Bryson DeChambeau, the Game’s Ultimate Tactician, Tested in Opening Round at Shinnecock

Part golfer, part mad scientist: Bryson DeChambeau does things his own way, even at the U.S. Open.
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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Bryson DeChambeau’s tee shot on the second hole at Shinnecock Hills—a comically difficult, uphill, 250-yard par 3 with a landing area roughly the size of a kitchen table—started well right of the green, headed straight for waist-high fescue. His Bridgestone gave a half-assed effort to draw into a stiff left-to-right breeze, but the wind eventually won that battle. The ball ended up in that gorse, a full 25 yards right of the putting surface, and Mother Nature stays undefeated.

Dechambeau’s hands went to his hips in disbelief. “How did that not draw?!” he asked his caddy in earnest confusion. The small gathering of fans next to the tee box all looked at each other, also confused but for a different reason; the answer to DeChambeau’s question appeared obvious, and it had everything to do with that 20-ish mile per hour wind.

It’s not that he didn’t consider the wind before choosing what shot to play. In fact, there’s not much Bryson DeChambeau doesn’t consider when it comes to golf, or physics, or really anything at all. It’s that his unmatched knowledge of ball flight laws suggested his right-to-left spin rate would trump the wind, resulting in a tight draw at the center of the green. So he aimed right of the green, despite that left-to-right wind, and despite watching playing partners Matt Kuchar and Matthew Fitzpatrick play slight fades that found the dance floor.

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This is the Bryson DeChambeau experience—a steadfast, perhaps headstrong insistence of sticking to his methods. What other players are doing seems to have absolutely no effect on his decision-making process. After all, his golfing decisions—from having all his irons the same length to his one-plane swing to his unique putting style—are firmly based in mathematics. What is there to question?

When it works, it works. At the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, it worked.  There, DeChambeau picked up his second PGA Tour win at Jack’s tournament and moved to a career-high No. 22 in the world rankings. Today was a different story entirely, mainly because this is the U.S. Open, a tournament that tests golfers—even committed tacticians like DeChambeau—in ways no other event can.

DeChambeau grinded out a six-over-par 76 to open our national championship, a round that was lower than the field average. Shinnecock Hills’ small greens, dense rough and all that wind have flummoxed the world’s best all day. Rory McIlroy was 10-over through 11 holes and finished with an 80. Jason Day and his perfect putting stroke needed 79 strokes to get around. Phil Mickelson shot seven-over and Jordan Spieth was eight-over.

The difficult conditions often frustrated DeChambeau, prompting some laugh-out-loud reactions.

The best of the bunch happened at the par-3 11th hole, which features one of the smallest greens on the course and was being smothered by a powerful left-to-right wind. All three players missed right of the green. It was virtually impossible not to. After his shot, DeChambeau said to no one in particular, “This is clown golf! What am I supposed to do, aim at the grand stand?!”

His reaction when something doesn’t go to plan is that of a mathematician who, after going through all the steps with painstaking care, does not get the answer he’s looking for. It’s pure disbelief. How could this possibly happen? He also struggles with rabbit ear tendencies—on the eighth tee, after he made a bogey on seven, a well-meaning fan but obnoxious with a heavy New York accent (know one of those?) told him to “keep his head up.” Under his breath but not quite under his breath, DeChambeau let him know exactly what he wanted him to do. Hint: it rhymes with shut the duck cup.

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To DeChambeau’s credit, while he’s extremely demonstrative, he doesn’t seem to carry disappointment with him very long. Tiger Woods used to talk about being as mad as he wants for 10 steps, but once he reaches 11, he forces himself to move on. DeChambeau subscribes to that principle. On that 2nd hole, after that ball just wouldn’t draw, he got up-and-down from the fescue for par. He played his last four holes in one-under—no small feat today—to get in at a respectable six-over. And after dismissing that fan with language that his extremely kind mother, who was following all day, wouldn’t approve of, he looked fans in the eye and said thank you after they praised his play toward the end of the round.

Everyone has an opinion on DeChambeau, whether it’s on his math, his unique swing or his goofy hat. One thing that’s inarguable, though, is his dedication to his craft. Follow him for just a few holes and it’s quite clear that he lives and dies with every shot.

With every calculation and every shot, that is.