Repercussions of Bryson DeChambeau’s U.S. Open victory

U.S. Open

September 17th – 20th, 2020

Winged Foot Golf Club (West Course)

Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Par: 70 / Yardage: 7,477

Purse: $12.5 millionĀ 

with $2,250,000 to the winner

2020 Champion:
Bryson DeChambeau

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:

It’s just not the U.S. Open anymore

When I first started playing golf and learning about the games as a 14-year-old, 50 years ago, I was told that the average U.S. Open winner was about 5’10” and weighed around 170 pounds. That figure was taken from an average of some of the great U.S. Open champions. Bobby Jones was 5″8″, Ben Hogan was 5’9″, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were around 5’10. Even after I was playing a lot of golf, Tom Watson was 5’9″, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange was 5’11” and three-time champ Hale Irwin was 6″. The point of this, for many years, the prototypical fantasy U.S. Open winner was in that 5’10”, 5″11″ figure.

Simultaneously, the philosophy for years of winning the U.S. Open was the player who could hit the most fairways and control shots to the green.
Things started to change in 1991 when John Daly hit the golf scene and won the PGA Championship. He did it with a “grip it and rip it” style in which you hit it as hard and long as you can. It was an incredible moment when Daly won that PGA Championship averaging 303.6 yards per drive, 11 yards longer than Greg Norman, who was the next longest hitter at Crooked Stick. Daly went on to win a second major at the 1995 British Open, but at St. Andrews, which has the most expansive fairways of any major championship. Still, for Daly, he never finished higher than T-27th in 13 U.S. Open starts. Many worried that DeChambeau could rewrite the history books on changing the game from precise shotmaking skills to rearing back and hitting it far, that never happened. The same with Tiger Woods. When he won the Masters in 1997 with an average drive of 323.1 yards, the buzz was how much the game was changing. Of course, the 90s was more about the changes equipment was making on the game, but for Tiger, he became more interested in hitting it straight and on target over hitting it long. The one mark that Woods did make on the game was becoming more physically fit. Now he did it more on endurance than length and longer distance. Still, this fad became big as most of those that played golf professionally became more physically fit. Now Tiger increased the level of our prototypical fantasy U.S. Open winner from 5’10” to 6’1″, but shotmaking and precise was still key over technology, which had drastically changed the game between 1990 and 2003. The governing bodies of golf created new regulations for drivers and clubs at that time, but the one thing they didn’t see coming was the drastic change to the golf ball. For a long time, balata covered balls were the norm because players could control and put backspin on shots. Even though two-piece balls were around since 1967, it wasn’t until manufacturers could find ways that players could control two-piece balls before they were used in professional events. This added more distance to drives and made the onslaught of par even more dangerous, but many felt that this would be the last technical achievement, and the game would stabilize.
So the game seems to have stabilized on the technical front, and the only way to make any gains in distance is through being more physically fit. Tiger started the trend in becoming more physically fit over 20 years ago, and in looking at those that have won majors since 2010, you can see most of them are more physically fit. This has added more clubhead speed, which has gained a few yards on drives, but players now can gouge it more efficiently out of the rough, so now instead of thinking keeping the ball in play, players are taking the bomb and gauge theory. No longer do players have to be careful in keeping a drive in play. The philosophy is now to take out the driver and hit it as far as possible. If a drive goes into the rough, there is no problem since they are probably hitting 8-irons to wedge into the green. Before, it was impossible to get a 5-iron out of thick rough, but if it’s a wedge, no problem.
It’s funny how terms have changed over the decades. When Bobby Jones watched Jack Nicklaus play golf in the 1960s, Jones said that Jack played a game Jones wasn’t familiar with. The same 30 years ago, when Tiger was winning everything, many noted that Tiger played a game nobody was familiar with. We have now reached a totally new era with Bryce DeChambeau and his approach to the game. After his victory at Winged Foot, we are now finding a new way to skim more shots from par.
What DeChambeau has done is taken Tiger Woods work ethic on staying physically fit and carried it to the next step. He is now working with a fitness coach and toning his body but beefing up on his weight with the use of protein shakes. In the last year, he has put on 40 pounds, and it’s not fat, as much as pure muscle. With his new toned body and added weight, he has added more clubhead speed along with an extra 20 years off the tee. In a time in which the governing bodies, the USGA and the R&A are looking to curb the distance off the tee, they are now faced with an impossible task. How do they curb distance and bring back the finesse that is now taken away when these new distances are because players are more physically fit. Yes, DeChambeau has taken it to a new level, but look at the previous four winners of the U.S. Open, Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson. The three of them have spent many hours in the gym in toning their bodies and are three of the fittest athletes in sports.
I can say this, of the 143 players that didn’t win at Winged Foot this week, many of them went to bed on Sunday night wondering if they should do what Bryson is doing. Who knows when the players show up in two months at Augusta how many of them will have beefed up bodies and will be looking for 350-yard drives and a new advantage. Of course, I can’t see a Rory McIlroy or a Brooks Koepka get fitter anymore, but if Rory adds 20 pounds of muscle to his already fit body, God knows what he could do.
Of course, we see the positives of DeChambeau’s resurrection, and there could be hidden problems. DeChambeau is 27-years-old and for him, no problem in beefing up. But I wonder what ailments await DeChambeau in ten years. Just look at Tiger Woods now and how many ailments he has had. Could all of his work in the gym be the cause of his back problems? Just look at the difficulties that Brooks Koepka is having with his knee. Could his physical training be the cause of the problem? Same with Dustin Johnson and his knee and back problems, could his fitness regime be the cause? Same with Gary Woodland, who we find out now had a torn labrum in his left hip with a lot of pain. Could his fitness regime be the reason for it? Yes, it’s nice seeing 80-year-old Gary Player, who today is in better shape than 75% of 25-year-olds in the world, but Player has always been a fittest freak since he was a teenager, and it’s a regular part of his life. But some of these players could be going at it too hard, have to think that Tiger was one of them.
I don’t know what to think, but it will be interesting to see if someone like Jordan Spieth shows up at Augusta with a new body. It’s always easy to go after the latest fad, and many players are thinking about what Bryce accomplished this week, and maybe, they should think it out a bit more.


  1. i’m with you Sal … this was a significant moment in golf .. and he did it at what is supposed to be one of the HARDEST US Open venues .. if they’re not going to limit equipment like make the Pros use a “Tournament ball” that goes 80% as far, then they need to rethink course design with more creeks and water hazards and high trees to make them plot their way around and make the smash and grab strategy more risky … or start growing the rough at Torrey Pines NOW !

    question is should Bryson be hot favourite for Augusta now? maybe a Finau or a Spieth can choose to add 40 pounds in the off season but not in 6 weeks! Augusta is pretty wide open .. and suits Brysons draw … seems to be able to handle greens stimping 15 … and now he’s added his chipping game which was awesome this week having been suspect the last couple months … so
    a) will the chipping game be tougher for him with tighter lies at Augusta?
    b) why is his record not better there not even a Top 20 in 3 outings? any thoughts ?

  2. Steve,
    Agree with you, frankly other than a “tournament ball” they can’t do anything. I am afraid that the USGA may feel that Bryce hit the ball too far but frankly he deserves the win because he shot the lowest score. It’s interesting but in Bryson’s press conference he was asked “Did you beat 143 guys or the golf course.” He had a big smile on his face and said he beat Winged Foot. The USGA doesn’t like stuff like that, it’s like making fun of an umpire on a questionable call and the umpire can get back at ballplayers. We have seen low scores at the U.S. Open, but not at a place like Winged Foot. Funny when Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round at Oakmont in 1973 what happened. The next year at Winged Foot it was the hardest U.S. Open of all time. The USGA could make Torrey Pines really hard next year, but it will be interesting to see what, if anything the USGA or R&A do in the coming years to address the length of some of the tee shots. Now for Bryson, he has devoted his life to playing great golf and winning championships. He is as close to a Tiger Woods as anyone that has come out. Bryson cares so much and works his butt off so he deserves the win.
    But as I have said, be careful in screwing around with mother nature and the human body. Bryson is only 27 but he doesn’t want to beef up to the point that it could hurt him in the future. I see many athletics, especially in baseball that have gone too far and have hamstring problems and other bad things happening. Know matter how good your body is, it can’t be stretched out too much so hopefully Bryson will be smart, we will see.

    Wife is calling, the SUV is loaded up, the dogs are in and it’s off to the beach.

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