The evolution of GolfMan is complete now. He has been perfected. Or maybe Bryson DeChambeau is just a one-off who will burn up and flame out and hurt himself any day now.
It’s too close to call.
But golf moves on Thursday with the start of the Masters, the first major championship in the post-Tiger Woods era. We don’t know exactly what happened with Woods on that day in February when he smashed his car and his legs. We don’t know what caused the crash, (although here’s one report) and whether it was just one of those fluke things or whether he was endangering others when he was behind the wheel. Too many secrets.
And now, we don’t really know how severe his leg injuries are either. But he’s 45 and has had so many knee and back surgeries already, and it just seems likely that Woods isn’t going to be regularly competitive in majors or on tour ever again.
Oh, golf will hang onto him, as it should. He’ll be made the Ryder Cup captain or basically whatever else he wants or is willing to contribute. Even in a ceremonial position, he’ll remain the face of golf. But golf is going to have to move on now the way basketball had to after Michael Jordan left and the way that football will (probably) have to someday without Tom Brady. Football seems ready to do that with Patrick Mahomes, and tennis seems prepared to replace Serena Williams with Naomi Osaka.
But replacing Woods is a big order for DeChambeau. Still, as the new golf everyman, he actually does have a lot to offer. DeChambeau doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen in golf before. He is something new, and with his insane, out-of-his-shoes, don’t-know-where-the-ball-is-going drive, he’s a perfect match for a social media-obsessed world.
The golf world already knows him well. He’s 27 and has won the U.S. Open. But golf is going to need him to expand beyond that.
So, if you don’t know him, here is a quick rundown:
DeChambeau is an American, hugely football-player like, muscular, doing things his own way, swinging as hard as he possibly can, throwing off traditionalists, taking major chances and scaring some golf superstars. His theory seems to be that if he can hit the ball 50 yards farther than everyone else, then it’s worth the risk of it going into the deep rough.
Or even over a fairway. Or two.
GolfMan has definitely evolved. In the old days, there was Craig Stadler with a huge mustache and massive belly. That turned into John Daly, grip-and-rip, still brutally out-of-shape, beer-drinking, chain smoking. I don’t really count Woods as part of golf’s evolution because he was unique, not only in ability but also social meaning. Still, when someone new comes along and dominates, others do try to copy. So changes happen.
But you know how golfers spend hours on the driving range tinkering with some tiny change or other? DeChambeau’s tinkering was to add 30-50 pounds of body weight, presumably muscle, to see if he could hit farther.
He is considering pumping up even more. You can find video of him on the driving range, swinging as hard as any human being possibly can, then quickly setting another ball and doing it again. Then again. And again.
And again, again, again. He turns power golf into a rapid-fire attack.
You also can find video of him doing a fired-up weightlifting set on his legs.
He is a dream for social-media marketing.
They call DeChambeau’s style “bomb and gouge,’’ which is definitely not supposed to work in a U.S. Open that uses brutal rough to punish you for not hitting straight. When he won the Open last year, the assumption was that he’d win the COVID-delayed Masters easily.
Instead, he has some odd malady that he has since described this way:
“I went to multiple doctors trying to figure out what it was. I got a couple of MRIs, I went to an inner-ear doctor, had eye tests and ear tests, and they even did ultrasounds on my heart and neck.
“But one thing I will tell you is I’ve done a lot of brain training, and the frontal lobe of my brain was working really, really hard. That’s what gave me some weird symptoms. It was crazy overworking.’’
There are doubters who say that golf isn’t suited for having as much muscle as DeChambeau has, that it reduces flexibility, which matters more. I remember hearing the same argument about baseball players, who then took steroids, started pounding home runs and making millions of dollars.
And it wasn’t long ago that Rory McIlroy was dominating golf. When he saw DeChambeau win the Open, he admitted he tried speed training and doing some of the other things DeChambeau did to get such amazing distance. It didn’t work. It messed up McIlroy’s game.
And now the legendary Butch Harmon, who led Woods through the early part of his career, is critical of DeChambeau’s approach, saying that excessive swing is going to shorten his career.
“Our spines are built for the millions of golf swings these guys make,’’ Harmon reportedly said. “The torque that he’s putting on his body — every orthopedic surgeon that I know I ask them that question: `Will his body hold up?’ And they all say, `No, there’s no way your body can hold up doing this.’ I’m not sure the human body can handle thousands and thousands of swings at that speed.’’
No one has accused DeChambeau of being human before. GolfMan has arrived.
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