MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Bryson DeChambeau, the PGA Tour pro who has spent most of the 2020 season in open defiance of many accepted golf tenets, has turned his iconoclasm on the United States Open and one of its most venerable golf courses.
On Friday, in the second round of the championship, DeChambeau continued with his preferred strategy of bombing mammoth drives off the tee without apparent fear of the menacing rough along the narrow fairway at Winged Foot Golf Club. Since 1929, when the first of six U.S. Opens at Winged Foot was contested, such reckless bravado has been considered foolhardy — not to mention a loser’s gambit.
But DeChambeau, born 64 years after 1929, has his own ideas.
“I’m going to keep hitting it as far as I can,” he said with a smiling swagger on Friday after a two-under par 68 improved his two-round score to three-under par, putting him near the top of the early leaderboard.
DeChambeau’s brute-strength swipes at the ball — he gained 40 pounds from intense weight training over the past winter — also brought a sense of roller coaster adventure to Friday’s round; he had five bogeys, five birdies and an eagle.
What happened to par being a golfer’s best friend at challenging Winged Foot?
DeChambeau, who has eight top-10 finishes this year, including a victory at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July, has instead tried to befriend his inner wild child.
“My approach is to hit the ball as close to the green as I can get it — and as straight,” he said. “But if I miss the fairway and I’m in the rough, I’m comfortable with that result.
“If the ball goes as far as it usually does, I’m comfortable in the rough, because with a wedge or a short iron I can still get it to the green or to the front of the green. That lowers the intimidation factor of the rough.”
While unconventional, DeChambeau’s approach is not borne of carelessness or imprudence. He majored in physics in college and has tried to bring science-based theories to a sport known more for its nuances, feel and a mantra known as the rub of the green — otherwise known as fate.
DeChambeau’s research, he said, supported the benefits of his power game, and Friday’s round was an example. Yes, he made his bogeys mostly when he missed the fairway, but he also made most of his birdies, and an eagle on his last hole Friday, by driving the ball much closer to the green than his contemporaries. With a shorter distance to the hole, DeChambeau was able to hit deft, accurate wedge and iron shots that shortened the length of his putts to holes. Then he sank a host of those putts.
And it’s not like he was that wayward off the tee. For the championship, his drives have landed in the tapered fairways 50 percent of time. The average for the rest of the field is about 37 percent.
In fact, DeChambeau is so confident that his tactics are an advantage over the field at this year’s Open that he is hoping the golf course gets harder in the final two rounds this weekend. He may get his wish, with the weather forecast calling for blustering, fall-like conditions, including cooler temperatures, in the low-60s.
“I want it to play as hard as possible,” he said. “There’s so many holes out here that I can take advantage of that some people can’t. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to win or anything. You’ve still got to execute, you’ve still got to hit the driver straight.”
While DeChambeau was threatening to change the time-honored method for winning a major championship at Winged Foot, his rivals — young and old — were generally faltering. Phil Mickelson, who finished second at the last U.S. Open held at Winged Foot, in 2006, did not make the cut for weekend. He shot a four-over par 74 Friday, which, coupled with a first-round 79, left him at 13-over for the tournament.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood, ranked 15th in the world, also shot 74, putting him at eight-over for the event. Tied with Fleetwood was defending champion Gary Woodland.
Dustin Johnson, the world’s top-ranked golfer, made a slight move up the leaderboard, rebounding from a 73 on Thursday to shoot even par 70 on Friday. Tiger Woods, who shot a seven-over par 77 on Friday after a 73 on Thursday, also did not make the cut.