Why Is the Golf World So Scared of Bryson DeChambeau?

Tully Corcoran@@tullycorcoranSpecial to Bleacher ReportApril 11, 2019

B/R

If you want to understand why people don't like Bryson DeChambeau, all you have to do is watch him swing his club. His mechanics are deeply weird. He doesn't bend his left arm. His club travels on a single plane, and all his irons are the same length. It looks like his swing shouldn't even be legal, but it is. It looks like it shouldn't work, but for some strange reason, it does. According to DeChambeau, his swing is the most physiologically advantageous one he could have. Golf is a game of physics and mechanical dynamics; golfers build their games based on the information available—that which can be observed, repeated, tested—and DeChambeau couldn't care less what anyone thinks about how he swings his club. He cares about what the numbers say.

While a lot of golfers would be overwhelmed by massive volumes of information, DeChambeau wants to know every bit of data available before each shot—like barometric pressure in the atmosphere or the type of grass and its sap content. "It's not necessarily ADD," says his father, Jon DeChambeau. "It's just the way he sees things."

The sap and the barometric pressure serve a purpose: His goal is to remove feel from his game entirely, and that is why Bryson DeChambeau is golf's rebel.

Everything about the way he golfs is analytical. Nobody else on the PGA Tour plays like this, which is why DeChambeau is incredibly unpopular. Broadcasters and golf pros and caddies and other golfers have come up with all sorts of reasons why DeChambeau shouldn't be playing the way he does, despite his rise from 153rd in the world in 2017 to No. 6 today. Some of the most common complaints are that he plays too slowly and his methods will never win at the highest level. Golf pro Brendon Todd has described him as a "nut." 

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, has embraced DeChambeau's style. "I know that we think about the game completely differently," Woods told reporters last year at the Dell Technologies Championship. "I'm very much a feel-oriented guy, and he's very much a numbers guy, but for some reason we get along great and we work."

DeChambeau's mind, swing and irons make him that guy. As DeChambeau refines his game and climbs the golf rankings, he has the potential to change the way the game is played. There appears to be no limit to how good he could become, even with his odd swing. That's what scares the golf establishment.


As a child in Clovis, California, Bryson was highly athletic. He played basketball, volleyball and baseball and was good at all three. He was a bit idiosyncratic. His parents, Jon and Jan DeChambeau, noticed some particularities on and off the field. "The best way my wife and I explain it," Jon says, "is that when we told him to go clean his bedroom, Bryson would grab a mop, a broom brush, a vacuum cleaner, the Pledge for the doors, the 409 [cleaning solution], and three hours later he could come out and go, 'OK, that's done,' and it would be crazy spotless."

That made for a tidy room, but it made young Bryson exasperating to teach. One time, during a golf lesson, Jon squatted down on the green and told Bryson how the putt was going to break. Bryson asked why. "Because it does," Jon snapped back.

"But why?" Bryson asked.

Jon was annoyed. I'm going to have to make another one that looks just like him, Jon thought to himself, because I'm gonna kill him.

Bryson wasn't just naturally curious; he wasn't fond of surprises either—especially in the batter's box on a baseball diamond. Jon remembers that, when Bryson was about 12, he got fooled by the first curveball he'd ever seen. The ball went for a strike, and Bryson turned around. "What was that?" he asked his dad.

Around then, Jon took Bryson to meet his old acquaintance Mike Schy, a golf obsessive who had been developing a unique, science-focused approach to the game. Schy and Jon DeChambeau knew each other from the junior golf circuit in Northern California in the 1970s and had kept in touch after their careers ended. Immediately, young Bryson and Schy saw eye-to-eye philosophically—well, as much as a grown man and a 12-year-old boy can, anyway.

Schy was a disciple of Homer Kelley, who in 1969 published a somewhat radical book called The Golfing Machine, which described in exhausting detail the process of building a golf swing using science instead of the traditional cultural methods. The book earned some popularity in the underground California golf world but never really caught on in the main. "In the '70s, they didn't know what that was," Schy said. "It's so difficult to read."

Added Jon: "I wasn't capable of handling reading that thing. Most of us couldn't absorb it."

Schy needed a test subject for his methods. Bryson potentially fit the mold. In him, Schy knew he had found somebody as obsessive as he was, so he wooed him with fancy tools and gadgets and cameras, which he used to obtain information. He showed him his methods but offered no guarantee of their effectiveness. The style wasn't for everybody, he allowed. "Bryson and I have always had the agreement that it's his decision, his choice, his ownership," Schy said. "In the end, you have to buy in and realize it could be a mistake."

Before he started working with Schy, Bryson had a picture-perfect classic golf swing that had attracted the attention of a lot of coaches at major college programs. Learning Schy's unorthodox game meant potentially losing their favor. But Bryson did it anyway. In his senior year, he made the major changes to his swing. According to Jon, Baylor and Oklahoma State lost interest. "The coaches that came out and looked at him said, 'What's wrong with this kid?'" Jon said.

Bryson would still earn offers and, when the time came, took his odd game to college at SMU. There, no one seemed to mind the way he played—he was too good.

"He never got criticized," said his coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, "because he was always beating everybody. He was carrying our team and doing a great job with posting great scores and doing well in class and working out hard. He was a leader by example for sure."

To Enloe, DeChambeau was a great golfer then and is a great golfer now, not solely because of his playing style but also because he has a pathological competitiveness. He would be pretty good no matter what style of golf he was playing.

"I think it all comes back down to work ethic and determination," Enloe said. "His inner drive and determination is up there with Tiger, probably Jack Nicklaus, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan. Very tenacious. That desire to beat someone or just be the best. He's in a rare percent in terms of that mentality."

Woods seems to have picked up on that as well: "I definitely respect what he says because of the fact that he does a lot of research. I mean, he is very into what he's doing," he told Golf Digest.

The rap was that DeChambeau's style was a silly gimmick until he became a professional—and not just a professional but one who won a lot and is climbing the rankings. He is now No. 6 in the world, with six first-place finishes since 2017. DeChambeau quickly became a living, breathing trend piece, his game the subject of endless conversation among golfers and the reporters who cover the game.

What gets lost is what DeChambeau gets out of the way he plays. For him, The Golfing Machine is a way of thinking about and working on the game. It satisfies his interests and relaxes his mind. Jon said that if Bryson weren't a golfer, he would build things for a living, similar to how he's built his golf swing.

"Bryson discovered that—what we did through time—he could put his swing together," Schy said. "Component No. 1, what are you going to do? Component No. 2, what are you going to do? It made it easy for him because that's what he loves to do. It filled his mind, because it goes crazy places, trust me."

You can't trust feel. Feel is unreliable. Feel will make you go in circles.

"Feel is the enemy," Schy said. "You get to the first tee and there's water left and 1,000 people right. How do you feel now? That was why he bought into the whole process. When you look at everything he does on [the] course, it all makes sense. It gets him out of that moment of trying to guess or feel something."

For DeChambeau, the goal is to become The Golfing Machine. He gets closer and closer every day. DeChambeau has five wins on the PGA Tour. He tied for 15th in the 2016 U.S. Open and tied for 21st at the 2016 Masters. With this year's Masters approaching, DeChambeau is in the lab tinkering away. He has been so hard at work that, before the tournament, through his agent, he "pushed back all media requests" until after the tournament concludes Sunday.

There's too much information to gather. There's always one more data point, one more feeling to eliminate.

"Everybody calls Bryson the 'mad scientist,'" Schy said. DeChambeau is the first major golf star to emerge from Kelley's Golfing Machine school, which Schy introduced to DeChambeau when he was just 15. "As soon as they see my tent, they tell me I'm the mad scientist. Bryson was the only one who got off the table. He's the Frankenstein."

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