Bryson DeChambeau's pre-tournament prep for the 2023 PGA Championship was far cry from the high point of Brysonmania at the November Masters in 2020.
That year the newly crowned U.S. Open champion had commanded Tiger Woods-level hype after declaring Augusta National a par 68. Much like Tiger in his prime, the attention was driven by a confluence of fun and fear. After a year of DeChambeau doing exactly what he said he promised he would—upend the sport via massive distance gains—golf’s new-school crowd wanted to see him proven right again, while golf’s army of traditionalists feared him doing just that.
But the lack of hype this year perhaps suited him. For all the waves DeChambeau’s new home tour, the LIV Golf League, created upon its arrival, it’s the PGA Tour players who still steer the narrative. DeChambeau, meanwhile, floated into Oak Hill under the radar. Pegged at 160-1 odds to win at one major sportsbook, he struck a tone of quiet confidence before his opening round.
“I love the course,” he told me. “It looks like a place I know decently well.”
That place was, of course, Winged Foot, the site of that U.S. Open triumph two years ago. It’s a comparison made by multiple players in the build-up to the week. Just as it was the last time a major championship was contested in New York, the rough is thick, the bunkers deep, and DeChambeau has bombed his up the leaderboard again after an opening-round 66.
DeChambeau’s career has, by his own admission, been one of continued self-discovery and reinvention. That’s how his brain works. He needs a code to crack; a rabbit hole to run down. Sometimes—often, even—those quests don’t work. But it’s the failure that gives him clarity about what not to do. Learning that something doesn’t work isn’t fun. But not understanding why is worse.
Bryson’s new diet
In DeChambeau’s maniacal quest for more driving distance, he had often cited Newton's second law of motion: Force equals mass times acceleration.
The force in question is what’s applied to the golf ball. The ball speed. The thing that Bryson in one season moved from 178 mph to a 189 mph average.
The mass was the weight of his body. Muscle, fat, bone, whatever. Mass is fast, the saying goes, and the more of it the better.
The acceleration was his ability to move. Those two-a-day speed training sessions and the long-drive competitions built the fast-twitch muscles in his body that helped him move all that newfound mass around.
In 2020, the tour locked down due to COVID, and DeChambeau settled into the ideal algorithm for the moment. Cocooned in his Dallas home, he ate, he worked out, he speed trained. More mass, more acceleration, more force. But by 2021, things began to shift. He started trying to trim some weight. By the end of the year, he was struggling with focus, along with low energy levels and general discomfort in his gut. By 2022, his body began breaking down. A torn labrum in his lead hip, and broken hambone in his lead wrist kept him from playing this tournament last year.
The issue, he soon discovered via Zoomers Food Sensitivity Testing, was his diet. Piling on the protein was creating high levels of inflammation in his body and inhibiting his body’s ability to recover. Until, eventual, it couldn’t anymore.
“I was allergic to corn, wheat, gluten, dairy. Pretty much everything I liked, I couldn't eat. I took that out. Started taking it out in August and over the course of time I've lost all this inflammation, lost a lot of fat and slimmed down like crazy,” he said after his round. “I lost 18 pounds in 24 days. It was crazy. It wasn't fat. It was all water weight. You know how I looked before. I was not skinny.”
The fat dropped off, but the speed for the most part stuck around. DeChambau doesn’t have as much mass as he used to, but he still has the ability to move that mass around really fast. His diet has boosted his energy levels, and his speed training equipped him with a tool he can still use, and it means his overall ball speed has stayed about the same.
“The fast twitch stuff is still there. I built that, engrained that in,” he says. “Long drive is more fast twitch than anything. Yeah, you have to build a muscle system that can support it.”
Bryson’s old swing
The most frustrating element of injury recovery for professional athletes often isn’t the physical toll, but the mental one. The fear of re-aggravating the injury, or moving in a way where you experience the worst of the pain all over again.
Every golf swing depends on a series of unique elements to match things up, and make everything work. For DeChambeau, those elements were a flexed lead wrist, where the back of his left hand would face the target at impact (complimented by a weak lead hand grip DeChambeau imitated from his idol, Ben Hogan), and a tremendous amount of upper body strength through impact.
Most golfers slow down their arms late in their downswing as a way of releasing more energy into the club. DeChambeau is one of they very rare exceptions, as measured on PING’s advanced 3D ENSO machine, whose arms maintain their speed all the way through impact. It’s how DeChambeau generates such awesome speed in his swing, but also takes a tremendous toll on his body, and the combination is how his wrist and hip injuries came to be.
Kevin C. Cox
In the aftermath of his injuries, Bryson’s swing changed slightly. His lead wrist began breaking down, and his swing direction changed. The ball going both ways, DeChambeau and coach Chris Como, not interested in committing to a full travel schedules on both the LIV Golf Tour and PGA Tour, amicably parted ways. After a brief search, Bryson linked up with fellow Golf Digest Top 50 Teacher Dana Dahlquist, who says the pair began cleaning up the “geometry” in DeChambeau’s move.
In basic terms, the pair have been working on aligning Bryson’s lead arm and club so it matches the direction of his weight shift on the downswing. This helps promote an in-to-out swing path that Bryson craves to hit his desired draw. To prevent the clubface from turning over and creating hooks, he’s keying in on his left wrist.
“Bryson’s trying to keep his wrist angle in what’s called ulnar deviation for longer, and his left wrist uncocked as the handle of the club rises through the golf ball,” Dahlquist says.
Kevin C. Cox
The end result is the beginning of what we saw at Oak Hill on Thursday: Speed, with control.
“That's been the most surprising part because I'm so used to hitting it everywhere,” DeChambeau says.
This iteration of DeChambeau will look different from the last, and likely the next. Yet the underlying truth with DeChamebau is that he has garnered big wins at every level he’s played. His path is often winding, and change may be the constant in his game. But so is the mad scientist’s ability to figure it out in the end.
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