Bryson DeChambeau, whom many call “The Professor” – because golfers just have to have nicknames – conducted a lecture earlier this month at Muirfield Village Golf Club, where he defends his title this week in the Memorial Tournament. His talk was as fascinating as it was confounding, and you might be inclined to think that the young man is slightly off-kilter. But then he starts explaining himself – his approach to each golf shot, the thought process and the painstaking computational calisthenics – and you leave believing that you’re the one who is off-kilter.
The classroom on this bright spring day was the spacious Muirfield Village practice range. DeChambeau wrote a list on a chalkboard. The list wasn’t long, but The Professor made up for that with his explanation of it.
In his own handwriting, DeChambeau had scribbled:
FACTORS WHEN HITTING A 150-YARD SHOT
1. Air Density
2. Elevation Change
3. Wind Vector X
4. Local Slope Adjustment
5. Roll Out Number
7. Choose Shot
He of the single-length shafts in his irons and a vocabulary that makes him even more dangerous in Scrabble than on a golf course, DeChambeau went into painstaking detail on how he hit upon this checklist to hit upon a golf ball. With five US PGA Tour wins before turning 25, and a victory earlier this year on the European Tour at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (where he won by a record seven shots), The Professor has proven that his method is effective.
His method also provokes madness from anyone playing behind him.
“People complain and call me slow, but I’m actually quick, relative to what I do,” he said, defending his inaction before his actions. “Think about that the next time you call me slow.”
The fifth man to win the US Amateur and NCAA Division I individual title in the same year, accomplished in 2015, DeChambeau has not been slow constructing an impressive professional résumé or breaking into the top-10 in the world. He currently is No.8 and has been ranked as high as fifth after he dusted the field in Dubai.
DeChambeau’s list and its finer points began to crystallise in his fertile mind not long after his maiden tour victory at the 2017 John Deere Classic. The Californian had missed eight straight cuts prior to that win, and then he promptly missed another cut at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Unacceptable.
“Right after I won the John Deere, I missed the cut badly at the British Open. I knew something had to change, because you can’t go and win an event and then miss the cut by seven or whatever,” he said. “After that FedEx Cup season, I said to myself I have to create something that will allow me to go through this [thought] process every single time and give myself the best chance to get the best adjustment and yardage out there, so I can hit the shots I need to hit.”
Thus, we have the list, which he shared with an engrossed media contingent that later used his insights in an accompanying golf outing at Muirfield Village. Nearly everyone broke 100. Most usually could break 90 before that.
We’ll just let The Professor take it from here. Try to keep up:
“We came up with this air-density idea, and it does matter. People think I’m just hocus-pocusing it out there, but I’m not. We developed this over time. It’s been experimentally proven and mathematically proven as well. Somehow, luckily, we figured out how much it actually is affected percentage-wise and then we just backtracked or reverse engineered it.”
Already lost. Did our brains just get reverse engineered?
“Essentially, I’ll go through, for a 150-yard shot, I’ll make an adjustment for air density, which is whatever. I’m not going to talk about what goes into that. The reason is I don’t want people to know the percentages we calculate. Yet. I’m going to keep that in a lockbox for as long as I can.”
Lockbox? He just went Al Gore on us.
“Then there’s elevation change. Pretty straight forward.”
But then we’ll find out it’s not, right?
“Let’s say you have a 10-yard uphill adjustment. It’s not really going to be a 10-yard adjustment if you’re hitting a 7-iron or pitching wedge or 4-iron. Because your angles of descent are all different with those clubs. For me, we’ve had to make relative elevation adjustments. Say you have seven yards uphill, but if I’m hitting a 4-iron, it’s going to play nine yards uphill. If I’m hitting a pitching wedge it’s going to play four yards uphill. It’s all relative to the angle of descent. And that helped me to hit it a little closer, too.
“We figured it out through some math about three months ago.”
Maths? Hey, whoa, no one said there’d be maths here.
Wind Vector X
“Next is wind vector. How much… the direction and the magnitude and how much it’s going to affect a draw or how much it’s going to affect a cut. How much it’s going to affect a high cut or low cut, a high draw or a low draw. That’s still in the workings. It’s aerodynamics, and every ball flies differently in the different winds. The reason I play Bridgestone is because it’s the ball that flies most consistent in any type of wind. That’s why I like it. I did my due diligence. That’s the reason Tiger [Woods] plays it and Kooch [Matt Kuchar] plays it.”
Some of us can hit a quick-diving draw with every ball ever made. Doesn’t that take some skill?
Local Slope Adjustment
“Local slope adjustment. This is fun. If I’m hitting off a flat surface, really no adjustment. But then you go to this downhill slope in the front, how much is that going to affect my number? Then you add elevation into it and wind into it and it gets really, really messy.”
Dude, it got messy when you mentioned maths.
“If you have a slope of two degrees, that likely will lead to a two-degree launch angle change. So you have to adjust to that. Based on local slope adjustment, that’s going to affect the angle of descent, which affects your rollout number. And that depends also on how firm the greens are and what slope you’re hitting into. We adjust for all that, too.
“Most people don’t think of all that stuff, right? Did you ever think about rollout number? I’m always trying to get that one yard closer. Our average proximity on tour is 30 feet. Well what if I hit it to 27 feet? What if I hit to 24 feet? That’s the whole goal. That’s what we’re always trying to do.
“The sixth one is a secret. We won’t talk about that.”
Ben Hogan covered this. It’s in the dirt. Or a lockbox, maybe?
“And pretty much, that’s when I choose the shot. Well, don’t you choose the shot first? How can I choose the shot if I don’t know any of this stuff first? Say I want to hit a cut 8-iron. Well, if I haven’t affectively adjusted for any of this stuff, it could be a completely different shot. I’m going through all this stuff in my brain, and luckily, I have a caddie who will do our due diligence before the tournament starts. Even though I’m hitting the shot, my caddie is just as valuable.”
• • •
Sitting in the audience as DeChambeau enlightened the huddled, befuddled masses was Ohio State University golfer Will Grimmer, who accepted an exemption into the Memorial, but first is competing in the NCAA Championship with his Buckeyes teammates. Grimmer, 22, hit a few shots with DeChambeau’s specially made clubs, but without going through any of the DeChambeau calculations.
“It was interesting, that’s for sure,” said Grimmer, a Cincinnati native who has been attending the Memorial every year since he was 4 and now will make it his first regular US PGA Tour event (he’s played in two US Opens). “Obviously, he’s looking for every advantage he can get, so more power to him.”
The Professor professed a desire to conduct more studies on wind. “We still don’t fully understand it,” he said.
What’s to understand? Wind blows. And the average golfer knows just how much wind, well, blows.
Not so fast.
“The ball is flying through 100 feet of air and at all different points it can be at different miles an hour,” he noted. “It feels like five miles an hour, but it could be 12mph up there. Or 20 feet above that there is nothing. Or it could go the other way. It’s mayhem when you think about it.”
And out of this mayhem, The Professor makes sense of it all, at least in his own mind, and that’s all that really matters. He’s good, and he knows it, and he’s engaged in an ongoing search for an edge. His motivation is this: “I never want to feel the insecurity of not knowing,” he said.
Even though he admits no one can know everything about the game. But that won’t stop him from trying.
“The way I’ve learned how to play the game,” he said, “is always by trying to find a little bit of an advantage. The way I’ve built my golf game I’ve tried to make the least amount of moving parts… So literally no matter the time of day – unless it’s my first swing; I have to hit at least one – if I wake up in the middle of the night and go and swing a golf club, I want to be able to make the same motion, execute the same thing no matter the situation. No matter what state I’m in, and that’s what I feel I’ve done really well at, the ability to just hit a straight shot or the shot intended in any situation. And all that has come about because of all this weird, funky stuff that you see.
“It’s funny,” he added, “these little things in life that have allowed me to have this confidence in certain unique situations. It’s what I’ve attributed a lot of my success to, these weird and unique situations. I guess it just follows suit with who I am.”