AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bryson DeChambeau rocked back in a frenzied motion and launched one of his patented moon balls and the gallery around Augusta National’s first tee collectively gasped.
Golf fans and patrons have become accustomed to DeChambeau’s prolific power, but this was different. On the slight dogleg right par-4 opener, DeChambeau’s drive late Monday sailed right of the fairway, right of the fairway bunkers and over a towering strand of pine trees.
He pushed that, right?
DeChambeau quickly reloaded and launched the mulligan on the same line. Another gasp, another curious line. Is he trying to clear the bunkers (an uphill, 317-yard carry)?
“He’s trying to clear the trees,” a member of DeChambeau’s entourage explained.
The grand experiment continues.
Following last fall’s spectacle at Augusta National and DeChambeau’s unapologetic fixation on power and speed and distance and a 48-inch shafted driver, it would be understandable if the entertaining 27-year-old took a slightly more subdued approach to his fifth start at the year’s first major. But that wouldn’t be Bryson.
Instead, DeChambeau was launching drives into the perfect spring sky in his never-ending search to bully the game to his will.
“I'm trying to see how far right I can go. I didn't walk up there, but that is the line I do want to take,” DeChambeau said. “I may lay back just around the bunker and hit a 9-iron or 8-iron in, but for the most part, that [over the trees] is the line.”
With that, the game’s mad scientist went on to explain his game plan for this week’s Masters and it was not a study in restraint.
“No. 11, I can squeeze it down the right side pretty far,” he said.
“No. 9, I can take it over the left trees and get into that big expansive grass, which is cool,” he smiled.
“[No.] 5, I may hit it over the bunkers, and that gives me a lot of comfort that I can get it over those bunkers on a windy day,” he said.
“[No.] 3, try and drive the green this year. It's a little firmer this year, so be able to do that. That's one that will be a little bit of a unique line if I do take driver,” he admitted.
After officials scrambled to implement internal out of bounds on the 18th hole at last month’s Players Championship after DeChambeau suggested the bold idea of going down the left side of the lake that frames the hole, he’s become a little more reserved when asked details of his game plan. But not at Augusta National.
This is where DeChambeau will be second-guessed. It wasn’t his tee game that cost him last fall at Augusta National. For the week, he predictably led the field with a 324.4-yard average and hit a relatively impressive 39 of 56 fairways.
Where armchair analysts will say he struggled was on and around the greens. On Thursday he needed 28 putts (which ranked 67th in the field that day) and on Friday he was 0-for-9 in scrambling and sand saves (that was 89th out of 89 players). He was 53rd for the week in putts per GIR, and 32nd and 40th in sand saves and scrambling, respectively.
Where DeChambeau sees room for improvement, however, is from the fairway.
“Given what I learned from the Masters last November, I'm going to be focusing mainly on accomplishing how do I hit iron shots into greens to give myself the best chance to give myself the ability to make birdie,” he said. “There was a lot of times last year where I hit decent enough drives, but I just didn't feel like I was hitting shots in the correct quadrants of the greens or giving myself opportunities on par 5s like I should have.”
It would be foolish, and wrong, to assume that someone with his ability for critical thought couldn’t or wouldn’t deconstruct last year’s Masters in a search for answers. But it would be just as foolish, and wrong, to assume that someone with his power would forgo what is a clear advantage.
Following his practice round Monday, DeChambeau retreated to the tournament practice area and put on a “speed training” show that included rapid-fire swings, vicious cuts that drew the attention of patrons and players alike, including Vijay Singh, who seemed to marvel at Bryson's intensity or athleticism, or both.
“I got a great workout in,” DeChambeau said with a laugh.
DeChambeau is going to fixate on speed and power and distance because that’s what he does and it’s a proven formula at places like Bay Hill and Winged Foot. Whether his unique brand of smash-and-play will work at Augusta National remains to be seen.
Throughout history, the Masters has been called a putting contest, a lag-putting contest and a second-shot golf course, but very rarely is it shoehorned as a bomber’s paradise. Big ballpark? Sure, but driving the ball in play at Augusta National feels like the beginning of the journey, not the destination.
“Length does help tremendously. You look at it from a statistical point of view, there is a lot of advantages to be had with length for me. But, again, you go up around those putting greens, and you just try to hit it into those areas of the green where the pins are, and it becomes very diabolical,” he said. “Length is only as good as you can hit your next shot.”
There will be more gasps from the galleries this week. Bryson is a one-man show and the hallowed grounds won’t change that. But the real show will be exactly how much he learned from November’s Masters and how much he’s willing to adjust that aggressive game plan to fit a truly unique test.