By Doug Ferguson | The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The cart picking up golf balls on the practice range at Augusta National can only go so far. Club members were swapping tales about the staff who reached the end of the range and had to sort through azalea bushes more than 350 yards away to pick up a few more balls.
The culprit, of course, was Bryson DeChambeau.
Never mind that Tiger Woods is the defending champion at the Masters and still emotional 19 months later talking about that fierce embrace he shared with his son. Or that the silence of not having spectators for the first time is just as eerie as the color of autumn in the trees.
DeChambeau has become a showstopper. He has everyone curious about whether his bulk and his behemoth tee shots can undress Augusta National.
“It’s a substantially easier golf course for him than it is for everybody else,” said Justin Thomas, who joined DeChambeau, Woods and Fred Couples for a practice round at the start of the week. “I think once he starts messing with that longer driver and has a little bit more free time, then as crazy as it is, he might be able to hit it further.”
That longer driver is a half-inch short of 48 inches, the legal limit in competition, the type used by the World Long Drive competitors who turn the long ball into a spectacle. DeChambeau tried it out Monday after his practice round and liked how it reacted. He has not ruled out using it when the Masters begins today.
“I got my swing speed up to 143, 144 [mph],” he said.
The average swing speed for a power player on the PGA Tour is around 120 mph.
Numbers define DeChambeau these days, starting with the more than 40 pounds of muscle and mass he has added in the last year, remarkable gains from an estimated 5,000 calories a day in his diet and relentless work in the gym. More recently, it was the excitement at home in Dallas when one of his drives carried just over 400 yards.
Since Woods won his first of five green jackets back in 1997, rapid advancement in technology — bigger drivers, better science, solid-core golf balls — allowed everyone to join the distance race. The difference is DeChambeau has taken it to another level through his athleticism.
“Every day, I’m trying to get faster and stronger, and I’m trying to hit it as far as possible,” DeChambeau said.
He said he is hitting it farther than when he won the U.S. Open in September by six shots with the lowest score ever at Winged Foot, and farther than when he last played in Las Vegas a month ago. And the description of his pre-shot routine was telling.
“I’m just trying to get up there like I’m in a batter’s box swinging as hard as I can, trying to hit a home run,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a better way to say it.”
Length is not everything, and DeChambeau would be the first to concede that. Ask him about Winged Foot and he will talk about how well he hit his irons for the week, not to mention his short game. It’s no different at the Masters.
“I can hit it as far as I want to, but it comes down to putting and chipping out here,” he said. “That is one of the things that I think people sometimes struggle to see. As much as I can gain an advantage off the tee, I still have to putt it well and chip it well and wedge it well and even iron play it well, and that’s what I did at the U.S. Open.”