It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for him.
At least as sorry as you can for a multi-millionaire athlete with James Bond’s good looks, an astronaut’s brain, media savvy, a mission in life, and grillion-dollar talent: the fall of Bryson DeChambeau from being the PGA Tour’s “it boy” capable of vaporizing every golf course he plays with gargantuan length to a mere shell of a golfer searching for answers and relief from injuries is compelling theatre. That at least we all acknowledge.
DeChambeau, who once boasted that par for him at Augusta National Golf Club was 67, not the 72 that it is for the rest of the golfing world, won’t play the weekend at the 2022 Masters, bounced ruthlessly out to the tune of 74-80. That’s 12-over. He missed the cut by eight shots and finished a whopping 20 strokes behind leader Scottie Scheffler.
Over the 36 holes he made just three birdies (two of them at the easy par-3 16th). By contrast, he made eight bogeys, three double bogeys and played the par-5s – the soft underbelly of Augusta that you must fillet if you want any chance of winning – he played the eight par-5s he played in a bloated 1-over par. Scheffler played those same holes in 7-under.
Clearly DeChambeau’s various injuries are hampering him. First came the nagging hand pain and torn hip labrum, both caused by what DeChambeau calls speed training – swinging the golf club as hard as you can on a concrete floor. Bryson was trying to hit over 200 miles per hour with his swing and slipped, injuring hip and hand at once.
“It’s been fine for the past two years until….[it] got to a point around Torrey where it just started to continue to get aggravated. I felt something last November before I played up against Brooks. My hand, there was something on my hand that just kind of like popped,” DeChambeau related at his pre-tournament presser.
That injury got progressively worse, limiting his practice time and exercise regimen. But what came next was a tragic-comedy.
“I went to Saudi, and was playing ping-pong against Sergio and Joaquin Niemann. We were on some marble floors they had just wiped, and me not paying attention, I ‘Charlie Browned’ myself and went horizontal and then hit my left hip and my hand at the same time, and that really just took me out. That’s really when it just got to the point where I couldn’t even grip the golf club. I tried to play that week, and it was impossible. I was not even gripping with my left hand that week,” DeChambeau admitted. “I went and got a CT scan, MRI, and we found out that — and X-rays in my left hip — I had a torn labrum, a partial tear. And then in the hand I had a hairline fracture in the hamate bone, which a lot of baseball players get from excessive hitting.”
Aside from using “Charlie Brown” as a verb, all this lays bare two truths. First, the more you try to build up muscle tissue, the more pressure that puts on bone and ligament, which don’t grow at the same rate as the muscles, nor strengthen to endure the increased pressure. Baseball’s disputed home run king, Barry Bonds, nearly derailed his home run record chase before it even got started by nearly tearing the ligaments in his elbow right off. (Read Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams’ masterpiece Game of Shadows for more details on that.) He wore that arm brace for the rest of his career.
The second truth is that the injury bug wants to bite you, it will do it in the most ironic and bizarre ways. Dustin Johnson missed one Masters slipping on a kid’s toy. Covid derailed what would have been Jon Rahm’s first win at Muirfield Village. Tiger Woods has battled a galaxy of injuries over the course of his career, many caused by excessive running and repetitive motion. (Of course now he has leftover pain from that one-car wreck in Los Angeles last year.) And Larry Bird’s worst medical nightmares were hemmorhoids so bad – during the NBA Finals against the Lakers no less – he had to have them lanced pre-game. (At least he got to play.)
You could see where this was heading for Bryson.
You’ll recall that in 2019, when Bryson began his campaign to “break golf” (as some put it) by gaining so much size and strength, he’d reduce every course to a pitch and putt. At first everyone disregarded it. “You’re talkin’ crazy!” we thought and chalked it up to that Poindexter streak that is inimitably either Bryson DeChambeau or Jimmy Neutron.
Then he showed up at tournaments looking like he was a character from Wrestlemania.
Whereas Bonds built up his body with steroids, Bryson built his up with steaks and chocolate milk. Suddenly he was bombing 400-yard cannon shots for drives. Bryson-mania peaked with his U.S. Open victory at Winged Foot in September of 2020. He won the U.S. Open b y six shots and fires the lowest 72-hole score for any Winged Foot U.S. Open – 6-under 274.
But the trouble in paradise came when Bryson tried building even further on that. He made good on a promise to put even more weight on – as much as 25 pounds or more of pure muscle, but his tee shots became wilder and misses more frequent. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but then fell out of the sky like his parachute didn’t open: T-46 at the Masters, T-38 at the PGA, T-26 at the U.S. Open and 33rd at the British Open where he lamented that his “driver sucks” and promptly got a stern rebuke from Cobra, his equipment sponsor. Cobra’s Tour Operations Manager, who once caddied for DeChambeau said it best.
“Everybody is bending over backwards. We’ve got multiple guys in R&D who are CAD’ing (computer-aided design) this and CAD-ing that, trying to get this and that into the pipeline faster,” said Schomin. “He has never really been happy, ever. It’s very rare where he’s happy. Now he’s in a place where he’s swinging a five-degree driver with 200 mph of ball speed. Everybody is looking for a magic bullet. Well, the magic bullet becomes harder and harder to find the faster you swing and the lower your loft gets.”
Since that tempest in a tea cup, Bryson’s been saying all the right things and, better still, he’s doing all the right things.
“The past few weeks have been very, very difficult on me, not playing well and not hitting it anywhere near where I know I should be hitting it in regards to straight; yelling “Fore” off the tee every time is just not fun. It’s very difficult on your mental psyche as well,” he confided. “It’s one of those things that everybody has a tough stretch in their career, and especially with coming off an injury, swinging one-handed for, you know, three or four weeks with your right hand only, it messed my normal golf swing up. It’s a learning experience…like I’ve always said, your lowest moments are your best — your worst failures are your best teachers.”
Okay, he’s learned that there’s more to life than golf. It shouldn’t have taken injury to get that one, especially not for a self-anointed brainiac like Bryson. The real lesson to be learned is when does tinkering turn to alchemy? You give us all this scientific gobbledygook that would confuse Dr. Who, and it takes is Sergio Garcia and a ping pong ball to derail it. Sergio! That’s too laughable, too laughable by half. Come on, Bryson: a little less Charlie Brown and Lucy, a little more Hogan and Nicklaus.