DeChambeau’s Unique Approach Has Him on Uncharted Path
August 21, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Stuart Hall
At first, Bryson DeChambeau’s Ben Hogan-style cap might grab your attention. Or perhaps it is the unusual 37.5-inch length of all his irons. Maybe even the deliberate, technical approach the physics major takes to his play.
With Thursday afternoon's 3-and-2 victory over Maverick McNealy in the U.S. Amateur Championship’s Round of 16, though, DeChambeau is becoming known more for his cool and calculated talent than his eye-catching idiosyncrasies.
“It’s awesome, it’s rock solid,” said McNealy, No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, of his future Walker Cup teammate’s game. “He takes a very unique approach to the game, he buys into it 100 percent and that type of commitment is a huge part of what makes him so successful. He’s very analytical and very calculated. It’s very cool and fun to watch."
DeChambeau’s win over McNealy sets up a potential Walker Cup preview match with the Republic of Ireland’s Paul Dunne at 1:15 p.m. CDT in Friday’s quarterfinals. The 22-year-old Dunne was the 54-hole co-leader in last month’s Open Championship at St. Andrews before tying for 30th.
When asked about the implications the quarterfinal match might have on next month’s Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St Annes, DeChambeau said he is not thinking that far ahead.
“Tomorrow, it's going to be U.S. Amateur win,” said DeChambeau, 21, of Clovis, Calif. “Yeah, it could feel like it's a win for the Walker Cup, but we've still got to go play. It's another 18 holes. Totally different situation, totally different golf course, and something that I'll be looking forward to.”
The rising Southern Methodist University senior is playing in his fifth U.S. Amateur, but he had never advanced beyond last year’s Round of 16 until Thursday. The difference is an inner confidence, which manifested itself during his NCAA Individual Championship win in late May at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.
“As I said at the NCAAs, it was total belief that I could do it,” said DeChambeau, who is No. 7 in the latest world ranking.
The NCAA win opened up opportunities to play in the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic and John Deere Classic. He also qualified for the U.S. Open.
The experiences have allowed DeChambeau’s game to mature, but along the way he is routinely asked to explain why he “does things a little differently to everyone else,” as Dunne said.
DeChambeau began wearing the Kangol hat when he was 13, just to be different. He began using the same length irons when he first qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 2011 with the aid of his coach, Mike Schy, who also is doubling as his caddie this week. In essence, the unconventional configuration allows DeChambeau to have the same posture with every club.
Then there is the use of analytics or that “unique approach,” that McNealy talks about. The process began when DeChambeau attended a seminar conducted by Scott Fawcett at SMU about a year ago. Fawcett is a former pro who uses shot statistics to not only address a player’s weaknesses, but also improve the percentages of shots a player takes.
“He's helped me understand the percentages of going for flags, when to go for flags and when not to,” said DeChambeau, who helped the USA win the 2014 World Amateur Team Championship in Japan and reached the Round of 16 in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in May.
“It's more of a shotgun approach rather than a sniper approach where you can't hit it 5 feet right of the flag every single time. So we try and move that distribution to where you're maximizing your potential of hitting the green every single time.”
DeChambeau estimates that the statistical analysis saves him nearly a stroke per round.
He also understands that he is perceived as somewhat different and that he comes across as a “math guy, an analytical guy,” he said. But his game can, at times, be creative.
On the 10th hole against McNealy, DeChambeau pulled his drive into rough running alongside the adjacent 18th hole. After careful consideration of whether to go under or over the line of trees, an alternative shot came to mind.
“I can also be very artistic,” he said. “I was trying to finesse a shot around trees and mess around, and that's who I am. I like taking both aspects and applying them to my game to maximize my potential.”
That ability to realize his potential may just win him a U.S. Amateur title.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.