Bryson DeChambeau arrived for his press conference before last September’s BMW Championship to find a packed house, but when the 25-year-old from Clovis, Calif., began to speak, the microphone cut out. As a team of audio techs struggled to identify the problem, someone yelled, “Bryson, can’t you fix it?” Half the crowd chuckled, the other half likely expected him to leap up and debug the sound board.
Why not? At that moment, it seemed as if there was nothing DeChambeau, who worked with Cobra Golf to design clubs that fit his style, couldn’t do. He’d won three PGA Tour events in three months, including the previous two in a row, both part of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The day before, he’d been named as a captain’s pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. And he’d done it all while tweaking the status quo with a homemade swing and a unique club design he’d concocted as a high school junior.
When the mic at Aronimink Golf Club outside Philadelphia was once again working, DeChambeau was asked if he’d always liked making things. “As a kid, I liked building a lot of Legos and built houses and did some fun stuff with that,” he said. “Those toys, I guess you could say, were put in front of me at a young age, and I became intrigued with them.” What else interests him? “Building a house, for example, that's always intrigued me.”
When it comes to golf, DeChambeau’s vision is even larger. “I feel like I’ve been able to bring an idea to the world stage and shine a light on a different way to play, an easier way,” he said during a one-on-one interview a few months later. “I want to change the game.”
The Golfing Machine is the golf instruction book Isaac Newton would have loved. Or Gustave Eiffel. Or Mr. Spock. The text, written by Homer Kelly in 1969, breaks the swing down into 24 precise components amid a hail verbiage about angles, fulcrums, hinge points, parabolas, power accumulators and plane shifts. To some it’s a work of genius; to many it’s utterly indecipherable. By the time he was 16, DeChambeau had memorized it.
Inspired by the book’s ideas, DeChambeau began to toy with a single-plane swing, in which his hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and back would trace the exact same upright path with each club. To do so, he’d need them all to be the same length.
DeChambeau loved his 7-iron, so he made its 35 1/2-inch shaft the standard for all his irons. (He still uses a standard-length driver, 3-wood and 5-wood.) To compensate for the change in length, he did some math. “I was taking high-school physics and that helped,” DeChambeau says. “Understanding the relationship between mass and velocity was the key. It was a somewhat but not completely linear exchange.” Using the ratio he calculated, he added weight to some clubs by attaching lead and removed weight from others by drilling holes in the heads. When he tested the clubs on the course, they worked perfectly. The whole process had taken him two weeks.
A year-and-a-half later, he packed his quirky swing and single-length clubs off to SMU, where as a junior, in 2015, he won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur, making him one of only four golfers to win those two prestigious events and four PGA Tour tournaments before turning 25. The other three? Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods. And while he was teeing it up for the Mustangs, he complemented that physics degree with minors in both math and economics.
His efforts to engineer a more logical if less traditional approach have ruffled some blue blazers (and pleated khakis). In 2017 he was forced to abandon a side-saddle putting method after the USGA deemed his putter “nonconforming.” In 2018, he began using a geometric compass during play to verify the accuracy of course maps but had to stop when the USGA again ruled against him.
This season, a rule change aimed at speeding up the game for amateurs allows players to leave the flag in the hole while putting. After some study, DeChambeau announced he would sometimes leave the pin in during tournament play, having calculated that it could offer a benefit based on the length of the putt and the flagstick’s coefficient of restitution (most are made of fiberglass, some steel).
DeChambeau’s ongoing desire to push boundaries is sure to continue pushing buttons, but he offered his perspective after the putter flap, saying: “Anything that helps shoot lower scores or makes golf more fun and grows the game, that's what I'm all about.”
It's a goal that doesn’t take a genius to figure out. Or does it?
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