AUGUSTA, Ga. – ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt worked the range for last-minute tidbits before going on air during the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in May when one of the top-ranked players in the world, a major winner to boot, asked him if he’d seen Bryson DeChambeau hit driver yet.
“I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Stick around it’s worth watching,’ ” Van Pelt said. “Guys with their name on the bag don’t watch other guys hit balls. It’s like that with that dude. It’s just insane. And I was mad because he was working through a wedge all day. I’m like, ‘Pull out the driver and let me see what it looks like, man. I never saw it up close.”
Van Pelt’s TV partner, Andy North, the former U.S. Open champion, did witness DeChambeau’s power game, which he used to bludgeon Winged Foot en route to winning the U.S. Open in September, and gushed, “Until you’re standing next to him and actually watch the violence that he’s creating and how the golf ball leaves the club head, you can’t believe it. It’s absolutely astounding.”
It was a little more than a year ago at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas that DeChambeau announced his intentions to transform his body in the gym in pursuit of gaining speed and thus distance. He added 20 pounds, mostly to his upper body, before the COVID-19 break and another 20 while he was isolating, spending 2-3 hours per day lifting in the gym and consuming 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, aided by drinking seven protein shakes. At the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first tournament when the PGA Tour resumed its season, DeChambeau hit 10 of the 50 longest drives with eight of them over 349 yards. He led the PGA Tour in driving last season, averaging 322 yards, and DeChambeau nearly broke the Internet when he posted to Instagram a drive during a training session that carried 403 yards.
“Every day I’m trying to get faster and stronger and I’m trying to hit it as far as possible. I will say that I have no idea where the end game is on this,” said DeChambeau, whose best finish in three previous appearances at the Masters has been a tie for 21st. “I will say that I am hitting it farther now than I was at Shriners, and I am hitting it farther than the U.S. Open, and I’m trying a driver this week that may help me hit it even a little bit farther, so we’ll see. I don’t know. Still up in the air.”
That driver features a 48-inch shaft, the maximum length allowed by the Rules of Golf. The ability to drive the ball farther could turn Augusta National into a pitch-and-putt course, with DeChambeau going so far as to say that he considers the famed Alister MacKenzie layout to be a par 67 for him, not a par 72 as the scorecard indicates, since he can reach all four of the par 5s in two shots.
No less than Jack Nicklaus predicted that DeChambeau could drive the 455-yard par 4 first hole to which CBS commentator and three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said, “When he does, I will leap out of my tower and run naked around Augusta National.”
To which CBS colleague Dottie Pepper replied, “Let’s not do that, but I’m with you.”
DeChambeau has been mapping out target lines never before dreamed up, including possibly aiming for where patrons would usually be standing between the 13th fairway and 14th hole, and could leave him a mere wedge into the 510-yard par 5 13thhole.
“When he gets on that tee, the entire world of golf is going to hold its collective breath,” said Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.
DeChambeau is still fiddling with his equipment, and experimented with a fourth iteration of driver shaft on Monday that he deemed “the most promising one yet.”
“Yesterday I had about four to five miles an hour in ball speed increase. I got my swing speed up to 143, 144 on the range yesterday, and the dispersion is the same and spin rate was even down. … I’m not 100 percent sure if I’ll put it in play yet just because of the unknown; it’s so close to the Masters, but it is an improvement if every facet of launch conditions, then I don’t see why not.”
DeChambeau’s change in physique is impressive, but golf has always had its share of long hitters. What makes DeChambeau unique is he has combined the best qualities of long-drive competitors with only minimal loss in accuracy.
“He’s kind of found, what I would call the Holy Grail of power,” said Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay III. “He’s actually been successful in achieving increased distance and ball speeds without sacrificing the other elements of the game.”
“I just am trying to get up there like I’m in a batter’s box swinging as hard as I can trying to hit a home run,” DeChambeau said.
Even DeChambeau, who has improved to No. 6 in the world, is surprised by how quickly he has been able to transform his game, saying he was expecting it to be a three-to-four year process before he experienced such success. What most impressed ESPN’s North is how DeChambeau has found yet another way to skin a cat.
“There’s a million ways to play this game and there’s no one perfect way to do it,” he said, “and I think that’s really refreshing.”