Bryson DeChambeau, of the United States, reacts after sinking a putt for par on the 18th hole to win the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Charles Krupa/The Associated Press
If you break golf down to its basics, the attraction is that any slob can play it.
Generally speaking, playing it means playing it poorly, but that is also part of the appeal. Everyones bad at golf. At best, a lifetimes practice will turn the typical player into one of average competence. Give it up for a year and you drop back to beginner levels.
There is no shame in this because basic proficiency at golf has little to do with athletic ability or physical fitness. A short, chunky person is just as likely to be good as a tall, chiselled one.
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Shorn of this body stigma, regular golfers love telling you how bad they are at it. (This also happens to be a sneaky way of letting you know they have a bit of spare cash and a lot of free time.)
You wouldnt tell anyone that you cant dribble a basketball. Or are a horrible skater. Or that you cant touch your toes.
Youre bad at those things because youre old, overweight and under-co-ordinated. Its not as though thats a big secret, but youre not going to go around advertising the fact.
But golf? You shouldve seen me shank it off the fourth tee. Hit two cars. One was moving.
Along with darts, billiards and bowling, golf remains (sort of) democratic because whatever John Daly can do without embarrassing himself, you can too.
Then Bryson DeChambeau shows up.
The 27-year-old American won the U.S. Open this past weekend. He is not exactly what you would call a finesse player.
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DeChambeau is built like a brick plinth. His biceps bulge out of his polo shirts like wheels of cheese. He is the sort of man who has to turn sideways to squeeze through doorways.
Most pro golfers have been gym fit for a few years now. Blame Tiger Woods. Once the best golfer of all time decided to transform his physique from college freshman to college senior, every other serious young pro felt he had to do so as well.
(Woodss body transformation coincided with a spate of back injuries. Now that hes back to being better, hes also a lot leaner.)
The buff Woods phenomenon eventually led us to Brooks Koepka, a beefy world No. 1 who likes his ensembles fitted like a body-sock.
But DeChambeau is of a different order.
Last season, he held 190 solid pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame. Big, but not huge. Koepka-sized.
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DeChambeau announced his intention to look like a different person the next year. Post-COVID-19 shutdown, he showed up appearing less like Tiger Woods and more like Tiger Woodss bodyguard.
Hed apparently added as much as 50 pounds of muscle to his frame. His strength coach says hed eventually like to get up to 270.
The new DeChambeau doesnt attack the course. He grievously assaults it. His approach off the tee doesnt emphasize ball placement. Instead, DeChambeau hits the ball as hard as he can and with little care for where it lands. Then does the same thing until he gets to the green.
During this past weekends final two rounds, he hit only nine of 28 fairways.
It is an article of golfing faith that if you dont hit fairways, you cant win. DeChambeau just walked into golfs temple and started flipping tables.
I dont really know what to say because thats just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does, Rory McIlroy said afterward. Look, hes found a way to do it. Whether thats good or bad for the game, I dont know.
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I do. Its bad.
Not for the current crop of top pros or their balance of power. The professional ecosystem of any sport is meant to be gamed.
If DeChambeau wants to replace his driver with a stainless-steel croquet mallet and address the ball with his back turned to it and from between his legs, thats his business.
If long-ball golf isnt as entertaining to watch (and it isnt), seeing the likes of McIlroy trying to frame his own looming obsolescence as an affront to the games hallowed traditions certainly is.
Because when was the last time you said, Whether X is good or bad and didnt mean you thought it was bad?
So Im all for chaotic disruption as it applies to the highest rungs of pro sports. I salute DeChambeau for figuring out how to maximize his particular gifts.
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But watching him turn one of the last fields of play that celebrated shlubby weirdos into another branch of Golds Gym still depresses me.
Will the next generation of fans get to see a wobbling Weeble like Colin Montgomerie featured on the Sunday broadcast of a major? Or an Oompah Loompah like Ian Woosnam? Or a dad-bod pin-up like Vijay Singh? Or a chain-smoking lounge lizard like Miguel Angel Jimenez?
Obviously, none of these men were average. You dont do any sporting thing professionally unless you are exceptional.
But they looked average middle-aged, somewhere between paunchy and fat, bending over to fetch the ball like they feared they might end up face-first on the green.
There was and is something joyful about a sport that still featured a few people not a lot, but a few who looked like the great horde cheering them on.
There is never again going to be such a thing as the average-height NBA forward or the thick-hipped NFL quarterback. But there was hope for the pudgy golf pro.
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DeChambeau is an existential threat to that possibility.
In fairness to him, DeChambeau is more than an especially thick slab of beef. He putts well and has a decent touch around the greens.
But the only message lesser aspiring golfers will receive from his success is: Get big. Get good. Prepare for a generation of bulging DeChambeau clones at the lower pro levels and in U.S. college programs. The swole bros will be arriving soon enough in the PGA.
Whether or not it sticks, the trend wont filter down to the local course you play on. Whos got the time? And, honestly, why would you care?
But in this future world of super-sized golfing giants, weekend hackers will no longer feel so free and easy telling people how mediocre they are at something they do for fun. They will have begun adding something to their golf game that has no place there shame.