AUGUSTA - The murmuring and the myth-making around Bryson DeChambeau and his plans to do unspeakable things to Augusta National have well and truly begun here.
Hey, did you know that Bryson DeChambeau just drove the 350-yard par-4 third hole with his 3-wood?
Pssst, someone on Monday swears he saw DeChambeau almost reach the media center from the practice area, a poke of surely 400 yards, or more. So, as I’m writing this, am I in danger here? Do I need a hard hat as well as a mask?
By the time the Masters gets here Thursday, they’ll be talking about the water tower out near Washington Road dented and dimpled by the man’s fabled drives and the west-bound trucker on I-20 surprised by the Bridgestone ball, the one with DeChambeau’s mark on it, that landed in his lap.
The whole Hulk-smash look that DeChambeau is going for these days is playing very well during this Masters build-up. He is easily the most intriguing figure here, and that includes the defending champion, Tiger Something-Or-Other.
DeChambeau has declared it, during some previous interview before getting here: “My goal is to inspire a new generation of golfers to think differently and just go out there and bomb it. Augusta would be the right stage for that.”
Now he must back it up and prove that the 5,000-calorie-a-day diet and the packing on of 45 pounds of bulk and the daring commitment to turning every swing a golf club into a lumberjack contest is capable of changing his sport the redrawing the dimensions of a Masters in a drastic way not seen since Tiger Woods in 1997.
It worked at Winged Foot two months ago, as DeChambeau punished and mocked a supposedly gnarly USGA set-up and won the U.S. Open by four shots.
It just might work here, because Augusta National is known to reward the bombers and the bold.
Said Justin Thomas, who played a practice round with DeChambeau Monday, “It’s a substantially easier golf course for him than it is for everybody else. ... Pretty much every hole he’s going to have a pretty distinct advantage over everybody.”
And this from three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson who knows a little about adventures off the tee: "The guy has made some massive changes that have required a lot of work and scrutiny, and he’s putting himself out there and doing it.
“I hope it pays off for him at some point like it did at the U.S. Open. He’s going to end up winning here at some point, whether it’s this week or in the future. He’s got the game and the brilliance, the work ethic, dedication.”
For his part, DeChambeau didn’t come here with any attention of backing off. A linebacker walked into the Masters interview room Tuesday. Or, considering the hair cut tight to the sides, had Special Forces just stormed the green gates? No, it was the new cut of golfer, DeChambeau, with the kind of square build normally only found on the major appliance aisle at Home Depot.
And this is what he had to say, by way of an opening statement: "Every day I’m trying to get faster and stronger and I’m trying to hit it as far as possible. I’ve only seen improvements in strength increase. I’ve felt better every day, so I really don’t know where the end game is on this.
“I’m hitting it farther now 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.”
Ah, yes, the 48-inch driver, the one more than two inches longer than his usual weapon of choice, his latest research project. He’s not certain about whether to deploy it this week. But for those in a mood for a physics lesson, he’ll tell you that he is encouraged: “I got my swing speed up to 143, 144 (mph) on the range yesterday, and the dispersion is the same and spin rate was even down.” Oh, um, OK.
Golfers just don’t do the sort of things that DeChambeau is doing. They tinker. They tweak. They don’t massively reinvent themselves and their swings over a very short time. And, frankly, considering the violence of DeChambeau’s every swing, I don’t know how long he can keep this up without body parts just flying off of him, like bark from a wood-chipper.
For now, practice rounds have shed some light on his plan for the subjugation of the Masters. With no fans here this year to endanger, he can hit into areas they normally inhabit for a better line to the pin – like blowing this tee shot on the par-4 18th over fairway bunkers and into an adjoining area normally a busy fan thoroughfare for a better angle into the green.
As he reviewed the possibilities Tuesday, he mentioned no club longer than a 6-iron for a second shot into any of the par 5s here. In some cases, it was like he was speaking another language from anyone else playing here this week.
A 7-iron into the 575-yard par-5 2nd hole. A pitching wedge into the 505-yard par-4 10th. Cutting the tall tree on the sharply doglegged par-5 13th to put another wedge in his hand. An 8-iron into the other backside par-5, No. 15. C’mon, it can be that easy.
Of course, there are the added, important details of hitting it straight and, most importantly on these inscrutable greens, putting. It’s always the putting. It should be noted that in three previous Masters appearances DeChambeau’s finishes were T-21, T-38, T-29.
But we love the long ball. We can’t help but be seduced by it.
“The attention that I’ve gained has been awesome,” DeChambeau said. “I love it. I think it’s fun. But I’ve got to set myself back and go, look, anybody can win this week.”
The man is hardly shy about putting himself out on that risky frontier where amazement and ridicule live side by side. That is what sets up DeChambeau as the fascination of this Masters.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC