Pro golfers tend to be among the most milquetoast professional athletes. Modern outlier figures (for very different reasons) like John Daly and Tiger Woods have tended to be the exceptions that prove the rule: frankly, golfers are a little boring compared to other pro athletes.
While this may still (and probably always) be true on the whole, the gap seems to be closing. The current crop of talented players includes several about whom seemingly every moderate consumer of televised golf seems to have a strong opinion. Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed have been lightning rods in recent years for their (again, quite different) public personae.
2020 U.S. Open champ Bryson DeChambeau might have them beat. I wrote my column earlier this week thinking I'd get a few comments about his style of play and what it may mean for pro golf going forward, but I have to say that the more than 100 (and counting) responses the article received surprised me a bit.
In the end, I think golfers everywhere are more or less in agreement that DeChambeau's all-out-assault style of play, underpinned by aggressive strategy and long hitting off the tee (and little regard for whether his ball ends up in the fairway or rough) seems likely to produce a lot of high finishes and wins in future tournaments.
Where the debate rages, however, is over the question of whether this style of golf should be encouraged, or allowed (via altering equipment regulations) by the game's governing bodies.
We'll get into the distinctly pro- and anti-Bryson-Golf comments in a moment, but I wanted to first highlight a few I found interesting overall:
Reader Dustin: "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."
My take: I'm not so sure we can write professional golf off as "just entertainment" when it is so clear that recreational golfers everywhere take cues from the pros, and golf facilities are clearly influenced by the venues they see on TV. As great as Augusta National Golf Club is, it serves as an exemplar of course conditioning. Many private club memberships and resort guests and other golfers dock courses points for conditions that are anything less than completely lush and pristine. Augusta can get away with it because they have a functionally unlimited budget to attain those conditions compared to the courses you and I play. They also have the financial will and power to acquire land to lengthen their course to accommodate DeChambeau-like distance, unlike practically every other course on the planet.
"It's about course presentation, wrote reader David Cross. "This course was set up to statistically favour boomers so why the surprise when a very talented boomer wins[?]" The underlying implication here is that the USGA's insistence on keeping all the fairways between 25 and 29 yards wide (with the short par-4 6th's landing area a scant 20 yards across) made it so that even shorter hitters missed so many fairways that they could not create enough separation from the longer hitters for their superior driving accuracy to ultimately matter over the course of the tournament. Others have made this argument in recent days and it makes sense to me, especially in light of the fact that DeChambeau's 23 fairways hit for the week (a 41.1% success rate) were the least by a U.S. Open winner since such stats were counted.
But here's the thing: to David's point, everyone hit fewer fairways than usual at Winged Foot. DeChambeau's four-day, 23-fairway total sounds pathetic in a vacuum, but he was tied for 26th in the field in driving accuracy for the week. So while he hit the ball really far, he also hit it relatively straight.
Another reader, Jeff, was less interested in what DeChambeau does on the tee box than what he does on the greens:
"The real question for me is: Why is anchoring the end of the putter to your chest any different from anchoring 16-18" of the putter to your forearm?" he wrote. "Anchoring is anchoring, and neither method is technically a "stroke" in the "tradition" of the game. IMO, that is the rule that needs to change. BDC is smart enough to research and implement a conforming putting stroke, were this rule to change."
I think it's safe to say that the USGA's 2016 ban of "anchored" putting styles hasn't had the full intended effect Bernhard Langer on the PGA Tour Champions and Adam Scott on the PGA Tour are two examples of the long putter remaining in use, but with players hovering their top hands just off their chests and still swinging the putter as they did before. DeChambeau (along with Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and several other pros) use an "arm-lock" putter, which runs up a player's lead forearm, promoting a pendulum shoulder-rocking putting stroke. Such putters are not afoul of the anchoring ban because unlike the chest or the stomach, the arm is not stationary during the stroke. Still, this style of putting strikes a bad chord with many golfers, who would rather the rule be changed to simply require that the putter be the shortest club in a golfer's bag.
Comments in favor of Bryson-Golf
(Some comments are excerpted. In these cases, click the reader's name to see the full comment on the original article.)
Reader John: "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."
Reader James Arthur Murray: "[DeChambeau] brings something special to the game. Young players now will be putting more time in the gym and less time on the range. Welcome to a new era in golf."
Reader Barry: "Suck it up every one ... the only guys complaining are the short hitters. It takes a ton of talent to hit long...its speed not strength that matters. The game will always change...any nay sayer will be left behind [...] they are finely tuned athletes so embrace the new emerging talents and stop your whining..."
Skeptics and opponents of Bryson-Golf
Reader Greg: "So instead of making the game of golf into who can hit it farther, straighter, and faster, why not make it a game of skill again? ... Make the golfer use their skill and head again instead of the muscle. Make this game more challenging for everyone to enjoy instead of the big hitters."
Reader Bob: "Distance hitters are always going to be with us. The question is are we going to have to create new 8,000 + yard Championship venues. I think losing a Pebble Beach, Merion, [Olympic], Winged Foot, Congressional, etc. to U.S. Open play would hurt golf from a measuring perspective from the past. We can only trick up those courses so far until they become unplayable and unfair for even the Pros."
Reader Marty: "Bryson can do what ever he wants. The PGA needs to step up here and put a clock on him. I can understand the frustration of other golfers that have to play with him and can never get in to a groove because they are constantly waiting for him to look at his book and do his calculations on how he needs to play this shot. He does it on the greens to. This to me is NOT golf. It is a physics class on the course."