DeChambeau is part artist, part mad scientist

By Ryan LavnerAugust 22, 2015, 12:55 am

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Read the stories, watch the telecast, listen to his peers – Bryson DeChambeau is portrayed as an obsessive-compulsive, numbers-crazed techie who dissects a golf course.

There’s some truth to that, of course, but it’s clear that there’s also plenty of artistry that lives within the mad scientist.  

Consider that the three best shots he played Friday in his U.S. Amateur quarterfinal match against Paul Dunne had little to do with numbers or angles: He slashed out of the trees, chased a 225-yard, bullet 3-iron onto the green, and then backdoored a slick 40-footer with six feet of break.

The unlikely birdie on the sixth hole gave DeChambeau the first lead of the match. He never relinquished that advantage, going 5 under on a U.S. Open setup and cruising to a 3-and-2 victory in a potential Walker Cup preview.

DeChambeau, who will face USC sophomore Sean Crocker in the semifinals Saturday morning, is now two wins from joining an elite list of players – Jack Nicklaus (1961), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1996) and Ryan Moore (2004) – who won the NCAAs and U.S. Amateur in the same year.  

“I’m going to worry about myself, push the pedal to the metal, try to make birdie on every single hole and do my job,” he said.

Regardless of the outcome here at Olympia Fields, the 21-year-old SMU senior has positioned himself as one of America’s brightest prospects – and one of the most feared players in next month’s matches at Royal Lytham.

No, he doesn’t intimidate with big drives, flashy iron play or sublime putting. But his methodical approach to the game and hole-to-hole consistency can exasperate opponents and force them into mistakes.

His Round of 16 match Thursday against Stanford junior Maverick McNealy wasn’t just a battle between the reigning NCAA champion and national college player of the year. It was also a duel between two of the brightest minds in the amateur game.

DeChambeau majors in physics at SMU, and it’s easy to see that influence in his game. He employs a green-reading system called Vector Putting that factors in length of putt, percentage of slope and green speed, uses a torque-balanced putter that keeps his stroke square to the line, and cuts down his irons to the same length (37 1/2 inches, or a 6-iron) to create a one-plane swing.

This week, in fact, marks the four-year anniversary of when DeChambeau first inquired about single-length clubs. Two weeks after the Am – and after destroying a set of clubs during the experiment – he won a junior tournament and vowed to never look back.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

“As a teacher, I didn’t want to put him in our box,” said Mike Schy, his longtime coach and caddie this week. “At times it was a bit scary, because he wanted to try things, but it was just a golf swing. Everybody panicked, like, ‘What are you doing with him?’ I said, ‘We’re not doing anything with him. He’s only 15!’ It’s crazy how people think, that you have to think a certain way.”

After all, Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk have unconventional swings. All they’ve done is combine for three majors, 25 wins and $95 million.

Clearly, unorthodox suits DeChambeau, as well.

When he won the NCAAs in June, his college coach, Jason Enloe, didn’t hesitate to call him the best ball-striker in the college game. “Possibly top 20 in the world,” Enloe added.

And he’s not dinking and dunking, either.

Last summer, DeChambeau worked with Schy to maximize his distance off the tee, to develop a go-to power shot when he needed to fly his drive over a bunker or a row of trees.

During a practice round at the 2014 U.S. Amateur, Enloe wandered up to the group and asked, naturally, “So, anything new in the bag?”

Schy gave DeChambeau the go-ahead to let one rip on the next tee.

It flew 340 in the air.

Schy turned to Enloe and smiled. “Yeah, that’s new in the bag,” he said.

DeChambeau has two swings with his driver: the “control” drive (112 mph) and then the big swing that he cranks up to 127. He hits it only a few times per round, only when he really needs the extra pop, and when he does there is no one longer in the college game.

Titanium-denting power is only helpful, however, when applied properly.

Last fall, DeChambeau attended a seminar at SMU conducted by former Tour player Scott Fawcett, who uses statistics to evaluate course-management decisions. Fawcett helped DeChambeau and the rest of his teammates understand the percentages of when to go for a flag and when to play conservatively. DeChambeau estimates that it saves him about a stroke per round.

“It’s more of a shotgun approach rather than a sniper approach,” he said. “We try to move that distribution to where you’re maximizing your potential of hitting the green every single time.”

Little wonder DeChambeau tends to play so slowly – there are a lot of numbers swirling underneath that Ben Hogan-style cap.

“He takes a very unique approach to the game and buys into it 100 percent,” McNealy said, “and that type of commitment is a huge part of what makes him successful. He’s very analytical and very calculating.”

McNealy is analytical as well, but in different aspects of the game. At Stanford, he is studying – deep breath – industrial engineering that is modified to add computer science and statistics, with a specific concentration in financial and decision engineering.

He’s a brilliant kid, the son of Scott McNealy, the former co-founder of Sun Microsystems, but on the course he is very much a feel player. He’ll take into account the most important numbers – the yardage, the slope, the wind strength and direction – get a feel for the shot and go.  

“Bryson, though, was very precise with everything,” McNealy said, “and I think there’s something to be said for that. I can see why he’s such a great player.”

DeChambeau has always wanted to model his game after “The Golfing Machine,” a book that Schy gave him when he was 15.

“We don’t talk about feel very much,” Schy said. “We try to take that out of our vocabulary, because we are both aware that feel will fail us most of the time. He’s been a numbers kid his whole life. He’s very comfortable talking numbers.”

The aspect of his game that doesn’t receive as much attention – or credit – is DeChambeau’s imagination, which was on display during his quarterfinal match against Dunne, the 22-year-old Irishman who last month shared the 54-hole lead at St. Andrews.

Sure, there were clever flop shots and finesse shots around trees and low-flighted wedges, but DeChambeau's best work Friday came after a rare errant drive.  

With his ball in the hazard right of the par-5 sixth, he grabbed a 9-iron, tiptoed into the brush and contorted his body around poison ivy leaves.

“Impossible Land,” Schy said.

DeChambeau somehow slashed out to give himself a long look with his third shot. The hole was playing into the wind, and from 225 yards he wouldn’t have been able to reach the green with his 20-degree hybrid because his ball would have ballooned into the air. Fortunately, he said, the ball was sitting down slightly in the rough, so he leaned forward and chased a shot onto the right part of the green, about 45 feet away.

“Honestly, I had a certain line on my putt,” he said, “and for some reason, I felt internally that I was supposed to aim a little bit more.”

So he did. And it dropped.

When asked to describe his game, DeChambeau offered this: “I would say that I am a feel player, but I’m also an extremely technical player and I try to balance both of them. If I’m able to do that, my game performs at its maximum potential.”

And has it reached that level this week?

“My game is the best it’s ever been right now,” he said, smiling. 

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''