The 27th birthday present came four days late but it was worth the wait. Bryson DeChambeau won the US Open at Winged Foot on Sunday to claim his first major championship. His closing round of three-under-par 67 brought him home six shots clear of 21-year-old Matthew Wolff. At a venue where most ‘experts’ were suggesting the winning score was bound to be over par, as indeed it had been in four of the five previous US Opens there, the new champion was six under. He had said on the eve of the event that his bulking up (he’s added 45 pounds in just a few months) was inspired by watching Brooks Koepka win the USPGA Championship last year at Bethpage Black, another formidable New York layout. “He just obliterated the course with his strength,” said DeChambeau. “That’s something I admired and wanted to model myself on.”
He wasn’t the only monster-hitter in the final group on Sunday. In the third round, Wolff had shot a 65 despite finding only two fairways off the tee. The famous US Golf Association strategy of penalising errant golf with penal rough may be due a rethink. This was a bomb-and-gouge slugfest. On Thursday, Patrick Reed hit his drive into thick rough on the 17th, a 504-yard par-four. The ball was barely in view. He waded in, pulled out his hybrid and hit it on the green. Simples!
The power of the modern player, and his equipment, are phenomena that seem to have passed by the USGA. On Sunday, DeChambeau hit a wedge to the par-three 7th. It measured 162 yards. Earlier Dustin Johnson had taken an 8-iron to the 214-yard 10th. Ben Hogan used to describe that tee shot as “a 3-iron into some guy’s bedroom”. And it played shorter in his day. DeChambeau is very much a modern golfer (his iron clubs are all the same length because the scientist in him has figured out that works best for him) but there is one thing distinctly old-fashioned about his appearance – his trademark flat cap is the sort Hogan would wear.
In a blog three weeks ago, I referenced a handful of players who might be worth looking out for at the US Open. DeChambeau and Wolff were among these, as was Viktor Hovland, who finished in a tie for 13th having dropped five shots in the last three holes. Had he parred those, he would have tied for third. Still, I guess that stat demonstrates that Winged Foot wasn’t exactly a pushover. Rory McIlroy, for example, who began Sunday with a sniff of a chance, one which pretty much disappeared when he four-putted the opening hole, closed with a 75 and tied for eighth on six over par.
Noting that DeChambeau had only hit 41% of fairways during the week, McIlroy said: “I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a US Open champion does. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know…it’s kind of hard to wrap my head around it.” The mantra for playing the US Open has historically been all about “hitting fairways and greens”. Now it seems only the greens are left.
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