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September 22, 2020

Winged Foot was manhandled!

Bryson DeChambeau was destined to win at least one major; I just didn't think it would be this past week. Usually when you are making a dramatic change it takes time to implement the entire package. Bryson again has proved the "expects" wrong and he did it in grand style. On Sunday he fashioned a stellar three under par 67 to eclipse the entire field by three shots under the scrutiny and pressure that is the last round of a United States Open. His final round should be considered one of the finest rounds ever in winning this national championship.

The US Open traditionally favors the accurate, conservative drivers that also have a superb short game. The USGA philosophy is if you drive it long, you must also hit it straight or pay the penalty. Bryson broke the mold and attacked each hole with his driver. The TV announcers and sports writers have made a big deal about him hitting only 23 of 56 fairways. What they didn't consider was how many times did his drive end up in the intermediate rough, which was very playable. Or the many times that he intentionally drove close to a green in a bunker or in rough that left him an open shot with a wedge. Contrary to what we were lead to believe, Bryson wasn't a wild driver hitting it everywhere. He ranked 26th in fairways hit of the 62 players that made the cut. In 2011, Rory McIlroy also finished 26th in fairways hit when he won the US Open by eight shots.

The rough at Winged Foot was on average 4 inches long with certain areas even longer. Today's professionals are much more athletic and stronger then in the past. I was amazed to see Bryson hit a 235 yard iron out of the heavy rough that reached the green. I watched other players dig irons out of seemingly terrible lies that reached the putting surface. On the other hand I saw plenty of poor shots hit and pitchout shots because of the severity of the rough. The rough definitely took its toll, but the stronger you where the less it was a factor. It is not surprising that the top two finishers were also two of the strongest individuals. Bryson figured the closer you hit it to the green off the tee the better chance you had to make par even if you were in the long rough. He paid the price on a number of occasions, but the percentages favored his approach.

Has Bryson redefined how to play a US Open course? Yes, but Matthew Wolff, Dustin Johnson, and others also were aggressive off the tee and equally as long. Bryson this week was just the better player. He has the young Tiger Woods single focus and commitment to be the best and will outwork everyone to reach that goal. He was out hitting balls in the dark on Saturday to figure out a swing flaw. On Sunday that work paid dividends and his last round was a masterpiece. His 67 beat the third round leader by 8 shots and was three better than the next best of the day. He won in convincing fashion by six shots and nine strokes over third place. That's dominance and not a fluke.

Bryson has not finished with his transformation. He thinks he can add a bit more weight and muscle to his 6"1' frame. He will be testing a 48 inch driver with new head designs to add even more length. Can the USGA do anything to offset his attack on the traditional values of the game? No, I don't think so. Roll the ball back so you can't hit it as far. I don't think that's the answer, because the long hitters will still be the longest. I can only think of raising the rough even higher to put a greater importance on accuracy.

The Masters will be played in two months. Augusta National has essentially no rough. Bryson will likely use the same all-out strategy and could possibility make it look like a pitch and putt track. The golf community has been put on notice. We will either embrace the change or hate it. Either way change is coming. The other touring professionals have seen the future; how will they react? The 120th US Open without fans was unique in so many ways. Winged Foot West course was a definite winner and demanding test for the world's best players, but one person found a weakness and exploited it. Congratulations to Bryson DeChambeau, who is now a major tournament winner. He not only won a US Open, but his win is worthy to talk about as one of the best in the history of the game.

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