several months of crazy workouts.
Along the way, his newfound length has left the game’s longest hitters, such as Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, shaking their heads in disbelief as he airmails his tee shots past theirs.
DeChambeau began the restart with a tie for third at Colonial, a tie for eighth at Hilton Head and a tie for sixth at Hartford. Then he validated all of his work with a win at the Rocket Mortgage in Michigan.
His newfound strength and length, too, has seduced him into trouble, like at the Memorial, where he stubbornly twice tried to pound 3-wood from terrible lies in the rough and trees and hit it out of bounds both times to miss the cut.
But those bad moments have been far fewer than the good ones.
Like this week at Winged Foot.
No one is supposed to be able to overpower a U.S. Open course. It’s just not the way this tournament is set up. This tournament, with the courses it uses and the way the USGA sets them up, is designed to torment, not tantalize.
DeChambeau was asked, “Is it’s possible to impose your will on a U.S. Open?’’
“That’s a question for the gods,’’ he said. “That’s a question for God. I don’t know if you can. … I mean, Tiger has been able to do something like that many times before, so I think there is something. But human scientific research does not say that there’s anything about that.’’
Asked if he’s trying to impose his will on Winged Foot, DeChambeau said, “Oh yeah.’’
DeChambeau not only is driving it longer than anyone in the field, he’s hitting more fairways than most as well. That’s a deadly combination, a winning formula.
He hit 50 percent of the fairways on Friday while the field average was 39 percent. He ranked first in the field in strokes gained off the tee Friday at 2.23, which means he had more than a two-stroke advantage on every other player in the field.
“I felt like a lot of things were working well for me,’’ DeChambeau said. “I was driving it well. My iron play was impeccable. And I finished really well.’’
Yes, the eagle on No. 9, which was his final hole of the day because he started on No. 10, was a significant exclamation point on a day when Winged Foot yielded only three sub-par rounds among the 143 played.
Driver, pitching wedge, one putt on a par-5: Golf’s version of the perfect date.
“That was a fun way to finish off at a U.S. Open … so far,’’ DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau was the last person on the practice grounds Thursday night, hitting wedges until dark. So, to characterize him as a muscle-head who’s merely interested in bombing the long ball is off base. The guy is a perfectionist to a fault.
DeChambeau revealed some “great advice’’ he received from Phil Mickelson that has helped him this week.
“He said when he almost won back in 2006 [the last U.S. Open at Winged Foot], he said he had the best short game week of his life,’’ he said. “So that’s just a testament to showing that you have to have a great wedge game out here.’’
The conditions Friday, windier and cooler than Thursday, were more difficult. DeChambeau said he welcomed that and he hopes for more challenges over the weekend.
“I want it to play as hard as possible,’’ he said. “I feel like there’s so many holes out here that I can take advantage of that some people can’t.’’
So, caution can stay in the wind — along with DeChambeau’s towering, long drives.
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