Is Bryson DeChambeau bolstering the case for ending distance gains?
Or complicating it?
Because here’s the thing, DeChambeau’s massive leap in power this season is more about skill than equipment.
That’s a fact a lot of players and manufacturers will jump on once the USGA and R&A restart work on the Distance Insights Project.
Yes, solid-core ball technology, big-headed composite drivers and high-tech shafts allow DeChambeau to swing hard with more margin of error built into the sweet spot of his equipment, but he didn’t make this giant power gain over the last nine months because of what's in his golf bag.
His driver didn’t double in cc’s in that span.
His shirt size did.
His golf ball didn’t grow more nuclear in that span.
His biceps did.
DeChambeau is making these outrageous gains with work in the gym and on the range, not so much with the help of R&D nerds– at least not in his distance leap this season. He leads the PGA Tour by averaging 323.8 yards per drive, 21 yards more than he averaged last season.
“We believe that golf will best thrive over the next decades and beyond if this continuing cycle of ever-increasing hitting distances and golf course lengths is brought to an end,” the USGA and R&A concluded in the summary of their Distance Insights Project, which was released in February.
While the project cites athleticism among the reasons for distance gains, Phil Mickelson believes it didn’t credit athletes enough. A day after the project was released, he strongly asserted as much.
Mickelson cited DeChambeau’s work, and this was four months ago, before Iron Bryson really went to work.
“I also don’t feel that you should punish the athletes for getting better,” Mickelson said. “I don’t think that we have had massive equipment changes. We have just had athletes that have been able to take advantage of the equipment, more so than in the past. And I hate to see that discouraged.”
Two weeks after Mickelson reacted, Titleist echoed the sentiment, a stance the company was taking long before the project was released.
“We believe the conclusions drawn in this report undervalue the skill and athleticism of the game’s very best players,” said David Maher, Acushnet's president and CEO.
Colonial Country Club’s design was supposed to be one of the game’s great equalizers, with its tree-lined doglegs and strategic bunkering presenting natural defenses, but DeChambeau almost single-handedly rendered many of the holes defenseless.
In fact, DeChambeau said that was his intention as he bombed drives over the corners of so many doglegs.
“I wanted to make those obsolete,” he said.
DeChambeau averaged 340.5 yards per drive last week, almost 50 yards longer than the PGA Tour average last season. Again, this was at Colonial, of all places. It prompted Colin Montgomerie to argue the ball needs to be rolled back 15 to 20 percent.
“A tournament ball would be a massive step,” Montgomerie said.
Those words remind us all there’s so much still to be worked out with a distance debate likely to grow as DeChambeau’s body grows.
If the USGA and R&A cite what DeChambeau’s doing as a threat to the game, players are going to sarcastically wonder if the governing bodies are going to roll back the amount of weight they’re allowed to pump.
And there are going to be players who want to emulate what DeChambeau’s doing.
“I've got to go about it in a more methodical way than he's doing,” Webb Simpson said Tuesday from the RBC Heritage. “Yeah, it definitely makes me think it's possible.”
When the USGA and R&A resume work on the Distance Insights Project, DeChambeau promises to become as large a figure in the debate as he is becoming on the tee box. There will be some screaming if it appears the governing bodies are penalizing skill with any proposal to limit distance.