DUBAI — One year on from victory in the 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic—but only five days removed from a disappointing missed cut in the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship—Bryson DeChambeau is back at the Emirates Club to defend his title. He is “honored” to be here. He loves it in this “incredible” place. Which makes sense. Desert golf has apparently “always suited” his style of play.
Well, at least his good play. Last week in the largest of the United Arab Emirates, DeChambeau was seen almost throwing himself into drives, his resulting lack of accuracy off the tee somewhere between wild and out of control. A bit like DeChambeau’s post-round exit from the premises—he bypassed reporters after a second-round 77—it wasn’t pretty.
Anyway, Dubai is a new week on a Majilis course that has—like the defending champion—beefed up since last year. The rough is longer and thicker, the prevailing mood placing a premium on precision rather than power.
“Being in the fairway is going to be key,” said DeChambeau, who shot 24-under-par 264 last year and won by seven shots over Matt Wallace. “But if you have a great wedge game, you can get up and down and fix any mistakes. That’s definitely a viable option. The course is in immaculate shape. The greens are perfect. And I just love hitting off the fairways here. It’s a lot of great fun, a lot of scoring opportunities.”
As ever with the self-styled “scientist of golf,” the 26-year-old Californian, ranked 17th in the world, had more to say than just a bland assessment of what might or might not happen over the days ahead. Dubai, it would seem, has way more interesting things to offer. The iconic skyline has naturally caught his eye, as has the local mall. But stoplights?
“They are unique in a way—I’m serious,” said DeChambeau to his suddenly perplexed audience. “They are unique in that they flash green to let you know the light is going to turn yellow and then red. That’s really helpful when it's green and you don’t know when it’s going to go yellow. It gives you a heads-up. That stuff is really kind of cool to me. I think it could be implemented in more places.”
Back on the course, DeChambeau’s take on the newly energized rough was unsurprisingly logical. The man is apparently immune to the inherent randomness that has always been part of golf, his preference being uniformity rather than unpredictability.
“The farther you hit it off line, the farther you hit it out there; the more penalizing it should be,” he said. “To me, golf is a game of risk-reward. As you get closer to the green it should become a little more difficult. If you want to lay up and have a shot of, say, 200 yards, you can hit the fairway pretty easily. But you have a tougher second shot. If you hit closer to the green and into a small area, you should be rewarded. But if you hit off-line, then the next shot should be proportionately non-rewarding.”
OK, but what about the inherent vagaries of links golf, where the game began? Is there a place for such nonsense in this brave new world?
“That’s an interesting conversation,” DeChambeau said. “It’s obviously the way the sport was played originally. As it’s become not just a game, but a professional sport where we are playing for our livelihoods, we should be rewarding people that are striking it and playing well. And not rewarding people that may get a fortunate bounce here or there. That’s my take on that. When a lot of money is involved, a course and the game should be proportionately rewarding.”
There was also just time for a quick peek into the social-media world where Bryson and Brooks Koepka have been jousting over the past few days. To most judges of such esoterica, Koepka delivered a knock-out blow by posting a picture of his four major-championship trophies in response to a DeChambeau barb. And, to be fair, the vanquished in this duel wasn’t denying his place in the scheme of things. But he was keen to move on.
“It’s all good fun,” DeChambeau said. “I’ve seen Brooks, actually, where I’m staying over the past few days. Everything is fine. It’s not a big deal. There’s a reason why he’s No. 1. I’ve got nothing but respect for him, and he knows that. I think everybody should know that. I’m just trying to do my best each and every day, as he is. All of my mind is taken up with the need to do well in the majors. That’s what I haven’t done particularly well in my career so far, and I am keen on changing that.”