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Niyo: Beefed-up Bryson DeChambeau proving his crazy methods aren't all madness

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Bryson DeChambeau hadn’t even played a full 18 holes yet at the venerable Detroit Golf Club this week, but already he felt like he owed an apology to Donald Ross, the famed architect who designed the course more than a century ago.

"I think there's a lot of bunkers that are around like 290 (yards from the tee), so hopefully I'll be able to clear those and take those out of play,” said DeChambeau, one of the top players entered in this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit. “So, sorry, Mr. Ross, but, you know, it is what it is."

And what DeChambeau has become in relatively short order is one of the biggest draws on the PGA Tour — with an emphasis on “biggest.” It starts with DeChambeau’s muscle-mass appeal: a hulking 6-foot-1, 240-pound figure routinely uncorking drives of 350 yards or more. But it certainly doesn’t end there, as the 26-year-old California native has only enhanced his reputation as a mad scientist since joining the tour in 2016, a year after winning NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles.

A physics major at Southern Methodist University, DeChambeau was known to soak golf balls in Epsom salts to find their center of gravity, a la Ben Hogan. He regularly used a protractor during competitions to calculate “true” pin locations until the tour banned the practice a couple years ago. And whether it’s his unconventional swing or unique club designs — the shafts for his irons are all the same length to aid his single-plane swing — or the bulked-up physique that packed on 20 more pounds during the tour’s three-month COVID shutdown, it's impossible not to notice DeChambeau in his tam o' shanter cap on the course.

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Bryson DeChambeau

“You can look at him and say, ‘Oh, that's crazy, I would never do that,’” said Viktor Hovland, one of PGA Tour’s newest young stars. “But the fact is that it works.”

Quite well, lately. DeChambeau ranks sixth on the tour’s official money list this year, with more than $3 million in earnings, thanks to a string of six consecutive top-10 finishes dating back to February. And while he is one of only two golfers in the top 10 on the money list — Xander Schauffele is the other — that has yet to record a win in 2020, “I'm not even worried about that," DeChambeau says. “That's one of those things that when everything lines up and comes into play, that'll take care of itself.”

'Trying to be the house'

Presumably, that’ll happen soon enough on a course that’s longer than DGC, where the tree-lined fairways, thickened rough and tricky greens should help diffuse some of the bombers’ advantages this week. Ideally, DeChambeau says, it’ll happen in a major, which is the next big goal for the five-time Tour winner, along with reaching No. 1 in the world rankings. (He currently sits 10th.)

But in the meantime, he’ll keep doubling down on this grand bet he’s making on himself.

“What I have to do is imagine that I'm like the casino and just keep playing,” DeChambeau said. “Just keep playing and giving myself the best chance to win out here, and that's what I'm doing.”

He’s not talking about playing with house money, either.

“I'm trying to be the house,” he said. “I'm definitely trying to be the house.”

He’s definitely built like one these days, having taken his intense workout routine to a new level in 2020. His diet, too, as he explained Tuesday in a virtual press conference here in Detroit. DeChambeau says his day usually begins with four eggs, five slices of bacon and a couple organic protein shakes in the morning. He’ll snack on protein bars throughout the day, scarf down a PB&J sandwich around lunchtime and drink a few more Orgain shakes during an 18-hole afternoon round. Then for dinner, it’s steak and potatoes, before finishing the night with two more Orgain protein shakes.

“Luckily, I like the taste of those shakes,” he said, “so I can take those pretty easily.”

Not coincidentally, he’s tearing apart these 7,500-yard golf courses fairly easily as well, reaching par-5s in two with his irons and hitting wedges into the green on most par-4s.

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DeChambeau ranks second in the tour in strokes gained off the tee (1.055 per round), and though he ranks just behind Cameron Champ for No. 1 in average driving distance (320.8 to 320.1), that stat has always been misleading. Truth is, DeChambeau’s typical drive covers about 320 yards in the air, towering tee shots that seem to defy logic off a 5.5-degree loft driver head even if they’re firmly grounded in science.

He can talk for hours about spin rates and ground-reaction forces, about Trackman data and his Flightscope launch monitor. But there’s absolutely a method to what probably seems like madness to some, and as DeChambeau explains rather matter-of-factly, “I’m looking at this as a long-term investment.”

The short-term results certainly are remarkable. After averaging 175.4 mph with his ball speed last year — the tour average is about 170 mph — he’s now in the 190 mph range and hoping to push the needle to 195. (“If I swung that fast right now,” laughed Jordan Spieth, a three-time major winner, “I would probably be injured.”) It’s a year-to-year improvement that tour money leader Webb Simpson politely describes as “insane.”

“No one’s ever done what he's done, or even come close to it,” Simpson said Wednesday. “The jump he's made, we've never seen. I don't know if we ever will see it again at this level.”

'Pushing the limits'

Yet DeChambeau doesn’t see any reason to slow down. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, much as it was with Tiger Woods in his prime, revamping his swing even when his game seemed untouchable to most.

“When I say that I'm going to keep pushing the limits, I'm going to keep doing that,” said DeChambeau, who muses about adding 20 more pounds and hitting 200-mph drives in tournaments. “I'm going to see how far and how fast I can get and how straight I can hit it.”

Two weeks ago at Colonial, he was paired with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the final round, and afterward, McIlroy — one of the tour’s longest hitters — talked about what it was like to have a front-row seat to the show with his caddie, Harry Diamond.

“He hit a couple drives on that Harry and I just looked at each other, and we're like, ‘Holy (expletive), that was unbelievable,’” McIlroy said.

COMPLETE ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC COVERAGE

Jackson native Brian Stuard had much the same reaction last week in Connecticut, where he was paired with DeChambeau for Saturday’s third round at the Travelers Championship.

“I'm used to everybody hitting it past me, but it's still impressive to watch,” Stuard laughed.

Just as intriguing, though, was what he saw — and heard — in the fairway and around the greens as DeChambeau and his caddie talked through various strategies and calculations, covering everything from air density to wind vectors to slope adjustments.

“They were talking about a lot of numbers that I had no idea what they were talking about,” Stuard said. “For me, I don't think I could play that way. I don't think quite like that. But it's definitely interesting to see somebody take a different approach. Obviously, it works for him.”

Just how well it works, and for how long — will injuries eventually take a toll? — remains to be seen, of course. But for now, it's a fascinating experiment. And one that sounds like it's only just beginning.

“Burnout for me is when I don't have anything else more to learn in the game of golf," DeChambeau says, "and I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon."

Rocket Mortgage Classic

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Detroit Golf Club

Defending champion: Nate Lashley

Notable players: Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na, Danny Willett, Kevin Kisner, Erik van Rooyen, Christian Bezuidenhout, Bubba Watson, Matt Wallace, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh

TV: Thursday-Friday — Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m; Saturday-Sunday — Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

jniyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo