This is not your father's game (or even yours) anymore

Bryson DeChambeau's 2020 U.S. Open win puts golf at a crossroads.
Bryson DeChambeau parlayed his all-out power game into a U.S. Open championship win at Winged Foot Golf Club.

Golf attracted me from a young age (and has kept my attention) in part because it was the consummate underdog sport. Through my junior golf, high school and college days I was never particularly long; probably slightly shorter than average at best. But that was okay, because I was brought up in the game to understand that shorter hitters could usually compete with longer ones because swinging the club faster meant a certain baked-in amount of wildness, especially off the tee. Keeping it in play and putting a steady round together was a good way to play the game.

Bryson DeChambeau is not a revolutionary. He is a fanatic.

Even as I played through the interval where driver heads went from under 300 to 460 cubic centimeters seemingly overnight, I believed that the straight-and-steady style of play was as legitimate as the long-and-wild one.

I was dead wrong. Even though I’m only three years older than our newest U.S. Open champion, Bryson DeChambeau, I feel like a dinosaur. My handicap is a skosh to the good side of scratch, but I’ve never felt less connected to the upper echelons of the game because the style of play I honed - and saw other pros deploy to great success - is no longer represented at the game’s highest levels.

The 2010 Travelers Championship seems like a century ago, rather than a decade. That week, Bubba Watson earned his first PGA Tour victory in a playoff. He was far from the first modern bomber to win a tour event, but it was who he beat in that playoff that marked it as something of a changing of the guard: Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin.

That year, Bubba Watson was #2 in Driving Distance at 309.9 yards. Verplank was tied for 166th at 278.8 yards. Pavin didn’t play enough Tour rounds to register, but the previous year, he averaged a minuscule 259.0, dead last by almost ten yards. Nevertheless, at least that week, there was room for long-and-wild and short-and-steady to run neck-and-neck.

Look at the list of names who have dominated over the last decade-plus and it becomes obvious that there is only one way to really succeed in professional golf anymore: hit it far, knock it within range and if you hole some putts over 72 holes, you win. Stat oracles like Mark Broadie and Scott Fawcett have convinced their advisees that hitting 320-yard drives into the rough is better than hitting 290-yard drives in the fairway.

Bryson DeChambeau is not a revolutionary. He is a fanatic. He hasn’t reinvented golf; he’s taking the modern approach toward its limit. If 320-yard drives in the rough are good, then surely 380-yard drives in the rough are better, as long as the cone of uncertainty can be managed.

There is little reason to doubt DeChambeau will continue to prosper as he bootstraps a long-driver’s mentality onto an effective all-around game. His only barrier is the equipment regulations set forth by golf’s governing bodies, which currently allow for the use of a driver whose aerodynamics are stable enough and whose sweet-spot is now large enough to work with a 130 mile-per-hour swing to produce acceptable results at the game’s highest levels. Hank Kuehne led the PGA Tour in Driving Distance in 2003 at 321 yards, but he was not particularly consistent off the tee. He used a 390cc TaylorMade r510 TP that year, quite a different instrument than the maxed out drivers the current elite players use.

Where do we go from here? Is the complete obsolescence of finesse and tact as a way to play a positive development for the game? Do we want golf to become like basketball and football, where from a very young age, it will be clear that only certain people have the built-in physical gifts (make no mistake: DeChambeau’s physical transformation is not remotely possible for everyone) to compete at a high level? Or will we decide that we still value diverse skill sets among our best players?

Part of what used to make professional golf interesting to watch was that the differences in the pros’ styles of play mirrored those of golfers everywhere. We could identify with players who seemed to play the game like we did. Now, the best players – not just DeChambeau – all play a game with which we are not familiar. The days of relatability are gone, and the governing bodies must now decide whether they are gone forever.

More on long drives and the influence of modern equipment on golf
Rocket Mortgage Classic win heralds a scary new chapter in the debate about golf equipment and the course setup.
Golf's major governing bodies agree that it's time to act to stem the tide of increased "hitting distance." But how?
Real, sustainable growth of golf will be gradual, and it will be difficult
These exciting courses off the tee will make you feel like a long-drive champion.
Debate is swirling over the question of whether the golf ball needs to be rolled back by the governing bodies. Here's why that may be the wrong decision.
Jack Nicklaus has been a fervent supporter of rolling back the golf ball 20%. Bradley S. Klein explains why the Golden Bear's logic is off, and what a better solution might look like.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
116 Comments
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Eventually he will injure himself. Muscles may grow and grow but the tendons have limitations.

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Let's slow down a bit people. Yes he won in dominating fashion but he's not the first to do it. It's one win, others will win again and yes long has been dominant for years now but that dosen't mean it's a guarantee. Just seems like there is a lot of whining right now.

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No question about it, he laid to rest the discussions that accuracy is more important than distance off the tee, but that has been long gone for several years. But do not put it all in Bryson's basket. MANY players on tour can hit 8 irons nearly 200 yards, if not farther. He has just brought it to light with his Open victory. He ALSO has a super short game and he can putt. The fact that he planned it, did all of the work in the gym, changed his diet, and worked very hard on the range to accomplish it cannot be swept aside. Does the tour need a "tour ball" with 20-30% less distance capability? Many questions to be answered. ALSO, let's see if he can sustain it over a full season.
JPH

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So I’ve been fortunate to have played this game for over fifty years. I love this game; for all its aspects and all its individuals. I also love baseball for similar reasons. The idea that golf will become all about distance and little else would be like baseball being all about the hitters and nothing else. Long drives and hitting it out of the park have their place but who wants to watch only that? And if you can’t hit your putt in 30 seconds you shouldn’t be considered a pro.

Commented on

Bryson has a natural strategy that works, get stronger and go further.. His advantage is not to be found in wind tunnels and dimple patterns its simple, get bigger get stronger. Will DJ and other tall players have to use shorter clubs to equalize their swing radius to shorter players like Louis to make it fair. Let Bryson do his thing and let the rest catch up. Brain'S

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Wing Foot was there for the taking! We saw it for what it really was. Wide fields of grass with narrow strips of fairways, a few trees and bunkers. Bryson hit as many fairways as most of the golfers in the field. But his approach won't work on every course. It will be interesting if he can duplicate the win on other courses.

Commented on

I agree with some of the other commenters here that its less an issue of growing the rough and instead creating more hazards off the fairway. My club has two 18 hole courses, The Forest and The Meadows. Guess which one is more difficult? Elite members aside it will take people 10 strokes or more to get around the harder course. Bomb and gouge doesn't work if you don't let it.

And all the power to Bryson for putting in the work and playing his way but he still has to maintain pace of play.

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Watching golf is entertainment based on what’s possible. Playing golf is the reality check that maybe it is or isn’t for me -today-. Lol. What Bryson did has little relevance to the rest of us. It’s just entertainment. No reason to change the game because a few people do what most don’t or can’t.

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I like seeing players taking the game to the extreme. We should not discourage athleticism or innovation. I'm happy to play my game as best I can each day.

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Its about course presentation. This course was set up to statistically favour boomers so why the surprise when a very talented boomer wins. If the straighter hitters cant even hit 50% of the fairways playing well then why bother with accuracy. If you are going to have thick rough around all greens giving everyone the same exam paper then don't be surprised if those talented with great short games are nullified. If great iron players cant hold greens with good shots because of dry very undulating greens then don't be surprised if smashes out of rough get virtually the same result. If the course was set up the same as the first day for all four then would it just be down to the boomers, I don't think so. In setting up the course the way they did it played right into the hands of Bryson and Wolfe. If you want to reward accuracy give them a reasonable target to hit at shorter distances and give great iron players a surface to hit which they can hold. Day one was great the rest was unnecessary carnage with only one result possible, it was set up to favour a boomer so why the surprise and indignation and demands to change things that will change nothing. Course conditions can be used to make the changes better than more regulations changes. This is from a very short hitter 200yd driver carry.

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Great comment, you are so correct on your points

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This is not your father's game (or even yours) anymore