'It’s freakish'Golf’s original disruptors, professional long-drivers, impressed by DeChambeau
November 09, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Players discuss Bryson DeChambeau's physical transformation in 2020
Editor's note (Sept. 28, 2021): This story, published last November, captured professional long drivers’ reaction to Bryson DeChambeau’s groundbreaking transformation. We are re-publishing this story as DeChambeau competes this week in the Professional Long Drivers Association World Championship in Mesquite, Nevada.
How to Watch: DeChambeau’s group is scheduled to tee off at 3 p.m. Eastern and can be live-streamed on the PLDA’s YouTube page.
Pay attention, because we’re witnessing something special.
That’s the opinion of golf’s original disruptors, the professional long-drivers, who have watched Bryson DeChambeau detonate drives, power-lift trophies, and generally turn golf upside-down.
“It’s kind of uncharted territory,” says five-time world long drive champion Jason (Golfzilla) Zuback. “We long-drive guys were on the fringe, and PGA TOUR guys said, ‘Oh, that’s cool, but it would never work on TOUR.’ Bryson is now doing a lot of the things that we did, and I don’t think you could argue that he hasn’t gained an advantage.”
Indeed, he looks like the man to beat at this week’s Masters Tournament at Augusta, just as he might at the Masters next April. Two green jackets in five months would be a neat trick.
The first sonic boomlet of the revolution came as DeChambeau, who gained 40 pounds of muscle in his quest to essentially bio-hack the game, won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July. At one point, playing in the group behind Bubba Watson at the par-5 14th hole, he outdrove the one-time TOUR distance leader by 35 yards. Matthew Wolff, who is almost as long as DeChambeau but with a flatter trajectory, finished second at Detroit Golf Club.
When history repeated itself (sort of) at the U.S. Open in September, DeChambeau beating Wolff by six, there could be no doubt. His plan to deploy cartoonish length to move the odds in his favor was working, even at rough-choked Winged Foot. Who could have predicted that? Now he rolls into Augusta National, which has always looked much more like his type of course.
Speaking to Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz, the hosts of the Supbar podcast, Jordan Spieth said he was having lunch with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas when the subject of DeChambeau came up. “I was like, this guy has to lose the Masters to not win the Masters,” Spieth said.
Other TOUR pros have also taken notice, giving DeChambeau respect where it’s due.
No one, though, can appreciate what he has achieved quite like the long-drive set, men whose tee shots are accompanied by heavy metal rock, primal screams and stage smoke. Their niche sub-specialty hasn’t always matched up well with tournament golf, although it’s been entertaining.
Back in 2005, Zuback and fellow long-driver Bobby Wilson won the Champions Challenge at Utah’s Thanksgiving Point, hosted by Johnny Miller. The two-man scramble featured teams that were by turns formidable (PGA TOUR pros Dean Wilson and Mike Weir were the defending champions) and laughable (Scott Simpson and comedian Bill Murray finished second to last).Jason Zuback is a five-time world long drive champion. (Courtesy of Golf Channel)
In any case, strafing 400-yard-plus drives, Zuback and Wilson gave themselves six eagle putts, four on par-5s and two on par-4s, and made three of them. They shot 14-under 57 with a bogey, and Zuback mentions it straightaway when asked for his career highlight in traditional golf.
“When you’re trying to be the world’s best in long drive,” he says, “it’s so consuming that the other aspects of your game are going to be compromised. Distance control and ball flight are affected with that massive speed. You have to have some continuity of velocity and club delivery, so it’s a hard transition to the traditional game. That maximum velocity, pushing the limits of everything, doesn’t necessarily help through the bag.”
Zuback is hardly the only long-driver to have found that to be the case.
At 5 feet, 11 inches and 168 pounds, former hockey player Jamie Sadlowski was an outlier-specimen of flexibility and fast-twitch muscle fibers when he hit a finals-record 418-yard drive at the 2008 Re/Max World Long Drive Championship. He won it again the next year.
Sadlowski also had a technically sound swing, and in 2015 decided to transition to tournament golf, largely on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada. The move hasn’t worked out yet, with the highlights limited to three career made cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour, but he’s still only 32, and hasn’t given up. In fact, the example of DeChambeau may just prove motivating.
“Five years ago, when I was going to start playing, I got a coach and it was, ‘We’ve got to slow you down a bit, get some control,’” Sadlowski says. “But I shouldn’t have done that. I got away from my DNA and was trying to play like Brian Gay instead of like Bryson DeChambeau.”
Not that being Bryson is easy; Sadlowski knows that all too well.
“His motion with the driver is a little robotic, like Steve Stricker, not a lot of forearm rotation or body rotation,” he says of DeChambeau’s single-plane action. “Not a lot is going to go wrong there, and when you factor in the speed with hitting it fairly straight with the putting, the world-class all-around game, that’s a scary combo. I mean it’s freakish.”
Naturally, DeChambeau is inspiring imitators. While he has talked about switching to a 48-inch driver, Adam Scott has tested a 46-inch model and Phil Mickelson plans to put a 47 ½-inch driver into play at Augusta. Rory McIlroy switched out his driver shaft and posted photos on Instagram of his ramped-up ball speed and carry distance. Call it the Bryson Effect.
Art Sellinger, a two-time world champion who owned Long Drivers of America, which owned and produced the Re/Max, has also been impressed by golf’s so-called Mad Scientist.
Bryson DeChambeau’s best drives from 2019-20 Season
“Hitting fairways is the least important stat,” Sellinger says. “If the PGA TOUR was played only in Scottsdale, Arizona, where drives run out into the desert and cacti and all that stuff, I don’t think you would see Bryson play this way. But it’s not. And out of the rough, having a 37 ½ inch sand wedge really helps because he can be more vertical and put some heat on it.”
(DeChambeau plays with single-length irons.)
That said, Sellinger adds, “His putter won him the U.S. Open. People don’t give him credit for that. He putts the eyes out of it, that’s all there is to it.”
Indeed, DeChambeau is a multi-dimensional marvel. At the Rocket Mortgage, he became the first winner in the ShotLink era (since 2003) to lead the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Putting. He also led in Driving Distance (350.6 yards) and Par-4 Scoring (3.68).
Doing his homework has also helped. DeChambeau revealed on a recent podcast with FlightScope launch monitors that he brought that piece of optimizing equipment into the rough for his U.S. Open practice rounds. Why? To establish exactly where he could miss off the tee and still hit the greens.
“I leave no stone unturned,” DeChambeau said.
That also includes assembling a team of experts around him to mitigate the risk of injury.
“He’s trying to move as fast in a rotary manner that his body will accommodate,” says Zuback, who now coaches and consults on power golf with the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, California. “You can see with his shoulder turn, his hip turn, the positions he gets into, he’s got a real good amount of mobility, which helps in terms of injury prevention.
“There’s a lot of stresses on the body trying to move that fast,” he adds. “The lower back, the lumbar spine, where the hips and spine join, the shoulders as well as the wrists. And I know he’s modified his training so his body can accommodate those forces.”
Did DeChambeau worry about remaking himself given that he’d already won the U.S. Amateur, NCAA individual title and five TOUR titles? Granted, he transformed his body under the close watch of his coach, Dallas-based Chris Como, and Denver-based trainer, Greg Roskopf, but what if the 6,000 calories a day, the 40-pound weight gain – what if it had all backfired?
“Calculated risk, for sure,” DeChambeau told PGATOUR.com after winning the U.S. Open.
Jamie Sadlowski hit a finals-record 418-yard drive at the 2008 Re/Max World Long Drive Championship. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
Winged Foot was bathed in moonlight as he sat in a darkened side room inside the clubhouse and digested his game-changing win, plus a steak, pizza and protein shake. He slumped in his chair, bone tired. Bryson 2.0 was a hit, but still – the risk he took.
Calculated risk. And the initial data, he added, were too promising to ignore.
Had he ever done anything else this – extreme?
He brightened. “For physics class I rewrote the whole textbook just because I wanted to understand the information really well,” he said. “I wasn’t the best studier in school, so the only way I could remember stuff is when I wrote it down. Junior year. I still have the book.
“Obviously,” he continued, “they thought I was crazy.”
No one thinks that anymore. Especially not the original crazies like Golfzilla.