Warning: Trying to hit with DeChambeau can be hazardous to your game

Bryson DeChambeau launches from No. 13 during a Masters practice round Wednesday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Bryson DeChambeau launches from No. 13 during a Masters practice round Wednesday. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / AJC

AUGUSTA – Despite bringing his own ballistic missile program to every tee box, Bryson DeChambeau did not win last November’s special edition Masters. Augusta National would not be cowed by him. Not yet.

In fact, for all DeChambeau’s added mass and length, who could forget that glorious final round when he was paired with 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, who was at least two zip codes behind him off the tee? Langer shot 71. DeChambeau shot 73. Yes, there is still a place in the game for a swing that doesn’t come with its own portable exclamation point.

A long hitter did win in November, just one not quite so familiar with Newton’s Second Law of Motion – Dustin Johnson.

While the big galoot’s influence here has yet to be fully felt, it has seeped into the PGA Tour community at large. Other players – even those who already possess prodigious swing speed and length, those who should know better – have been seduced. They watched last year as DeChambeau took apart Winged Foot and a typically narrow and penal U.S. Open set-up for a six-shot victory and covetously whispered, I want some of that.

We know that Rory McIlroy, who comes here again this week seeking the one major title that vexes him, fell victim to trying to keep up with DeChambeau. And he’s still paying for it, arriving in Augusta ranked 146th on Tour in driving accuracy percentage and with one top-5 finish since the U.S. Open.

He said as much earlier this year after missing the cut at the Players Championship by 10 shots.

He said he “started getting sucked into that stuff,” that stuff being the narcotic of a little longer drive, a little quicker clubhead.

“The swing got flat, long, and too rotational,” he said at the time. “Obviously, I added some speed and am hitting the ball longer, but what that did to my swing as a whole probably wasn’t a good thing.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t anything to do with what Bryson did at the U.S. Open. I think a lot of people saw that and were like, whoa, if this is the way they’re going to set golf courses up in the future, it helps. It really helps.”

Observers have been rightly stunned by the admission that a player of McIlroy’s stature would be lured into this trap. That speaks to just how powerful DeChambeau’s Cult of Length must be. And it stands as a warning to others to resist being mesmerized. Because it’s not as easy as just unbuckling your spine and Happy Gilmore-ing every swing.

Noted ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, one of your video Masters hosts: “I just find it amazing that (McIlroy) went in search of something else. The notion that his good enough wasn’t good enough, I just can’t fathom that.”

So, now, each top golfer must search within himself for the best way to deal with distance envy.

Masters champion Johnson, currently seventh in average driving distance behind DeChambeau’s lead (McIlroy is third), said he, too, was moved to tinker last fall.

“Yeah, I mean, if I want to, I could hit it further,” Johnson said. “I had a driver that I could definitely hit it a lot further than the one I’m playing. But the harder you swing, obviously, the bigger your misses are. For me, it just didn’t help.

“Until I feel like when at my best that I can’t beat someone, then I’ll try to change something. But as of right now, I feel like if I play my best golf, I feel like I can beat whoever I’m playing against.”

As for world’s No. 2 Justin Thomas, he has decided there are some things he just won’t do in the pursuit of another 15 yards.

“I would love to fly it 330 every time,” he said. “No offense to Bryson, I’m not going to put on 40 pounds. I don’t have the build or stature for that. I’ve always been about getting the most out of what I can.”

Asked Tuesday his reaction to so obviously influencing McIlroy with his mad science, DeChambeau admitted that it was kinda cool.

But, he said, “From my perspective, I wasn’t trying to change anybody else’s game. I was just trying to play the best golf I could. I knew there would be people there to be influenced. I didn’t think it would be Rory. I think he’s a pretty smart, talented individual that knows how to play the game potentially better than me. It’s honoring and humbling hearing him say it’s a difficult task.”

There is no hint that DeChambeau is backing off at all on his desire to out-muscle this place this week. Nor that he is any shier about flexing in front of his peers.

Consider the scene at the Augusta National practice facility Tuesday. There was DeChambeau on the range just wailing at drive after drive – swinging with a fury that would leave a normal person in traction – as fast as his caddy could throw him another ball and he could reload. Behind him, 2000 Masters winner Vijay Singh stood at ease, arms draped atop the grip of his own insufficient driver, watching with equal measures of bemusement and amazement.

No, no. Look away.

For it is proven that watching DeChambeau assault a golf ball can be like staring into the sun. You will go blind and mad and lose your way.

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