Bryson DeChambeau admits he can be a tough study at times, with terms like "radius control" and "predictive analysis" a part of his regular vernacular. But to the Mad Scientist, his latest experiment is rather elementary.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions is the first PGA Tour event being played under the new, modernized Rules of Golf. One revision in particular has been a hot item: the ability to leave the flagstick in while putting without a penalty. DeChambeau had been emphatic that he would take advantage of the new rule.
“After the testing we’ve seen, and what we just did out there now, absolutely, I’m going to leave it in. I’m going to do it until I can see that it messes me up,” DeChambeau said during a TOC practice round. “For the most part, we’ve seen it to be a benefit and not a detriment. That’s from anywhere.”
Other players, however, have been dismissive of it. A belief underlined by Justin Thomas, who said earlier this week, "I can’t really take myself seriously if I kept the pin in."
So here came Round 1 at Kapalua, and wouldn't you know it, DeChambeau finished the day leading in strokes gained/putting.
"It's not difficult. People make it too complicated,” DeChambeau said after the round.
To be fair, it's an extremely small sample size, and there were a few instances where DeChambeau putted with the flagstick out, as his partner Dustin Johnson stuck with the traditional rule. Still, the pin remained standing most of the time, and the benefits were visibly evident when gunned birdie putts on the 11th, 14th and 16th holes dropped.
“I maximized my potential on that, especially on 16 today, where it's kind of blowing downwind, 5-percent slope, straight down hill you want that pin to help,” DeChambeau said. “That's what I kind of did and utilized it to my advantage. So I felt like for the most part I needed the pin to be in and it went in and it was a very nice help.”
The five-time tour winner finished with a 3.868 sg/putting mark, which translated to a four-under 69, three shots off the lead.
DeChambeau conceded that this approach is not without potential faults, and said it will be situational. But, in the moment, he sees the positives vastly outweighing the negatives.
“That's why I got to understand that, when it does hurt me I'll know and I won't do it anymore," DeChambeau said. "As of right now it seems like it's a pretty nice benefit every once in a while.”
DeChambeau did see major improvements with the flat stick last season, going from 146th in sg/putting in 2017 to 32nd in the category.
It's unlikely many of DeChambeau's peers will follow suit this weekend in Hawaii. But the tour is a copycat league, and if Thursday's performance holds true, expect the flag to stay upright for others this season. Whether they take it seriously or not.