Bryson DeChambeau was not short of friends as he played the opening round of his Masters debut at Augusta National yesterday.
There was Jimmy, Harvey, and King, for starters, Herman and Jackie too, as the amateur star made his way onto the early leaderboards.
Remarkably, there were all the same height, unlike those accompanying playing partners Jordan Spieth and Paul Casey. For Jimmy, Harvey, and the gang are the Masters-inspired names DeChambeau has given his irons, and uniquely they are built to the exact same specification, roughly equating to the length and weight of a seven-iron. DeChambeau, 22, is a rare bird in these parts, an amateur with a Ben Hogan-style flat cap tipped for great things around Augusta National this week and whom would not surprise Graeme McDowell if he was in the mix on Sunday afternoon.
The Californian will turn pro on Monday, his achievements as an amateur having marked him out for great things, as one of only five golfers to have won the NCAA US collegiate title and the US Amatuer in the same year. The others to have achieved the feat? Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore, a none too shabby list of fellow travellers.
That he has joined it by breaking convention and playing with his unique set of clubs is all the more remarkable. Dustin Johnson tried DeChambeau’s iron for size during a practice round on Tuesday and immediately discounted them as an option for him but for the young amateur the goal is unify his swing across his irons and wedges, including five-iron Azalea to his 60-degree King, in honour of Arnold Palmer’s 1960 Masters win.
“If you can beautifully mesh the art and science of it to enhance your game, there’s no downside to it,” DeChambeau said before explaining how he pitched his idea to coach Mike Schy in 2011.
“I actually went up to him and asked him, why can’t the clubs be at the same length? Because I was experimenting with a one-plane swing at the time and it was very difficult to accomplish with different length clubs. I showed it to him on video and I said, I’m going to have to change posture no matter what.
“He said, ‘okay, well, that’s an easy question to ask, but a very difficult one to answer.’”
It took them two weeks to make their first single-length set and three weeks of hitting each club before getting to the five-iron.
“I told Mike, this is going to be the kicker. Struck it, and it flew and kept flying, kept flying, and it flew all the way, 205 yards and I looked over at Mike and I said, this possibly could change the game. Never know.”
Whether it does or not remains to be seen but DeChambeau was seemingly under no pressure yesterday as he teed off with defending champion Spieth and Paul Casey, both of whom were having great starts to their Masters title bids.
The amateur made a confidence-building opening par that led to birdie at the par-five second. After that the student diligently held his own. His first mis-step came at the 13th, when he sent his drive right into trees at the par-five dogleg left, forcing him to lay up. Yet he ground out his 11th successive par. Another followed at the par-four 14th but then came trouble, DeChambeau undercooking his 244-yard approach into the par-five and finding water on the way to the only blemish on his scorecard, a bogey six.
He signed for a level par 72, a solid day’s work for the debutant whose performance and approach suggests this won’t be the last we hear of Bryson DeChambeau.
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