Defending RMC champ Bryson DeChambeau aims to outmuscle strong field, DGC again

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit — A year ago, Bryson DeChambeau overpowered Detroit Golf Club.

On his way to a three-shot victory over Matthew Wolff at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, DeChambeau bombed his way around the Donald Ross layout, piling up 27 birdies and an eagle while averaging more than 350 yards a drive, including a long of 376 yards on No. 14 during the first round.

In fact, before play began, the PGA Tour’s resident bomber was already apologizing for what he might do to the course that opened back in 1899.

“I think there's a lot of bunkers that are around like 290, so hopefully I'll be able to clear those and take those out of play," DeChambeau said. "So, sorry Mr. Ross, but, you know, it is what it is.”

Defending Rocket Mortgage Classic champ Bryson DeChambeau tees off on hole No. 16 during Wednesday's pro-am at the Detroit Golf Club.

A year later, with a U.S. Open title under his belt as well as another win back in March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, DeChambeau is prepared to outmuscle the rain-soaked course when play begins Thursday morning.

In fact, he might bring even more firepower than he did last summer.

“It's a little different conditions this year, but I think I'm hitting it straighter, hitting it actually a little farther than I did a year ago,” DeChambeau said before taking part in Wednesday’s pro-am. “If I can take advantage of the wedges — wedges weren't great last week — but hopefully I can take care of that this week. If I can do that, I'll give myself a good chance.”

More: Who'll reign at the Rocket? Detroit News writers pick their favorites, dark horses

Wait, did DeChambeau say he’s hitting it even farther, the Tour’s longest driver by almost four full yards?

Yup. And the notion that DeChambeau will be hitting the ball even longer this week than he did a year ago is likely unsettling for the rest of the field.

“Still looking for a way to hit it farther,” DeChambeau said when asked what his approach will be this week. “There's still a massive advantage to be had if you can do it right, build the right equipment, but then combining that with controlling the wedges. I think that's something that's very difficult to do that not many people can do. I still struggle with it at times, but I'm OK with that. I realize that that's a part of it and nobody's in this threshold, this area, trying to control wedges, trying to control putting, trying to control how you're hitting it, and I look forward to the challenge.”

The challenge might not be what it is at a U.S. Open, or some of the other high-level tournaments on Tour, but it’s not like DeChambeau will be teeing it up against a bunch of amateurs.

DeChambeau is part of a group of 13 major champions in the field, including two from this season — Phil Mickelson, who won the PGA Championship last month, and Hideki Matsuyama, winner of the Masters in April. Other major winners in the 156-player field include Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Lucas Glover, Jimmy Walker, Danny Willett and Gary Woodland.

“It's still a strong field,” DeChambeau said. “Anytime you've got players in the top 50, 100, they're still great players. We're all really good, we're within a couple shots of each other, so anybody can win. It's just going to be who's going to be the most patient, who's going to play the best over the course of four days, who's going to make the most putts.

“That's really, honestly, what it is every week.”

There’s no doubt, in most weeks, DeChambeau is the one who’s hitting it the farthest. Of course, that doesn’t always mean he’s playing the best.

He was close but not good enough earlier this month when he attempted to defend his U.S. Open title. However, a final-round 77 at Torrey Pines knocked him out of contention.

DeChambeau said it was simply bad luck that led to his struggles on that Sunday. From some poor lies to a streaker running on the course, DeChambeau, in his opinion, was dealing with more than just executing shots.

“It's just things compounding on each other that you just can't necessarily control fully,” he said. “You hit a great shot, nothing happened for you. That's luck.”

More: Jackson's Brian Stuard switches putters, believes game is 'trending' entering pivotal RMC

Add in the fact DeChambeau has been in the thick of a public spat with Brooks Koepka, and it’s not like he’s coming to Detroit at the top of his game. The issue with Koepka stems back a few years, but it reached a boiling point at the PGA Championship when a Golf Channel interview that was never aired made its way onto Twitter. Koepka stopped the interview when he noticed DeChambeau walking behind him, rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. Since then, the pair have been going back and forth, mostly on social media.

DeChambeau wasn’t asked about Koepka on Wednesday, and when he was in town recently to promote the tournament, he did his best to deflect any questions about the simmering feud.

Instead, his focus — at least for this week — was trying to defend a title.

“It's definitely cool,” DeChambeau said of being back at Detroit Golf Club. “It brings back great memories, obviously, looking back and seeing some of the holes that I played well. Some holes I didn't play well on, some holes I played really well on. Just trying to say to myself, ‘Hey, you can do that again this year.’ Those memories make me feel good.”

Will he have those same feelings on Sunday afternoon?

Only time will tell, but DeChambeau is confident his approach of swinging for the fences gives him the best chance — this week, or any other.

“It was very important,” DeChambeau said of last year’s win in Detroit. “It was a milestone to show everybody that this is a different way that I can do it and still win, so I was pretty proud of that. You know, used it pretty well throughout the year. I won again — I won the U.S. Open, won Arnold Palmer and come close a few other times. … Hopefully I can have that this week.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau