Bryson DeChambeau distance drew headlines again as the US Open champion powered his way to his eighth PGA Tour victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But, as our columnist Andrew Cotter muses here, golf must always be a game of skill over power.
Tam Arte Quam Marte… I do like to start off with a bit of Latin – it creates an air of intelligence where none might actually exist. A ploy not unknown in UK politics.
In fact, I know very little Latin. From my school days I am only able to tell you that Caecilius is sitting in the garden, but I have yet to get the chance to put it to use as I very rarely find myself in ancient Rome, never mind peering over the wall of Caecilius’s house during his tea break.
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Anyway, the reason I start with that particular Latin phrase is that it means ‘As much by skill as by strength’ and it is the motto of my home town club, Royal Troon. I thought of it when watching the return of the PGA Tour at the Colonial Club in Texas recently.
Firstly, it was fascinating to have golf back – to have any live sport at all was something of a novelty. I had pretty much forgotten that sport could exist on TV where you didn’t know what was going to happen.
Yes, there were frustrating aspects. For example, it did seem that those providing the commentary on CBS had saved up all the words they hadn’t used for three months and were trying to get them all out at once. But the rest of it was perfectly enjoyable.
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Strangely, I didn’t mind the lack of spectators at all. “But what about the sporting atmosphere?” I hear you say. Well, it was a little bit odd when the decisive play-off putt was missed by Collin Morikawa – a lip-out that would usually have been accompanied by oohs and aahs and shrieks was met by no more than a muffled ‘Kerchinnnng!” from Daniel Berger, but for the rest of the tournament it really didn’t make much of a difference to the viewing experience.
Also, if by atmosphere you mean tanked-up clowns shouting the names of foodstuffs a nanosecond after impact, then, no, I didn’t miss that.
I’m also glad they weren’t there hollering ‘MASHED POTATO’ at full volume as it would have meant Bryson DeChambeau very swiftly dropping his putter and rushing into the crowd with a fork and a hopeful expression.
I have never seen such a transformation in the size of a golfer, all in the name of science. Given that his stated goal back in the early days of this year was to put on as much weight as possible then 2020, for him at least, has been a roaring success.
At the start of lockdown he has clearly interpreted Government advice as being ‘At all times, stay within two metres of a fridge’. Twenty extra pounds (about a stone-and-a-half) have been added since we last saw him at the Players Championship, making it 45 in total, just over three stone. Given that he wasn’t scrawny beforehand, he casts quite a shadow now. In a way, I have to applaud his commitment. He has always done everything he can to make his game better, but in a miraculous and scientific way. And this is one of the more simple equations: Greater weight = greater clubhead speed = Hulk smash.
I wouldn’t recommend trying it yourself as you still have to maintain tremendous flexibility and have considerable skill to make it a success.
It’s also not just a case of eating every day as if it’s Christmas and letting weight pile on. Bryson has done it through building strength in the gym – there is a huge amount of muscle beneath the cuddly DeChambeau exterior.
Anyway, it does appear to be working for him, first with with victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and now a dominant display to win the US Open at Winged Foot.
But it seems as if he has become an easy target for the critics (this is literally the case – he’s around a foot wider). Really, though, he is only the monster we have created with modern equipment. As long as you have the drivers which reward power over precision, then you will have players chasing distance.
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Yes, there are still the occasional weeks, like Hilton Head, where the shorter players have a chance to compete. But far too often it is just a case of hit the ball as far as possible and wedge it onto the green before a putting contest.
Which of course leads me back to that motto of Troon – golf has to be just as much about the skill as the strength. Of course the sport has far greater matters to deal with right now as it tries to successfully restart, and there are certainly more important imbalances in golf to have a look at, but I do hope that in time this once can also be redressed.
It is a game where touch and feel and perhaps even a bit of artistry have always been so crucial. But whose motto now seems to have shifted to “More by strength than by skill”.
Just don’t ask me how to say it in Latin.