KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Six players in the 42-man field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions reached the 675-yard 18th hole at Kapalua in two shots during the opening round. Bryson DeChambeau was not one of them.
The U.S. Open champion came up just short, which he attributed the wind dying when his 7-iron was in flight.
Yes, his 7-iron.
Justin Thomas, the defending champion who shared the lead Thursday after an 8-under 65, hit 5-wood into the 18th green and two-putted for a birdie. So they had the same score on the hole, which is all that matters.
DeChambeau, who opened with a 69, is well aware of that. But that 7-iron was a big deal to him, evident by the fact he mentioned it twice. It’s all about his pursuit of more speed, more distance, and there’s no end in sight for him.
“I still feel like there’s some low-hanging fruit with the driver, the speed I can gain. It’s fun,” DeChambeau said. “I hit 7-iron into 18, albeit the wind died and I went a little short. I mean, I hit 7-iron on 18. That’s a big deal for me.”
So was the par-5 fifth hole, which only measures 512 yards if players choose to take a straight line over a gorge that fronts the green. DeChambeau did. He hit a pitching wedge for his second shot.
He also three-putted for par.
“Putting still matters,” DeChambeau was quick to concede with a smile.
Power has always been an advantage in golf and always will be. There’s also more to the game than the long ball.
For DeChambeau, it’s all about going down the rabbit hole, as he is fond of saying, in search of methods never imagined. He leaves bread crumbs to find his way back if he winds up going down the wrong hole.
When it comes to speed, he keeps digging.
The goal is for his golf ball to come off the driver at 200 mph in tournaments, and eventually get as fast as 210 mph. That’s why he spent so much time adding muscle and mass to his body, some 40 pounds, to be able to handle the twists and torque of swinging as hard as he can during hours of practice.
He told Golf Channel he reached 211 mph on the range at Kapalua earlier this week.
DeChambeau was relatively quiet in public after he tied for 34th in the Masters. He said he spent time with Kyle Berkshire, the World Long Drive champion, his inspiration to chase speed and now a mentor. It works both ways. Berkshire wants to compete in proper golf, and DeChambeau can help with that.
“He showed me some amazing things, and I showed him some wedging things,” DeChambeau said.
DeChambeau doesn’t like to share everything he knows or has learned, but he spoke Thursday about Berkshire’s techniques and the notion of pushing the limits of his body by swinging hard for long hours to build up tolerance.
As usual, there’s a little science involved with the SMU alum who majored in physics.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever experience a runner’s high or something like that, where you get these extra endorphins and that’s kind of what breaks your neurological CNS, which is a great thing,” he said, as if his audience readily knew the acronym for central nervous system.
“That’s kind of a basic principle of what he’s done,” he said. “He’s just overworked his CNS like a madman and he’s shown me some really cool techniques that have allowed me to sustain speed on the golf course. So I feel like I was a little faster out there today, which was awesome to have. I’ve just got to hone it in.”
Did he mention the 7-iron he hit to the 18th?
DeChambeau was fascinated by Berkshire telling him he pushed himself until he was at the point of blacking out. The U.S. Open champion said he tried to follow suit.
“There were times where I was seeing a tunnel and I had to stop. I mean, you have have to stop,” he said. “I did not black out, but I came very close, just like he did.”
No telling where all this will lead. He already won a U.S. Open with the lowest score ever at Winged Foot, though that was more about strategy than speed. Distance helped, sure, but he realized no one was going to hit fairways that tight. He blasted away with driver and trusted his wedge game from the rough, which was sublime that week.
There is more to golf that distance. DeChambeau is no dummy. He’s just obsessed until he reaches ball speed of 210 mph.
“Once I achieve those speeds and I’m comfortable — not trying to swing my butt off, it just happens naturally — that’s when I’ll probably stop and go down the chipping rabbit hole and try and understand my chipping and wedging a bit better.”