Golf might be the hardest sport in which to predict future success for a young player. The four major team sports spend millions of scouting dollars maximizing the chances their draft choices turn into proven talents. Even tennis, an individual sport like golf, is different because the opponent clearly impacts a player’s success.
In golf there is no scouting, no draft and no opponent across the net. In golf the opponent is the golf course, and projecting a player’s success is anything but exact.
Against that preamble, one amateur will be on display this week at the Masters who has golf purists studying and looking for hints. For the first two days at Augusta, 22-year-old Bryson DeChambeau will be paired with 22-year-old Masters and US Open Champion, Jordan Spieth. For most in the galleries, he will just be a young player wearing a Ben Hogan-style cap.
The SMU senior may be around beyond just two rounds at the Masters. His playing credentials make him a professional prospect. His golf persona makes him a potential revolutionary.
In 2015 DeChambeau posted wins in both the NCAA Tournament and the US Amateur Championship. Only a select group that includes Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, has accomplished that double. He has since dabbled in professional events, finishing as high as second in the Australian Masters. His playing results pass the smell test for when he turns pro after his Masters appearance.
What makes DeChambeau intriguing though is his focus on the technical side of the game. He talks about the game as both artistic and technical. The physics major naturally was attracted to a vintage book on instruction, Homer Kelly’s The Golfing Machine. Years ago a Kelly disciple named Bobby Clampett splashed on the scene, managing one tournament win and a bunch of top-10 finishes in 15 years on the Tour. DeChambeau can only hope his technical approach can milk more success from the game than Clampett.
At sports press conferences, when a player doesn’t speak English well, an interpreter is called upon. At the US Amateur in Chicago, when DeChambeau discussed his swing, the small gathering of writers probably wanted a translation despite his perfect use of the language.
“So what happens is when you try and move it on an incline plane in a free environment without anything, just swirling on an incline plane, it’ll stay square to the plane of motion. It’ll be 90 degrees to the plane since it’s on a tilted — this is kind of difficult to explain, but since it’s on a tilted plane and you’re swinging it up in an arc.” Imagine that conversation over lunch with Bubba Watson.
Every machine requires great parts, and here again DeChambeau is charting his own path. The native Californian has hit on a theory about club design and what it might mean to the game’s future. Essentially all the irons in his bag are cut to the same length, not graduated as in normal sets. His technical side provides the rationale. “I think by making all the shafts the same length, putting the same posture in, same everything, they will be able to hit the golf ball a lot easier and a lot more efficiently, and they will like it a lot more. It could revolutionize the game of golf in the future,” he explains. “It’s a very unique, oddball way of playing golf. But it works for me, and I think down the road, for the future of the game, it could be beneficial.”
As you might expect, the golf ball is also part of the mad-scientist approach to the game. At the Amateur, he was somewhat guarded with the details, but admitted he floats his golf balls in an epsom salts solution to determine the true center of gravity and removes the balls that fall outside his specifications.
Most young players in their early 20s talk about getting on Tour, and if they are really brash, their hopes of winning a tournament or even a major. Bryson DeChambeau is not typical. His thoughts run beyond just winning. “I hope that I can honestly revolutionize the game of golf in a unique way; in a way that tells everybody, do it your own way, kind of like Arnold Palmer says, swing your own swing. That’s what I like, what I like to do and what I want to do for the game of golf. I think there’s many ways to do it, and the routes or the opportunities that golf presents itself are endless.”
And he has yet to turn professional.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.