Brawn v brain? Science v art? Bulked-up Bryson DeChambeau could change an entire sport if he triumphs in Augusta at the 2020 Masters
- Originally scheduled for April, the Masters finally gets underway on Thursday
- Bryson DeChambeau is aiming to shake-up golf even further in Augusta
- The ‘Mad Scientist’ took a sensational victory at the US Open in September
- The tournament is set to be the tipping point in the battle to rein in big hitters
Nicknames attach themselves easily to the ever-fascinating Bryson DeChambeau.
After the Mad Scientist and the Incredible Bulk, it is now time to welcome to Augusta National… the Master Showman.
What better way to build up anticipation for your appearance down Magnolia Lane this week than a month in the shadows, after leaving stage left with the promise you’ll be even bigger by the Masters?
Bryson DeChambeau has a chance to cause a big shake-up in golf with victory at the Masters
The American’s stunning long-game will be tested at the Augusta course from Thursday
How about a sensational Instagram post a fortnight ago proclaiming you can now carry the ball 400 yards through the air? DeChambeau doesn’t need a chauffeur-driven Cadillac to make his entrance tomorrow, he needs a drum roll.
Or the hyperbolic Michael Buffer who introduces the boxers in the ring at the big fights.
Whoever thought there’d be a performer who’d actually take the spotlight away from defending champion, Tiger Woods?
DeChambeau’s victory at the US Open back in September stepped-up his revolution further
After his demolition of one traditional venue in Winged Foot to win the US Open, the game is in thrall to discover how big Bryson fares against the mighty Augusta.
The critical question is this: has he found the key to carrying the ball 350 yards through the cool Georgia air in November? If he can do that, a Xanadu awaits alongside possibly the largest green jacket ever bestowed.
The fairway at the opening hole would be 20 yards wider because the perilous bunker that guards the right side at 330 yards would no longer be in play. Ditto the par-five second, where he’d also benefit from 40 yards of roll on the steep downhill fairway.
He could drive the green at the 350-yard par-four third, while two more cavernous fairway bunkers at the fifth would also be out of play.
The same again regarding another at the par-five eighth, while he could have nothing more than a wedge to the par-five 13th if he carries every tall pine guarding the lefthand side from the tee.
At the 18th, two more fairway bunkers would also be rendered obsolete.
No wonder so many people are looking at this Masters as perhaps the tipping point in the eternal battle to rein in the distance achieved by the game’s longest hitters.
The American has been boasting about his ability to hit the ball 400 yards through the air
The latest shake-up?
Augusta National has been here before.
Jack Nicklaus once destroyed the place so mercilessly with his length that course founder Bobby Jones was left to declare: ‘He plays a game with which I am not familiar.’
Ian Woosnam, all 5ft 5in of him, caused another inquest when he won in 1991 by driving over the bunkers on the 18th to leave himself with just a pitch to the green.
And then there was Tiger, who caused the biggest rumble of all in 1997, seemingly playing his approach to every par-four with a wedge in his hands.
Countryman Tiger Woods caused his big shake-up back in 1997 at the Augusta tournament
Augusta responded in time- honoured fashion by pushing the tees back further and further to the point where the course now measures 7,475 yards, or 520 yards more than it did in 2001. They also pinched in the fairways by introducing a first cut of rough.
But what is the solution this time if DeChambeau, or any of the other mammoth hitters for that matter, wins in the manner of the Golden Bear or Tiger by taking the fairway bunkers out of play? Augusta is one of the few venues with the room to push everything back still further, but do we really want a near 8,000-yard golf course?
Will this be the Masters, therefore, that forces the governing bodies to finally act and limit how far the golf ball travels?
A chilly autumn wind might prove the final arbiter on this occasion, of course, but the one thing we learned at Winged Foot is not to take any of DeChambeau’s outrageous pronouncements lightly.
He’s promised to bring a new approach to playing Augusta National, even experimenting with a 48-inch driver that’s fully three inches longer than standard and the maximum permitted.
Augusta has been modified by adding yards but DeChambeau aims to blast to the finish
That’s the sort of shaft length they use in the long-driving freak shows, where they’re firing away at wide-open targets. Is Bryson now big enough and strong enough to harness such a weapon to cope with the demands of Augusta?
Of course, the place is not all about long hitting. You have to be able to putt as well. And here’s another fascinating fact about Bryson, courtesy of the game’s stats guru, Justin Ray.
Over the past three years, there have been 58 players who have played eight or more rounds at Augusta — and DeChambeau just happens to rank 58th and dead last when it comes to strokes gained in putting.
His detractors point out that it’s because the green-reading maps he studies avidly when playing every other course are not permitted.
His poor putting certainly explains why his best finish to date at the Masters is a modest 21st place — and that while still an amateur. Against that, the 27-year-old has made only three appearances as a pro and experience is so important around Augusta.
DeChambeau’s putting and inexperience at the Augusta course could be his undoing
Lost also amid the obsession with his big hitting are the dramatic strides he’s made with his putting over the past 12 months. At Winged Foot he won the US Open by putting better than anyone else in the final round, not by outdriving them.
If the governing bodies are watching Bryson through trembling fingers, the same might be said for Tiger’s vast army of supporters. Now one month shy of his 45th birthday, was the wonder of his victory 18 months ago his final magic trick?
There would obviously be no shame in that. After all, it felt like a Masters miracle at the time. This year, Woods has played just seven events since February with a best finish of tied 37th. It’s a depressing sequence offering no logical reason why he can contend other than that we’ve been here before and he’s proved everyone wrong.
Time is ticking for the American, who is set to compete in his 11th Masters of his career
You might have to go back to Rory McIlroy’s final-nine blowout in 2011 to find the last time his prospects were so little discussed.
We keep hearing it is only a matter of time before he wins a green jacket and completes his career Grand Slam but the inconvenient truth is that time is flying.
This will be his 11th Masters, and only a handful of winners played in that many before achieving their first success.
From England’s gifted corps, the leading hope is Tyrrell Hatton but there are others in Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Justin Rose and the evergreen Lee Westwood who ought to benefit, like Rory, from their position under the radar.
For the Master Showman, of course, it’s all a different world. You can dress up Bryson versus Augusta any way you want: brawn against brain; science versus art.
It promises to be a riveting spectacle and might just end up changing an entire sport.
HOW MASTERS WILL BE UNIQUE
A Masters like no other, they’re calling it — and no wonder.
It’s not just because the annual spring rite will become a winter wonderland. Here are seven more reasons why there will be a different feel.
I’ve been lucky enough to play Augusta National in November with no grandstands — and the contrast takes you aback. There were a couple of holes I barely recognised when separated from their usual tournament framework.
There will be no azaleas or dogwoods in bloom, it will be cooler in the morning and the fairways will be softer, even allowing for the sub-air system to dry them out.
They will be missed, for sure, and no one will miss them more than the biggest names, who rely on the roars through the pines to unnerve the inexperienced.
Twelve months ago, we had the loudest roars of all for Tiger. Now there will be near silence.
No Par-Three contest
The best pitch and putt course in world golf will lie dormant this year as the traditional curtain-raiser held each Wednesday in the Augusta grounds will not be staged.
The only good news is there will be no curse to worry about — no par-three champion has ever gone on to win the Masters itself.
A two-tee start
The final round last year was the first time the Masters had employed a two-tee start, owing to an impending thunderstorm.
Now, with two hours’ less daylight, the first and 10th tees will be the starting points for the opening two rounds. The daunting 10th and 11th holes are not where you want to start on a chilly Thursday in November.
No late night viewing
It will be dark shortly after 5pm which means, with the five-hour time difference, play will be done at about 10pm in the UK for each of the first three rounds.
On Sunday, the finish is earlier, with the champion receiving his green jacket about 8pm UK time, barring a play-off or weather delays. The reason for the early finish is because host US broadcaster CBS is contracted to show live American football.
There’s no overplaying how much the Masters means to the genteel southern city. Normally, you can’t move on Washington Road leading to the gates of Augusta National itself.
You have to wait hours for a table in the restaurants, while even crummy hotels can get away with charging $500 a night. This week, there will be vacancy signs, with no banners proclaiming ‘Tickets Needed’ festooned along the grassy verges.
Normally, the first port of call for any player, caddy or media representative at the Masters is to pick up your credentials. This year it will be a Covid-19 test, with results promised in an hour.
Imagine a player getting a positive test tomorrow and being told he can’t play. I’ve spent two weeks away from home to be allowed into America. I’ve had three tests in 10 days so I fancy my chances, but it’s certainly going to be an anxious hour.
AND the good news — some things won’t change. The Champions Dinner on Tuesday night is still on.
On Thursday morning, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player will still hit their ceremonial tee shots.
And on Sunday night, someone will still be presented with a green jacket.
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