Ryder Cup 2018: Bryson DeChambeau, the maverick genius and golfing pioneer aiming to take down Team Europe
The 25-year-old's revolutionary style and perfectionism have propelled him to world level
It’s hard to determine at what point someone becomes a genius. Is it when they surpass their peers - writing algebraic equations while others stammer over times tables - or is it when they become so sickened by the shortcomings of others that they take up an individual sport?
It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment at which Bryson DeChambeau entered his very own vortex of sublime lunacy. But by the time the 15-year-old began drilling into the back of his own golf clubs and inventing his own golf swing, something special had already manifested.
Sitting in a Los Angeles living room, a curious Christian boy experienced an enlightening revelation. As he was fitted with a putter by a custom clubmaker, Bryson DeChambeau realised how minuscule technological adjustments could transform golf technique. Ultimately, his own inventions would stretch to far greater extremes but it was in that moment that his life changed. He was 11 years old.
Inquisitive and argumentative, he juiced information from the clubmaker who was endeared by the bullish and bizarre boy and agreed to make DeChambeau his very own putter for the price of $200 - a quarter of its worth. The still-to-be teenage prodigy spent the next months mowing lawns and skipping lunch until his piggy-bank burst and he could hold a unique creation for the first time. The ‘mad scientist’ was born.
DeChambeau became bedevilled by golfing theory, interrogating and discarding the technical anthologies of his heroes, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer - their swings neither maximising output nor minimising risk. Instead, DeChambeau read “The Golfing Machine” by Homer Kelley and ingrained every word and diagram of its 241 pages.
The book was the catalyst for DeChambeau’s invention. It described a swing where every club moved on the exact same plane for uncompromising consistency - a physicist’s dream. He experimented with its various mechanisms for years at high school constantly adjusting posture, extension and angle concerned by result rather than resplendence - of that there was little. But because each club slightly increases in length, the swing planes could never quite be identical so DeChambeau became a clubmaker himself.
After endless analysis, he cut each club in his bag to exactly the same length, 37.5 inches, but to equalise their weights wasn’t as easy. To lighten the weighty wedges he drilled into the backs of their sole and extracted metal from within and to fatten the lighter long-irons he applied lead tape until each weighed exactly 282 grams. For all the multi-millions spent by mainstream manufacturers in futuristic factories, DeChambeau had created a revolution from his back garden.
Like all idiosyncratic inventions, DeChambeau’s identical clubs and swing had their teething problems. A candidate for a college golf scholarship, scouts were scared off by the teenager’s freakish swing and uncontrollable fits of anger after a bad shot. Even when playing well he could never meet his own standards - a trait which still scars the perfectionist today.
He eventually managed to get a scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and majored - unsurprisingly - in physics, but Dechambeau’s golf continued to torment him. Still struggling with his technique, he became severely depressed and called home asking his mum what he had done for God to punish him.
Only as he entered his third year after being presented with a faith-based athletics handbook did DeChambeau break through, winning both the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur Championship - the two biggest tournaments in college golf. He was only the fifth man to do so. The other four? Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore.
But like all those who breach normality, DeChambeau is tortured; an artist who wields his iron like a brush before snapping it in two and threatening to turn the splinted steel upon himself. After a first-round 75 at the Open Championship this year, he trudged straight from the 18th green to the range where he descended into total combustion. As the imperfections continued, he practically fell to his knees while clasping his head in his hands as though to check if it really was his own brain which was betraying him. Moments later he was traipsing down the fairway, glum and alone, collecting the tailor-made irons he’d hurled like a discus champion.
Yet since turning professional, he’s already amassed four wins on the PGA Tour and leapfrogged from barely being in the world’s top 100 to its eighth-best player - ahead of the likes of his major-winning Ryder Cup team-mates Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
And when the inexperienced Californian finished one place shy of the automatic qualification spots for the Ryder Cup, he won two FedEx Cup playoffs on the trot - only the second man ever to do so - making Furyk’s selection a formality.
But still he searches for more. After those back-to-back victories, DeChambeau spent what was meant to be a week off in Colorado working on his “oxygen depletion”. He’s also scrutinising his own brain frequencies in the hope of monotoning his breathing and heart rates in a quest to attain robotic concentration.
On the range before the Tour Championship, his fellow pros stared unashamedly at his science lab simulation when, after cleaning his club face, a member of his entourage spritzed water onto a brand new ball to emulate the spatter of morning dew. Questioned about it afterward, DeChambeau couldn’t even fathom that such meticulousness might be unusual.
Bryson DeChambeau is a phenomenal player and a golfing oxymoron - an ingenious jock, a goofy perfectionist, an authoritarian rule-breaker - but what has for a long time been clear is that the youngest member of America’s Ryder Cup team is indeed a genius.