Bryson DeChambeau: Golf’s mad scientist says ‘crazy is relative’
(CNN) — He’s often described as golf’s “mad scientist,” the physics major with the lab-built swing, the single-length clubs and the unrelenting, analytic work ethic.
Yet Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodoxy is not just some far out formula. It works.
The 24-year-old has collected three PGA Tour wins in 13 months, the latest a four-shot stroll in the Northern Trust Open Sunday to lead the season-long FedExCup standings.
DeChambeau’s singular approach marks him out in a sport known for its conservatism and sometimes “vanilla” stars.
But he insists his unashamed pursuit of perfection, in a sport noted for its vagaries, is not as “crazy” as it seems.
“Crazy is a relative term, you know,” the new world No. 12 told reporters after his latest victory in Paramus, New Jersey.
“Everybody is unique in their own way and some people work harder for longer hours than others. You can say what I do is crazy, but at the end of the day, I’m the one with the trophy this week.”
‘The Golfing Machine’
DeChambeau’s most recent success makes him only the fourth player to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship, the US Amateur title and three PGA Tour events before their 25th birthday.
The others? Only three of the biggest names to have played the game — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus.
Despite DeChambeau’s low-key profile, he has collected more titles in the same time frame than Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler combined. And so far in his fledgling career DeChambeau has won more than $8.4 million in prize money on the PGA Tour.
“I don’t play golf for money,” adds DeChambeau, who talks often of biomechanics, spatial awareness, standard deviation, tolerance and ranges of error despite being known as “L’Artiste” by some social media users.
“I play golf to execute that shot, the beautiful shot that everybody adores. That’s why I think we all play golf.”
DeChambeau’s swing is based on some of the theories espoused in the left-field 1969 golf manual called “The Golf Machine” by Homer Kelly.
The geometric-heavy theory — taking the club back on a single plane, with no wrist break — is to improve consistency and reduce the variation in his shots. Critics say it lacks the power of a more traditional swing.
In tandem with the unique method, he also employs clubs that are all the same length — 37.5 inches — from three iron through wedges, compared with most sets which get shorter as the loft of the club increases. Instead of numbers, he stamps the clubs with names, such as “Azalea” and “Gamma.”
Until recently he also used a drawing compass to help gauge precise hole locations before the game’s governing body in the US, the United States Golf Association, banned it for being an “artificial” or “unusual” device. And he has experimented with a sideways putting technique until the putter was deemed non-conforming.
DeChambeau, who grew up in Clovis, California, confesses he struggled with reading and writing — although not math — as a youngster and “worked my butt off to be an A student.”
“I feel like I’ve always had to work twice as hard to be just as good as others,” he says.
Through dedication, he says he can sign his name backwards with his left hand.
“It’s not talent, it’s just practice,” he told Golf Digest in 2016.
“I can be good at anything if I love it and dedicate myself. And I love history. I love science. I love music. I love golf. I love learning. I love life. I love trying to be the best at anything and everything.”
When the equation doesn’t work out, however, the volatile and unforgiving DeChambeau can sometimes struggle to contain his frustration.
After his first round at the British Open at Carnoustie in July, DeChambeau was filmed having what appeared to be a golfing meltdown on the practice ground. The American threw clubs, despaired with his head in his hands and sunk to his haunches as demons seemingly infested his swing.
The following week, he led the European Tour’s Porsche Open by one shot with four holes left before suffering another meltdown. DeChambeau’s curt handshake with eventual winner Richard McEvoy drew heavy criticism, forcing him to apologize.
The downs, he says, are more important than the ups.
“Even though I have hiccups every once in a while, those are great experiences I can learn from,” added DeChambeau Sunday.
“That struggle is what led me to this point. Those moments when you’re at your — relatively speaking, lowest, are the times when you can learn the most.”
‘Man on a mission’
But DeChambeau’s recent results — he also won Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament in June — and competitive instincts have made him a virtual lock as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup in Paris in September.
“We all know he’s extremely intelligent, but his heart, he gives it everything he has and is always trying to get better,” Woods, the man one place behind him in the Ryder Cup rankings, told reporters in New Jersey.
“We want fiery guys on the team. We are going overseas and we are going into a pretty hostile environment, so we want guys who are fiery. He’s a tough kid. He’s been through a lot in his life, and he’s worked hard to get to where he’s at.”
Should he get the nod from US captain Jim Furyk, DeChambeau would make his Ryder Cup debut against Europe at Le Golf National, but it wouldn’t be the first time he has attended the tournament.
Two years ago at Hazeltine he attended as a fan, just to soak up the atmosphere.
Now, though, DeChambeau is a “man on a mission” — to make the US side and win the FedExCup.