A buffed-out Bryson DeChambeau shoved Colonial in a locker on Thursday
Darren Carroll for Golf Digest
It was welcomed as a farce. That was the consensus among golf fans, media and yes, fellow players, at Bryson DeChambeau’s physical transformation last fall. DeChambeau’s eccentric ways have always been susceptible to ridicule in the conservative sport, and his zeal only intensifies the derision. Amusement grew as DeChambeau did the same into 2020, and when Bryson made his first post-lockdown appearance on Thursday looking very much like a man who shunned Netflix for a Bowflex, Twitter—tough crowd, that Twitter—turned the sport’s Re-Opening Day into a field day against DeChambeau. (That DeChambeau’s social account released a 15-minute video featuring a "Rocky IV" workout montage before he teed off didn’t help.)
Only, by the end of his first round at Colonial Country Club, those social slights were silenced, in their stead an unspoken realization: The fear that all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
A buffed-out DeChambeau is near the top of the Charles Schwab Challenge leaderboard, shoving Colonial into a locker with a five-under 65.
“Yeah, it was awesome. It’s great to be back,” DeChambeau said Thursday. “I’m excited to be back, and shooting five under is nice. That’s never a bad thing. Really didn't know what to expect today to be honest, and very excited to get out with a five under off the bat.”
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It was a performance fueled by might. Bryson’s newfound power allowed him to cut Colonial’s notoriously tight quarters, acting as a cheat button of sorts and a sight that, had he not died 23 years earlier, would have sent Ben Hogan to his grave.
When he wasn’t flying it over trees, DeChambeau settled for flying past competitors. His playing partner Dustin Johnson—who has finished no lower than sixth on tour in driving distance since 2008—averaged 302.7 yards off the tee Thursday ... a mere 40 yards shorter than DeChambeau (345.4 yards, to be exact). DeChambeau picked up two strokes against the field off the tee, best among the morning wave.
Fact is, DeChambeau was disappointed that he couldn’t fully utilize his strength against Colonial, one of the shorter tracks on tour.
“There's only a couple holes I can use it, No. 11 and No. 1, and No. 2 really,” DeChambeau said, begrudgingly.
Should Thursday’s show feel like a surprise, well, you’re forgiven. It’s been a busy few months. But in this time of uncertainty, DeChambeau's success is far from surprising.
What went mostly unsaid this season was that DeChambeau’s get-big-to-win strategy was working. When golf went into its pandemic-induced sabbatical at the Players Championship, DeChambeau had four top fives in seven starts on the year and ranked first on tour in distance and third in strokes gained/off-the-tee. He added over 19 yards (321.3) to his average drive.
“It has been pretty cool to see. I was really playing well before COVID arrived,” DeChambeau told Golf Digest in May.
Darren Carroll for Golf Digest
What spurred DeChambeau’s journey into the gym is simple. Despite winning six times in an 18-month span and ranking as high as No. 5 in the OWGR, DeChambeau felt he was falling behind bombers like Koepka, McIlroy and Thomas. It wasn’t just their distance; it was that they seemingly had wedges in their hand with every approach.
“Stokes gained has proved to be a big statistic for me,” DeChambeau told us. “I believe having shorter clubs into longer holes will provide me a significant advantage.”
DeChambeau said he doesn’t have a target weight, and it shows. Since we last saw him at TPC Sawgrass, the former U.S. Amateur and NCAA champion has doubled-down on his metamorphosis, gaining an extra 20 pounds in the past three months, focusing on speed training to increase ball speed. The distance, the lbs. are not so much ambitions as they are elements of a process.
“Just want to continue to improve and be the best that I can be,” DeChambeau told us. “Going to see what my body can tolerate.”
The question is, will golf tolerate him?
Sure, as we have seen with Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, weight training remains a taboo in some sectors of the golf world. DeChambeau’s unconventionality—the one-length clubs, his pursuit of the scientific and analytical, dabbling in stippling—also paint a target. Moreover, DeChambeau’s gusto and earnestness can be confused as vanity. (Again, the training montage did no favors.)
But golf has forever complained about the lack of individuality in its sport. Here comes Bryson with a colorful, disparate manner, and he’s considered divisive for it. That spirit, that independence ... isn’t that what the game wants?
For his part, DeChambeau pays the criticism no heed. “I have really enjoyed the journey to get to this point,” DeChambeau told Golf Digest. “I am going to continue to work hard and see where it takes me.”
Of course, prosperity can do a number on aversion, and the box scores don’t lie: Bryson’s gains aren’t confined to the gym. Nine months into the experiment, the “Mad Scientist” doesn’t seem so mad after all.