Fellow Pros Exasperated at DeChambeau Repeat Performance in Vegas
A lot of people dared to hope that the DeChambeau phenomenon would not become a “thing”…but it did. There was no getting around it. It was inevitably going to become a “thing,” and a big one. What is now called “smash and bash golf” is becoming the rage among the devotees of one player, Bryson DeChambeau. I always thought that if someone could bring the distance of long-drive contests to the pro tour, but still manage to play a disciplined game with the other clubs, especially the putter, one could clean up.
I looked up Bobby Jones’ driving average this morning, and found it to be a surprisingly impressive number at 248 yards. That, of course, includes an early 20th-century ball, primitive shafts, and all the rest. If Jones had hit the ball as hard as DeChambeau does, there wouldn’t be a club left in his bag at the round’s end. Bryson, as we can plainly see, averages one hundred or more yards per drive than the greatest amateur who ever lived.
The problem is that Jones occupied an era in which many of the leading tour and municipal courses were built. Bunkers, water, and trees were carefully positioned for the drive of the day, and despite later efforts, there’s only so far one can move the tees back to accommodate modern technology. Now that DeChambeau looks like an enduring presence, the pros are starting to make themselves heard. Rory McIlroy is never shy about sharing what’s on his mind, although he has remained a gentleman about it. Still, a general impression is rising from the field that suggests the new Babe Ruth of golf is “making a mockery of the game.”
That comment bristles. I have never seen the merest hint of DeChambeau making a mockery of the game. As a scientific devotee, he has found a way to go from ion to warp drive, but no mockery is involved. Stand back and look at the picture of 1920 to 1950 golf courses, and the open invitation is clear to a person who can avoid trouble by hitting over it. He’s not the only one capable of it, but other long hitters have been slow to resist what they have been taught about course strategy. The theory of “whatever kind of trouble I’m in, I’m still only fifty yards away” is for the present coming into its own.
The other comment I hear is that DeChambeau is taking the skill out of the game. I see the point, but what he is doing is rendering some of the skill set less necessary, and perfecting one big one that gets him 90% home on every hole. I like tradition, and have a certain sinking feeling over that. Finesse has always been a big part of golf. So, the hue and cry has become, “The rules need to be changed!” But what rules? DeChambeau plays with hickory shafts, while the others go on as before? Of course not. How does one penalize distance? A change in the ball? It would have to be for everyone, and I doubt everyone would like it.
The only thing that jumps into my mind right now is massive changes to the coursse, and it might need to be dramatic. By that, I mean making DeChambeau’s new landing spot an armed fortress of deep sand, water, and jungle-style grass with impenetrable trees. Positioning could be arranged so that a typical driver could hit over all that in a second shot, but it would be perilous to the ultra-big hitter.
Whatever changes are made to equipment and courses, the man who figured it out should not be a target of derision. Nothing illegal or immoral has taken place here. If the game needs to be rebalanced because of Bryson De Chambeau (who will not be the only one to do this), some solution will emerge. Meanwhile, in the words of my old backwoods friend fond of summing up his world view – “Eat good, play nice.”