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Bryson DeChambeau sees Happy Gilmore-like length in golf's future

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LOS ANGELES – The exact answer requires some trigonometry – and that’s usually in his wheelhouse – but Bryson DeChambeau figured it’s roughly a 252-yard carry to fly the top of the boundary net at the back of Riviera Country Club’s range. 

Challenge accepted.

At the end of a typical, marathon range session Tuesday, DeChambeau wanted to pound away on driver to see tangible evidence of his gains. Last year, as a mere mortal, his balls innocently splashed into the middle of the net.

Now, his prodigious tee shots were catching his peers’ attention. Kevin Na was on his way back to the clubhouse when he stopped to watch DeChambeau wail away.

“Hey, keep it on the range,” Na said, walking up to greet him.

“I’m not, bro!” DeChambeau said giddily.

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And he was right – he wasn’t. With the right conditions (slightly downwind), a slightly heavier driver head and a 187-plus mph ball speed, DeChambeau’s drives cleared the net. Each time, he’d glance at a tablet spitting out launch angles and ball speeds: “189,” he said after one blast. “That was really good there.”

“I couldn’t do that last year,” he said later. “Max, probably middle of the net. It’s pretty crazy that I can do that now. The game changes when you’re doing that.”

It’s not just a driving-range experiment, either. Two weeks ago, at the Phoenix Open, DeChambeau was first in the field in (all-drives) distance off the tee, at 319.6 yards a pop. Strokes gained, he ranked third. All week he had no more than a 6-iron into the par-5 15th hole.

The only issue now is controlling that newfound distance, because, most importantly, he still finished 52nd in the tournament.

“There’s been a massive improvement in accuracy,” he said. “With that added length and accuracy, I’m going to be up there quite a bit.”

Distance has dominated the conversation on Tour, after the governing bodies released the findings of their long-awaited report that concluded, for the first time, that length has – and will continue to have – a detrimental effect on the game.

Though technology surely assisted in the distance boom, DeChambeau’s gains have come the old-fashioned way – in the gym. He has packed on more than 20 pounds of muscle and bumped up a shirt size (to a large). It’s impossible, it seems, for anyone to engage with DeChambeau and not touch his biceps.

Last week, Sports Illustrated recognized DeChambeau’s new commitment to the weight room, naming him as one of the 50 most-fit athletes, a list that includes some serious jocks like LeBron James, Rafael Nadal and Patrick Mahomes.

Bryson: Being one of SI's most-fit athletes 'the beginning of my journey’

Bryson: Being one of SI's most-fit athletes 'the beginning of my journey’

DeChambeau was flattered: “I think it’s awesome. They just recognized me as a guy who is pretty vocal about it, and I had a pretty big body change.”

That transformation was one of the reasons why Phil Mickelson disagreed with some of the USGA and R&A’s conclusions. “You look at what Bryson has done getting in the gym, getting after it, lifting weights, hitting bombs,” Mickelson said at Pebble Beach. “Now you’re talking about trying to roll it back because he’s made himself a better athlete. ... I hate seeing the athletes be punished or discouraged from continuing to work and get better.”

Said DeChambeau: “I agree with that statement. Whenever you’re trying to change the game because of 500 people in the world, that, to me, is a little unfortunate. I hope that they would look at it in a different light.”

That said, unless changes are made for the elite professionals, DeChambeau predicts that we’ll see the game “in more of a Happy Gilmore setting, where you’re going to have guys hitting it that far and driving greens and you can’t do anything to protect it. Just hit it as hard as possible to get it as close as possible.”

And isn’t that bad for the elite game? Doesn’t it diminish the importance of other skills?

“Depends on the golf course,” he said. “At Erin Hills, you can do that. Here (at Riviera), you can’t. It’ll be subject to the course.

“But the courses that will stand the test of time are going to be the ones that have the longest rough and the tightest fairways and slopiest, fastest greens. If you build golf courses that are long and wide open, you’re going to have guys that bomb it.”

Guys like Bryson himself.