Bryson DeChambeau’s new muscles were no match for the wind blowing in from the English Channel and the thick thatches of rough at Royal St. George’s.
Neither was his driver.
DeChambeau’s bulked-up body made its links debut in the British Open on Thursday, and he paid for his long but errant drives with a 1-over 71 in the first round. The 2020 U.S. Open champion was seven strokes behind Louis Oosthuizen.
“I’m living on the razor’s edge,” said DeChambeau, who erased his four birdies with five bogeys at the 7,189-yard layout alongside Sandwich Bay.
“It’s quite finicky for me, because it’s a golf course that’s pretty short,” he said. “And so when I hit driver and it doesn’t go in the fairway … it’s tough for me to get it out onto the green and control that.”
DeChambeau didn’t mince words when someone suggested he still could contend for the claret jug if he can get it in the fairway.
“If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that’s great, but with the driver right now … the driver sucks,” he said. “It’s not a good face for me and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it good on the mis-hits.”
His assessment irked Ben Schomin, the tour operations manager at Cobra and one of those who designs and builds DeChambeau’s clubs how he wants them. Schomin told Golfweek the Cobra staff is trying to build clubs for which there is no data because few others swing as hard and fast as DeChambeau.
“Everybody is bending over backwards,” Schomin said. “He knows it. It’s just really, really painful when he says something that stupid.”
DeChambeau, who has not finished in the top 20 in the four majors he has played since winning the U.S. Open last year, doesn’t think it’s the nature of links golf that causes problems, rather the weather that accompanies it.
He recalled playing well in the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, posting a 2-0-1 record in singles.
“The times I’ve played in the British Opens in the past, I think they’ve been a little wet and windy,” he said after his practice round. “I usually struggle on that in general.”
But that was all before he added 40 pounds of mass and muscle so he could swing faster, hit the ball farther and gain a huge advantage by having shorter clubs to the green, even if the ball is in the rough.
“This is the first time I’ve taken my length to links golf,” DeChambeau said Tuesday. “The key is driving it in the fairway this week. No matter what, you’ve got to be in the fairway. If I get … into the hay, probably not going to have a good chance this week.”
Instead, he hit just four of 14 fairways in the opening round. And rather than using his new bulk to set up shorter approaches on Thursday, he needed it just to muscle his way out of the thigh-high rough.
The poor start at Royal St. George’s continues a streak of disappointments since winning his only major at Winged Foot. He tied for 34th in the Masters in November, for 46th in the Masters in April, for 38th at the PGA Championship and for 26th at the U.S. Open, where he briefly had a one-shot lead in the final round.
He also lost the only caddie he’s had as a pro, Tim Tucker, which they said was a mutual decision. DeChambeau relies on his caddie not just for yardage and reading greens but for his Mad Scientist stuff like air density.
Working with DeChambeau for the first time is the replacement, Brian Zeigler, an instructor at Dallas National.
“It’s certainly throwing him into the deep end,” said DeChambeau, who posted a video on Instagram of Ziegler jumping into a swimming pool with a bag of golf clubs.
“He’s OK with it. He loves it,” DeChambeau said. “I would say that he’s still learning the ropes a little bit, which is expected on any end when you have somebody new that’s really never caddied before, but I wanted somebody on the bag that I could trust as much as I did with Tim, and I think that’s why he fit the place so well.”
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