Scientific DeChambeau nearly bested every pro in field

By Joe PosnanskiApril 9, 2016, 2:02 am

 “Why trust instinct when there is science?”

 – Homer Kelley, author of “The Golfing Machine.”

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The sports kids are all into science. It started in baseball, of course, because baseball is a wonderful little laboratory where just about everything that happens on the field is logged in. For a long while, baseball’s compulsive scorekeeping inspired nothing more than quirky statistics and great trivia questions. Then came Bill James and sabermetrics and computers, and then there were all these advanced statistics, and then there were more analytics, and before long Ivy League educated economists were running Major League Baseball teams.

This trend, of course, seeped into other sports, where the basketball kids began going on and on about player efficiency ratings and true shooting percentage, and the hockey kids began talking about Corsi and Fenwick and other advanced stats that made Don Cherry’s face red with rage. The kids, of course, are not always actual kids – some are older – but they think new, and the trend toward analytics keeps heading skyward. It got to the point this year where the Cleveland Browns hired baseball guy Paul DePodesta; he was the Jonah Hill character from “Moneyball.”

So, yes, it was inevitable that some kid would come along with science and blow up golf.

That kid might just be a Kangol-hat wearing 22-year-old named Bryson DeChambeau.

You have no doubt heard that DeChambeau plays with a set of equal-length clubs, something that sort of blows the minds of many people. Golf clubs are supposed to be different lengths, or anyway that’s what everyone has long believed.

DeChambeau plays with the same-length clubs because he wants to swing every club on the same plane, and he says this same-plane swing is a big reason why he emerged from a so-so college player into a superstar, just the fifth man to win the NCAA title and U.S. Amateur in the same year. The other four are Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore, so that bodes pretty well for his future.

You have no doubt heard that DeChambeau studied physics at SMU and likes to talk about the science of how putts break, the various effects, the velocity and drag and spin rates. He and Phil Mickelson were having such a discussion early in the week when their practice partner Dustin Johnson shouted out in despair, “If I hang around you guys much longer, I’ll never break 100.”

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You have no doubt heard that DeChambeau names his clubs. He calls the 60-degree club “King” after Arnold Palmer, who won the Masters in 1960. He called the 42-degree club “Jackie” after the great Jackie Robinson, who wore No. 42. He calls his 3-iron “Gamma,” which is the third letter of the Greek alphabet. And so on.

You have no doubt heard that when DeChambeau was 13 years old, his coach Mike Schy gave him a book, mentioned at the top of this column, called “The Golfing Machine.” That book was written by a quirky character named Homer Kelley, a not especially good player who dedicated his entire life to breaking down the golf swing to its very core. Kelley believed that just about everything that people taught about the golf swing was wrong and, worse, oversimplified.

“Treating a complex subject or action as though it were simple,” he wrote, “multiplies its complexity because of the difficulty in systematizing missing and unknown factors or elements. Demanding that golf instruction be kept simple does not make it simple – only incomplete and ineffective.”

With that in mind, Kelley broke the swing down to 24 components with 144 variations. He called it simple geometry and physics. For DeChambeau, it was like opening up a new world.

You have no doubt heard all of this stuff and formed an opinion about Bryson DeChambeau. That opinion might be: “Hey, this guy is revolutionizing golf by bringing science in and looking at the game in a whole different way. Good for him!”

Or your opinion might be: “Hey, who does this guy think he is, Galileo? He’s going to learn pretty quickly that it takes more than physics to win golf tournaments.”

Then again, you might just want to wait and see. Friday at the Masters, DeChambeau shot just about the wildest even-par round you will ever see. The conditions – gusting winds, fast greens, tough pin placements – made it pretty miserable for the players. It was the first time in almost a decade that not even a single player broke 70. Heck, Jordan Spieth shot his first over-par round ever at Augusta.

And in that environment, DeChambeau seemed to be playing a different course.

He made six birdies on the day, one of those a remarkable birdie at the all-but-impossible 11th hole. He pulled his second shot a bit too much to the left, but it ended up perfect. “Twelve feet from the hole,” he said. Then he corrected himself: “No, it was 8 feet from the hole. And I played 14-inches of break.”

Yes. Eight feet. Fourteen inches of break.

“It is soon apparent,” Kelley wrote in “The Golfing Machine,” “that the body can duplicate a machine.”

DeChambeau came to the 18th hole 3 under par for the day, and he was in second place, one shot behind Spieth. He then pulled a drive into a holly bush, couldn’t play it, went back to the tee and pulled another drive. This one rolled up to a concession stand, and he got to drop the ball some 40 yards away. He then hit it short of the green, failed to get it up and down and ended up with a triple-bogey 7. The science didn’t seem all that great on that hole.

“Everybody is going to go back to 18 and say, ‘Oh, he was nervous,’” DeChambeau says. “No. I hit two pulled drives. … (The driver) was only two degrees closed. That’s what does it.”

In sports – and other arenas too - there tends to be a growing divide between old school and new, between analytics and gut, between numbers and emotions. DeChambeau looks like he will bring that clash to golf, which could be fun. He has ideas. He is not shy about sharing them. He is not shy about his ambitions either.

“I mean, it's as much for me about playing golf as it is growing the game,” he says. “If I can do that, that's ultimately what I want to try and do, just like Arnold Palmer did and Jack Nicklaus.”

Bold stuff for a kid who is still an amateur and just played his second round at the Masters. But DeChambeau doesn’t mind being bold. Someone asked him what he learned playing with defending Masters champion and current leader Jordan Spieth the last couple of days. He talked about how amazing Spieth is at hitting his wedge shots. DeChambeau would like to hit his wedge shots like that.

“I’m definitely not there,” he says. “I hope to be soon. And if that part of my game comes along, it will be a fun, fun journey.”

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”