Bryson DeChambeau Has Transformed - But Can It Last
A couple of decades on from the award-winning ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’, this week at the Charles Schwab Challenge suggested the possible title of a new Hollywood smash hit. It would be called ‘What Has Eaten Bryson DeChambeau?’ who rocked – or should that be ‘waddled’? – up to his first PGA Tour outing since lockdown nigh on unrecognisable from the whippet-thin golfer who first emerged on the circuit.
Avowedly unsatisfied with his thinness, DeChambeau pledged to get bigger and began a punishing program of weight lifting and carb munching in the autumn. Now, he resembles a cruiserweight boxer, or an NFL line-backer. He is absolutely massive. He makes Brooks Koepka look like a tic tack. Which is quite an achievement because Brooks, standing 6ft-odd tall and built like the proverbial brick house, is an absolute tank.
Even more impressive than the size of DeChambeau’s arms is the awesome lengths he now clatters his shots. Bryson wasn't gaining size for ego (well, not totally). Nor was he bulking up to get more looks on the beach. He's a golfer, not a model. Instead, he was seeking more distance off the tee and, in true DeChambeau fashion, he’s obtained that in spades. In terms of raw length, 'DeChambomb' is currently topping the stats at this week’s tournament, hitting it so long – an average of 345 yards per drive, that’s an average length par 4 to you and me – that Colin Montgomerie has reignited calls for the length of balls used in professional tournaments to be limited. On 10 of the 18 holes in his most recent round at the Charles Schwab Challenge, DeChambeau had less than 100 yards in for his approach shot. To put DeChambeau’ length into perspective, if this was a municipal course, he would be driving perhaps 50% of the par 4’s greens.
Longest drives this week for @B_DeChambeau:— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 14, 2020
He's 1 back of the lead @CSChallengeFW. pic.twitter.com/rylVNdm3Cd
That being said, I'm not unambiguously thrilled with Bryson's transformation. Yes, it's great that he's hitting it further (unless you're a grizzled traditionalist). But, on the other hand, there are some downsides to bulking up that should give Bryson and his fans pause. One of these is that there is an ominous history of players adding size and getting short term gains, but quickly losing their way. It's an age-old story: good but not quite great player gains weight seeking extra length, but in the end, ends up worse than where they started.
A classic example is Luke Donald, who stepped up his gymwork and remodelled his swing to try and crack the 300-yard barrier, but only succeeded in destroying his career as a top-flight golfer. Padraig Harrington underwent a similarly mistaken shift. Like Luke, he hasn’t been a factor on leaderboards in years. That after winning three majors.
Another reason I’m concerned about the Mad Scientist’s new body is injuries. To return to Gilbert Grape, about 20 years ago, when the film was just arriving in cinemas, another talented young golfer resolved to bulk up. Like DeChambeau, he was naturally thin, although plenty long, and also like DeChambeau, he was frustrated at his relative lack of physical size (for reasons that were possibly as much related to vanity as golf). At first all looked well, but then the injuries came thick and fast. Now, he’s had almost 10 major surgeries. I’m talking - though I suspect you've already guessed – about a certain Tiger Woods.
Of course, if someone offered Bryson Tiger’s career, he’d obviously take it with no questions asked. Woods could still beat Jack Nicklaus’s major record and become officially the best player of all time. As it stands, he is a surely a lock-in to topple Sam Snead on the PGA Tour all-time win list. (Not to mention all his other accolades.) But Tiger has all these achievements in spite of his ruined body, not because of this. DeChambeau, and those who applaud his beefier look, should remember that were it not for that famous fusion surgery he had on his spine Woods would be finished. And does anyone seriously doubt that a thin, lean Tiger would have won any less tournaments than the line-backer? Probably, in fact, he would have won more.
Anyway, I hope that Bryson is happy with his new bod. And he certainly seems to benefitting from it in the short term. Tiger Woods bulked up and broke down. Hopefully, for the sake of his game and, more importantly, his health, DeChambeau can avoid the same fate.
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