MAMARONECK, N.Y. — The U.S. Open is often a battle with oneself. That part is hard enough. But to impose one’s will on a U.S. Open course is something that only a few can even think about accomplishing.
And that is exactly what Bryson DeChambeau is trying to do.
“That’s a question for the gods,” DeChambeau said when asked if it was even possible. “I mean, Tiger has been able to do something like that many times before, so I think there is something (to it), but human scientific research does not say that there’s anything about that.
“It’s more of a positive mindset that allows your brain to be in a better state so you can problem-solve … to hit a shot. I think that’s kind of willing it.”
There were times Friday when DeChambeau was close to bullying Winged Foot around. He is stubbornly the only player in the field insisting on bombing driver on practically every par-4 and par-5, figuring that the birdie chances it will give him will outweigh the risk that Winged Foot’s five-inch rough creates. On Friday, the strategy led to one of the best rounds of the day on a much tougher golf course.
Closing out his morning with a all-out eagle on the par-5 ninth, DeChambeau fired a 2-under 68 that got him to 3-under for the week. Every time Winged Foot got him, he punched back. Three times he followed up a bogey with a birdie until that closing eagle — a 280-yard drive followed by a pitching wedge to seven feet — won the day.
That made it five bogeys, five birdies and an eagle and it showed, DeChambeau said, that he can “absolutely” create more birdie opportunities than anybody out there.
“I want it to play as hard as possible,” he said. “I feel like there are so many holes out here that I can take advantage of that some people can’t.”
“Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to win or anything,” he went on. “You’ve still got to execute, you’ve still got to hit the driver straight. If I’m hitting the driver far but all over the place, you can’t make birdies from the rough. It’s very difficult. So I still have to work on hitting it straight while hitting it far. And that’s a unique combo that I’m going to strive for the rest of my life.”
He’s obviously dedicated himself to the task. Already the most unorthodox player on the PGA Tour with his same-length shafts, upright swing and stilted putting style, when COVID-19 shut down the PGA Tour, DeChambeau spent his idle time in the weight room, adding 30 pounds of muscle (and two sizes) to his 6-1 frame. He famously tweeted a shirtless photo of himself, unabashed as he was.
“I felt like it was time to not only just sit back and enjoy life, but attack life,” he explained at the time.
DeChambeau was able to apply the bomb and gouge formula to great effect in his first four tournaments after the re-start, with four straight top-eight finishes, including a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He then answered the question of how his aggressiveness would translate to a major with a fourth-place finish at the PGA Championship.
Of course, distance means nothing without the second shot and Friday, he was dialed in with his wedges after hitting them long throughout the first round. That’s why DeChambeau was the last person the leave the practice range Thursday night, where he found out that his Trakman device wasn’t calibrated correctly.
“My 47-degree flies normally 145,” he explained “Well, last night I was hitting shots and it was flying 155. We recalibrated all of them today, and I felt like they worked out really well.”
Of course, DeChambeau isn’t the first person to challenge Winged Foot’s rough this way. Phil Mickelson did it in 2006 and it worked until the final hole when Winged Foot got him in the end. That’s why DeChambeau sought him out before the tournament.
“Phil gave me some great advice,” DeChambeau said. “He said when he almost won back in 2006, he had the best short game week of his life, so that’s just a testament to showing that you have to have a great wedge game out here.
“I feel like my irons are great, the wedges are better, and short game needs to be worked on just a little bit. But I would say it’s been good so far, and that’s what I’m going to hopefully do this weekend.”
Winged Foot be damned.
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