DUBLIN, Ohio – Standing on the range at Detroit Golf Club, swing coach Boyd Summerhays had a question for the game’s newest bruiser, Bryson DeChambeau.
“What’s your highest-ever ball speed?” he asked.
“205.7 (mph),” DeChambeau sniffed.
That number soon made its way back to Summerhays’ prized pupil, Tony Finau, touching off what could become golf’s great speed race.
“Let’s get 206,” Summerhays said, and so they did, July 9, in a practice session at Oakridge Country Club in Utah. The social-media clip went viral: The 383-yard carry (at elevation). The 12.6-degree launch. And, yes, the 206-mph ball speed – and that’s without optimizing the spin rate through equipment tweaks.
The speed already resides in that sinewy, 6-foot-4-inch frame; it’s just waiting to be unleashed. Finau doesn’t need two-a-day workouts and post-impact grunts and 4,000-calorie meal plans. All he needs to do is just ... swing harder. Or at least to parallel.
“Some players just need to scratch that itch,” Summerhays said by phone Friday. “I knew he wanted to see what the speed would be.”
Inspired by beefy Bryson’s bombs, Finau is letting it rip more often here at the Memorial. He’s cranked up his speed, and consequently it’s freed him up to play some spectacular golf. With a birdie on his final hole Friday, Finau grabbed a share of the 36-hole lead at Muirfield Village and is now halfway to a signature victory.
Finau has always been an athletic marvel, of course. In his pro debut, in 2007, as an 18-year-old, he blasted one tee shot across a creek, over the bunker and onto the green on a 380-yard par 4. He led the field in driving distance that week, at 331 yards a pop, and his recorded ball speed was 198 mph – light years ahead of the current Tour average (roughly 168).
The only problem: To achieve that absurd distance, he was aiming right and playing a hard hook. Unable to control it, he was little more than a practice-range curiosity. He didn’t qualify for the Tour until 2015.
Once he arrived in the big leagues, Finau was scared straight. Steering away from the driver, he relied mostly on 3-woods and long irons to keep the ball in play. Finally, Summerhays instructed him: Make a swing that would hit the fairway every time. And that’s how Finau settled on his three-quarter swing, at about 70-75 percent effort.
“I would never want to shorten a player’s swing,” Summerhays said, “but for Tony, he’s so physically gifted that he could get away with it.”
Even with plenty in reserve, Finau was among the Tour leaders in distance, ranking third in 2016 (312.2), with ball speed consistently in the mid-180s. He started ticking off goals: PGA Tour winner, Ryder Cupper, top-15 player in the world. But over the past few years, he’s played even more cautiously, squandering some of that power advantage, figuring that golf, at its core, remained a game of skill, precision and strategy.
Then along came DeChambeau, who in the past nine months has packed on 40 pounds of muscle, overwhelmed courses with his swing-from-the-heels approach and reignited the distance debate. In winning two weeks ago in Detroit, he led the field in both driving distance (350!) and putting. An unbeatable combination.
Intrigued and inspired, Finau worked with Summerhays to unlock his supreme talent. In the past, when he’s tried to air it out, Finau thought he needed to play a draw – aiming right, purposely dropping the shaft well under the line and using some aggressive hand action at the bottom to dial up the speed. But Summerhays told him to study some of the behemoths on the long-drive circuit – not all of them are moving the ball from right to left.
“That kind of resonated with him,” Summerhays said. “He finally had this image of hitting it as hard as he can with a fade. That he can keep his same aim and sight lines and feels – and just swing way harder.”
Leaner after three months of quarantine workouts, Finau started to explore the possibilities two weeks ago in Utah. He touched 200, then 203, then 206 mph ball speed on the range. Then he shot 59 in practice. Then he played lights-out in the Wednesday charity match at Muirfield Village.
Suddenly unencumbered, he carried all of the trouble on holes like Nos. 1, 7 and 18. It’s the first time in Finau’s career that he said he’s swinging at close to 90 percent, but the stats prove his more aggressive strategy is working: On Thursday, Finau gained more than two strokes on the field off the tee, the first time he’s done that in a round since 2018. He’s currently fifth overall in that statistic.
“I’ve let a few go so far this week,” Finau said, “and it’s been pretty fun for me to reach back more than I have in the past and open up and hit some.”
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Said Summerhays: “It’s excited him. On the Tour level, every little advantage you take it.”
This weekend will test that new attitude. The conditions will be more difficult. The pressure to win for the first time since 2016 will be more intense. Finau knows he could opt for that trusty three-quarter swing, for more conservative speeds ... or he could exploit his greatest gift, if he wants to launch one.
“You’re eventually going to see Tony hit a lot more bombs on the course,” Summerhays said, “but he’s still pretty disciplined. He’s still committed to just scoring right now. No one really cares how far you’re hitting it if you’re not winning.”