AUGUSTA, GA. — Bryson DeChambeau zigzagged around Augusta National on Wednesday morning, playing holes out of order, carrying his launch monitor and threatening to hit the longest drives ever seen at the Masters.
When he approached the 16th tee, one person clapped.
A player unlike any other is preparing to attack a Masters unlike any other. A tournament known for its roars might for the first time be defined by the startling sound of one man’s driver, as DeChambeau simultaneously pays homage to Ben Hogan and Hulk Hogan.
There was no Par-3 tournament this year, there will be no patrons when the tournament begins Thursday morning, and there will be far less pimento cheese consumed this week. The coronavirus caused the Masters to postpone the tournament from April until November, then the tournament directors decided to forgo crowds.
So there will be green painted lines on the grass instead of rope barriers. There will be no grandstands. Two of the Masters’ greatest charms — polite, appreciative patrons and the distinctive roars they produce — will be missing.
Wednesday, when DeChambeau walked off the 15th green to the 16th tee, he was greeted by a few officials, one of whom clapped. DeChambeau placed his launch monitor next to his tee and drew an 8-iron.
He took what looked like an easy swing and pushed his first shot, and it flew over the back right bunker on a hole that usually measures about 170 yards. He and his caddie studied the monitor. “Has to be a helping wind,” DeChambeau said.
Then he hit a tight draw that landed just beyond the hole, then a sweeping hook that rolled even closer.
During typical practice rounds, players will hit their tee shots at 16, then walk to a long pond that separates the tee box and the green and try to skip a golf ball across the water. This usually generates the rowdiest pretournament reactions.
DeChambeau skipped a ball onto the bank and heard nothing.
He walked from the 16th green to the seventh tee, then wound his way back toward the clubhouse. On the 18th hole, he hit a drive 345 yards uphill.
He was walking past the first tee when Lee Westwood and Matthew Wallace were teeing off.
“You guys mind if I just hit one ball?” he asked. They nodded, and DeChambeau hit a loud, soaring shot that went 325 yards uphill, in wet conditions, about 50 yards past Westwood’s ball.
“From a driving perspective, I just am trying to get up there like I’m in a batter’s box swinging as hard as I can trying to hit a home run,” DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau lifts weights constantly, sometimes twice a day. He consumes massive amounts of calories, much of it in the form of steak and potatoes, believing that mass and bulk will result in distance.
He employs a single-plane swing that enables him to generate power with his shoulders rather than with timing and technique. He uses the same length shaft for all of his irons. He has experimented with a 48-inch shaft on his driver, three inches longer than his standard driver.
This week, he has a chance to prove he is the straightest long driver, or perhaps the longest straight driver, in history. He’s averaging a tour-best 344.4 yards off the tee, and his six-shot victory at Winged Foot in the U.S. Open proved he can capitalize on that length with his wedges and putter.
“I can get bigger,” he said. “And I can hit it longer.”
Augusta National, with its mild rough and wide fairways, would seem ideal for DeChambeau, and one of Augusta’s less-famous holes could prove pivotal for him.
The 340-yard, par-4 third hole is an oddity at Augusta National. It’s a seemingly easy hole, with no water and a chance to hit an iron off the tee and still have only a wedge into the green.
It’s tricky because hitting a half-wedge to a small, slippery green is difficult. DeChambeau plans to simply drive the green.
“Every day I want to get stronger and hit it farther,” he said. “I have to admit, I don’t know what the end game on this is.”
There might be someone somewhere wearing a seersucker suit and leaning on a hickory-shafted 1-iron who might be offended by DeChambeau’s approach, but his most notable peers see progress.
“He’s a huge asset to the game of golf because we have a lot of people talking about what he’s doing,” Phil Mickelson said. “He’s thinking outside the box, and he’s willing to put in the work to accomplish it. I’ve had a chance to see how hard he works in other areas — whether it’s brain waves and his mental and cognitive function or what he eats.
“I mean, the guy has made some massive changes that has required a lot of work and scrutiny, and he’s putting himself out there and doing it. He’s going to end up winning here at some point, whether it’s this week or in the future.”
Woods played a practice round with DeChambeau this week, then said: “What Bryson has done has been absolutely incredible, and we have all been amazed at what he’s been able to do in such a short span of time. It’s never been done before.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org