Bryson DeChambeau earned a special place in golf history this August when he joined Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore as the only men to have won the NCAA individual title and U.S. Amateur in the same year. With the victory comes an invitation to the 2016 Masters and exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championship. It’s pretty heady stuff for anyone, but the 22-year-old from Clovis, Calif., is pretty comfortable living in his own cranium.
DeChambeau’s swing philosophies are shaped by The Golfing Machine, the 1969 Homer Kelley swing manifesto; billed as “simple geometry and everyday physics,” it is not exactly light reading. But that suits DeChambeau, who has no problem turning the golf course into his own personal laboratory, right down to his equipment choices.
DeChambeau says his unconventional set of irons – the shafts all are 37.5 inches (the length of a 7-iron) – allow him to employ a one-plane swing. He also uses an elaborate putting-alignment routine and soaks his golf balls in Epsom salts to determine their center of gravity (as Ben Hogan did).
“There's a bunch of different ways to play the game of golf,” DeChambeau said during the U.S. Amateur. “You don't need to play it one way. It doesn't need to be one swing that's perfect out there. The thing that you can benefit most from me, I believe, is be yourself and play golf like you can, not like anybody else.”
John Spitzer, the USGA managing director of Equipment Standards, provides some further analysis of DeChambeau’s approach.
“The science behind the makeup for his irons is sound,” Spitzer said. “It relies on precise measurements and proper weighting of the clubs. You can’t cut a 4-iron shaft down and just stick it on the club head without changing the stiffness of the shaft and the weight of the head. So the manufacturer of the clubs, Edel Golf, had to make sure every club is matched for swing weight and the degree of loft difference in his irons.”
Spitzer also reminds anyone who is intrigued by the concept that DeChambeau’s set is not an original notion. Longtime USGA Members, for instance, might remember that Tommy Armour Golf launched its EQL irons in the 1980s, with limited success.
At Olympia Fields, DeChambeau found himself talking, guardedly at first, about more than his irons.
“I don't want to say too much because I don't want to give out all my secrets, you know,” he said with a laugh. “But Epsom salts, they help me float a golf ball, and I'm actually able to find the center of gravity of a golf ball. Not every golf ball is perfectly manufactured, so there's going to be an error in the machine and the center of gravity will actually be off-center.”
He then went into great detail about the difference between how a golf ball spins in the water if its center of gravity was in the middle of the ball versus if the center of gravity is toward one side or the other, simultaneously befuddling and amusing the audience in the U.S. Amateur media center.
And what happens to the balls he deems too off-center for his liking? You guessed it. “There's usually four out of every dozen that I won't play,” he said.
Spitzer suggests that the qualitative analysis, while not invalid, is as quaint as claw-foot tubs.
“We test each brand of golf balls for spherical symmetry,” he added. “This test assures that the ball behaves the same way, regardless of what orientation it is in when it’s hit. To determine that the golf ball is symmetrical, we measure differences in the carry distance and flight time. Typically for “tour-level” balls, these differences are about 1 percent or less; that’s less than one yard in carry and less than 0.1 of a second in flight time.”
“Back in the days when Hogan floated his golf balls in salt water, it may have made more sense since balls were of much different construction than today’s golf balls and quality control was vastly inferior,” he said. “Then again, the old wound ball could very easily go out of round during play, so it probably didn’t make any difference then, either.”
While Spitzer is impressed with DeChambeau’s attention to detail, he doesn’t think that it should drive USGA Members to the bathtub as part of their pre-round checklist.
“It’s almost certainly more beneficial to use the time you would spend floating golf balls to hit a few more wedges on the range or stroke a few more putts on the green!”
It remains to be seen whether DeChambeau’s fascination with science will translate to still more headline-grabbing victories. With the combination of style, smarts and game, there’s a good chance he hasn’t given his last lesson in his particular brand of golf physics.
David Chmiel is the manager of Member content for the USGA. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.