Bryson DeChambeau at the PGA Championship: Will we get the Scientist or the Incredible Bulk?

This week Kiawah Island will become the longest Major Championship course in history – does that play right into Bryson DeChambeau’s hands?

There was a time when Bryson DeChambeau was known principally as a scientist, one who dropped his balls in Epsom salts, calibrated air pressure, and fretted about the parasynthetic state.

Then, he changed.

Unlike the fictional scientist David Banner, who was blasted by gamma rays, DeChambeau transformation was the consequence of being loaded with calories, protein shakes, and weight programmes.

The net result was much the same, however.

Admittedly modern fabrics have held up to Bryson's beefing up process better than Banner's cotton shirts, but both men emerged significantly bigger, scarier, and more powerful.

At times the raw power of golf's Incredible Hulk has left the field and the course in tatters.

Soon after the return from lockdown he won the Rocket Mortgage Classic by three shots, he claimed the US Open by six strokes, and, when winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this March, he cut the corner of the dog-leg at the par-5 sixth hole by thrashing the ball across water at an angle never envisaged by the course designer.

DeChambeau is chasing a second Major win.
DeChambeau is chasing a second Major win.

Faced with the Augusta National examination, on the other hand, it has been a very different story.

To completely mangle the Marvel metaphors, just as Superman is laid low by green Kryptonite, DeChambeau appears to be powerless when faced by Green Jackets.

At first glance it might appear that his big-hitting had become reckless and wild at Augusta, and yet, in reality, it might be that the problem is not too much brute force, but too little science.

Because while DeChambeau's body changed, his persona remained more or less the same: he didn't forget the science when he bulked up; the big-hitting was not designed to make his game more one dimensional, instead it was designed to increase his options.

And Augusta National GC, which protects its course from so much DeChambeau holds dear, left him vulnerable by blindsiding his brain rather than his brawn.

"Not having the help that I have at other venues is a test," he said after this year's Masters.

"Without the greens books and not having the calibration tools that I usually use, that's huge. Every tournament they help me feel comfortable, just with how I'm trying to produce speed on the greens and how I'm trying to hit shots into greens and then just knowing what the greens are doing, too.

"I go to pull out the book here and I'm like, 'Where is it? Oh, wait.'

"So it's definitely a test and something I'm willing to stand up to and try and face the challenge and try and conquer it. It's an interesting challenge for me."

Not this week, however.

In fact, should he want it, in the PGA Championship he can also utilise a laser rangefinder to guarantee a perfect yardage.

He's also facing the longest course in major championship history - does that protect the course from his length or play right into his hands?

Let's take a look at the various factors facing DeChambeau this week.

Distance

As mentioned, at 7,876 yards, this will be the longest course in major championship history.

And already, Jon Rahm, a pretty big fellow himself, has said about the prospect of tees being brought forward: "Seriously, I hope so, because yesterday (Monday) from 14 on, I think the shortest iron I hit into a green was a five iron. I'm not usually the shortest hitter. On the 17th (Par 3) I smoked a two-iron to just carry it over the water."

Let's just remind ourselves how far DeChambeau can hit a ball:

Admittedly, he had a bit of help with this one:

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More than just smashing it

The notion that DeChambeau won the US Open by just hitting the ball willy-nilly as far as he could from the tee box underestimates him.

He's long been linked with Scott Fawcett, the creator of Decade, a tool that aids course management - it seeks to optimise strategy and improve decision-making using Google Earth images, dispersion patterns and probability.

Fawcett likes to say "The math doesn't lie" which sounds like catnip for DeChambeau.

Nor is he alone in using it. Heard of that young whizzkid Will Zalatoris? He has it. So, too, does the reinvigorated Stewart Cink.

Pete Dye designs

More evidence of the subtlety of DeChambeau's approach was witnessed at THE PLAYERS Championship.

Just one week after he attacked Bay Hill from the tee, the Sky Sports commentary team were swift to praise a less brutal strategy at TPC Sawgrass.

But his third place there is not his first decent effort on Pete Dye designs (Kiawah Island is also one of his) - he also has three top 10s at both Harbour Town and River Highlands.

Post-bulked up Bryson in the majors

There are some who believe that DeChambeau's body boost hasn't worked for him.

Yet prior to last year's lockdown he had just one top 20 finish in 14 major championship performances - and that was no better than T15th.

Since then, he's finished tied fourth in this championship last August, won the US Open, and then, of course, had his difficulties with Augusta National.

Conclusions

Given there are good reasons why he has got himself in such a pickle at the Masters (missing his gadgets, over-thinking it), perhaps those other post-lockdown major efforts are the ones to consider: tied fourth and winner.

Moreover, Rahm's words (even if golfers are notorious for uttering over-fearful words ahead of a major) do make you wonder.

And he has that decent Dye record.

Perhaps the key counter to the notion of backing him at best price 18/1 with William Hill (nine places) is the possibility that this week plays links-like in wind.

DeChambeau has missed two cuts at the Open and finished just T51st the one time he did make the weekend.

READ MORE: The Dye is cast: How will course designer Pete Dye impact on this week's PGA Championship?