California-born Bryson DeChambeau is a details man. At 26, he has already been dubbed ‘The Scientist’. Whether the label is a compliment or a burn, depends on how you like your golf to be played: with pace and aggression, or with measured calm where even the ambient air density is taken into consideration.
In analysing to the nth degree the variables and methodology of golf, the five-time PGA Tour winner is putting faith in a technical and systematic approach, completely at odds to the bravado and flair of the game’s fast-paced entertainers.
In the face of the booming long hits of Brooks Koepka, the experience and incredible renaissance of Tiger Woods and the laid-back, yet zoned-in style of Justin Thomas – all of whom have been number one in the world at some point in their careers – DeChambeau prefers to turn logic and science to his advantage.
His signature approach came about after he was confused as to why a certain shot wasn’t going where he was expecting it to and had a chat with his caddie, Tim Tucker. What came out of that was a drive towards discipline, order and precision… and, frankly, his playing partners would just have to wait!
It’s a somewhat painstaking style and method – but could he be onto something and eventually crack the code? RSNG spoke to him to find out…
RSNG Let’s talk straight away about the debate over playing slow? BRYSON DECHAMBEAU, GOLFER ‘I think there needs to be an understanding that people do things in different speeds in life. A lot of the time when I have been criticised for slow play it’s actually because there are people ahead holding us up.’
‘Would I rather use that time to get a ball down, or hurry then stand around waiting on the next tee? Think about that – the most important part of each hole is the hole itself, and that’s the bit we’ve got to invest in as golfers.’
‘The people who criticise that, I feel, are missing the point a little. I get it that perhaps it’s not the most interesting thing to watch, but then there are quiet moments in every sport.
‘Sometimes, it’s the caddies and sometimes it’s the other players who will take a little longer to walk because they don’t care about walking fast around the course or in between the shots. I take my allotted 40 seconds and sometimes over that amount and I would totally agree that I do.’
‘For people to question my play for the time I take playing a round of golf, playing individual shots or whatever – I do feel like it as a personal attack on me, sure I do. Especially as I don’t feel that it is me and the way that I play the game – these people don’t understand how much it is harming the people that they choose to attack.’
I want to give myself the best possible advantage over everyone else by using all of these elements around me
RSNG I think as many people admire your scientific approach to play as do criticise the intricacies with which you approach a shot. How did that nickname ‘The Scientist’ come about? BD ‘That started off as a bit of fun but has kinda stuck. I quite like it. For me, the margins of golf are so slim and I think you need that cautious, analytical mind.’
‘At the end of the day, you’re trying to get a very small object a long way into a tiny hole, and there are so many ground and air factors that are going to make that task incredibly difficult.’
‘I want to give myself the best possible advantage over everyone else by using all these elements around me. Perhaps they work, perhaps it’s just pure psychology. In my head, the investment I put into my research and my playing is the evidence that I gather. That is ultimately what takes me forward and helps me win tournaments. And that must be the point, right?’
RSNG Do you feel that the way that you read a golf course, in the unique way that you do, gives you an edge on the tour? BD ‘I would agree with that to an extent, and I’d say that the knowledge I have gathered over the last couple of years, added to the experience of playing the course and learning all of the variables which affect a golf ball, has definitely progressed positively.’
‘It was a couple of years ago when I thought to myself that I had to start brushing up on the golf courses I was playing and that would help me to be more consistent in getting the results that I want.’
‘So, every so often I would hit a shot and think that there was nothing wrong with it at all, but it would overshoot where I thought the correct landing area was by about 10 yards. It confused me and I was trying to work it out, because I had hit the ball with the same velocity, the same angle and trajectory and I couldn’t work out what was happening.’
‘Following the shot, I would sit down for about 15 minutes and speak with my caddie, Tim. We would discuss what it could possibly be that was making the shot fly that far. Why is there this inconsistency in our fine-tuning for numbers?’
RSNG Where did you go from there? BD ‘From that point onwards – after having the conversation with Tim and having those types of issues with some shots where I was thinking that everything about the shot was perfect, the amount of spin on the ball, the speed of the ball and the shot going into the, the launch, the trajectory, the approach angle, everything about it – we will say ‘stop’.’
‘We have to then go through everything and not go any further forward until we understand exactly what is happening and totally recognise and know what’s going on, because it’s a completely unique situation.’
‘To do that, it would mean that we would have to go through everything single variable, be it things such as the lie and whether it was on an upslope or downslope. And say the adjustment is only five yards because you’re hitting a short club like a wedge, for example. That’s because the angle of the ascent and descent isn’t affected too much, because of the trajectory.
‘Those couple of things there may only seem slight, but they can have a big effect and impact on each shot that you have, and they have to be taken into consideration.
‘Another example is air pressure and the ball flies differently in every event, due to the atmosphere surrounding the course at that given time, the elements at that point, and the ball in its proximity to the hole.’
‘If we can regulate that to a far greater likelihood, then that knowledge and experience I have picked up every step of the way leading up to that point is going to give me the opportunity to hit that ball that bit closer to the hole every time. If I do, then in turn, I am going to make more putts.’
RSNG Do you feel you’re putting more pressure on yourself to hit the perfect shot? BD ‘Not really because that is the challenge always for a golfer. And besides, it’s actually quite simple. I need to be getting my approach shot to the greens within 20ft of the pin every time or I’m going to be two-putting. And, if I am adding an extra shot to every hole on the round, that’s 18 shots minimum every round.’
‘I have to be hitting the approach to five feet every so often, and to ten feet every once in a while or I won’t be winning tournaments, I won’t be finishing in the top 25 in events. Hell, if I don’t make the putts, I won’t make the cuts!’
Fear of failure – getting so far down the line then realising you should have been doing something different – that can be a lot more painful than a reward is fulfilling
RSNG How do you go about deciding when the time is right to take those chances and try to dial in on the pins? BD ‘What you have to do is to create a range which is internal, and my own personal range is usually about left or right of the target I am aiming for about five or six yards.’
‘That is the limit of my worst possible scenario for each shot I take, and I don’t take out a standard deviation, which is taking out the deviations from the shots that you hit. I will always be taking in the range of what my full potential is on any given day.’
RSNG It sounds like you are trying to crack the secret code for sporting success? BD ‘Well, in many ways, we all are. Ask any golfer on the circuit – they are all looking to mix up, tweak and fine-tune what they do, because they know the rewards are so great.’
‘It could be something in the physical form that a golfer is looking to improve, it could be the club, getting extra sleep, drinking more water, blocking out the crowd… we are all different but what unites us is we are all looking for ways to gain an advantage.’
RSNG Are you motivated only by reward? BD ‘No – the fear of failure is usually greater. It’s the idea of getting so far down the line, then realising you could and should have been doing something different, something better, a long time ago. That can be a lot more painful than a reward is fulfilling.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Bryson and his caddy tackle air densities in two smart shots to see why they call him ‘The Scientist’ (with subtitles).