Bryson DeChambeau: the one-man laboratory heading to the Masters as the most mind-bending...

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May 8, 2002
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It was while teaching a course on particle physics that Professor Ryszard Stroynowski decided that Bryson DeChambeau, his student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was among the nimblest young minds he had encountered in 30 years. “Part of my class involved asking students to deliver a lecture,” he recalls. “Bryson gave his on proton decay, which is not an observable quantity. Protons don’t decay and we don’t know why. But he covered everything, including how people design these large experiments to look for it. He never missed a detail.” An obsession with detail is a recurrent theme in the young life of DeChambeau, who at 27 is redrawing the fundamentals of how golf is supposed to be played. His six-shot victory at this year’s US Open inverted the game’s ancient truism that it is better to be straight than to be long, turning a grind of a tournament into an exhibition of “bomb and gouge”, where the effects of fearsome Winged Foot rough could be minimised with sufficient brawn off the tee. Clearly not sated, he returned to his training lair to declare that he had just hit a ball 403 yards – through the air. As he prepares his next missile for the opening hole at Augusta, a slight dogleg par-four usually requiring a medium-iron from the fairway, Jack Nicklaus predicts that he could drive the green. On the cusp of a russet-hued, patron-free Masters, the first instalment dislodged from its traditional April slot in 86 years, DeChambeau is one of the most compelling draws his sport has known, and potentially the most revolutionary. While he agitates through his on-course pedantry, which encompasses everything from asking for drops from rogue ant-hills to squabbling with cameramen for straying too close, he fascinates through his philosophy on golf and all its maddening mysteries. Whether it is perfectionism or a need to bend immutable laws of the universe to his will, he is adamant that golf can be approached not as art but as science. Stroynowski, for his part, is rueful that DeChambeau did not devote his energies to academia. “Mine is quite an esoteric subject,” explains the professor, a global expert on the structure of matter and who has worked on the Large Hadron Collider, the vast particle accelerator built beneath the French-Swiss border. “I always have a look at the students who could be successful in my field. You may hear a tinge of regret in my voice, because I saw that Bryson could and should have gone to graduate school. But he became a professional golfer instead. Presumably he made the right choice.” A haul of seven titles and £16 million would indicate that he indeed acted wisely. But the accumulation of wealth and silverware appears not to be DeChambeau’s primary motivation. For all that his trophies make him a player of the rarest distinction – he is only the third to win his national championships at professional, amateur and collegiate levels, after Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – he has left any dominance at majors a little late. Woods, after all, already had seven by his age. DeChambeau believes instead that his lasting contribution will come from his forensic analysis of cause and effect.

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