Nick Rodger: The demonstration of brute force from DeChambeau reignites distance debate in golf

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These days, turn on your TV, turn on your radio, or fire up your machine, and what do you see and hear? That’s right, yes; implacable doom, gloom and misery. And maybe a bit about Strictly Come Dancing’s latest season. Mostly, however, doom, gloom and suffering.

In reality, everything is so gloomy and grisly that even the chirping, twirling, grinning celebration that is the aforementioned Strictly is likely to lose its giggling, gasping joie de vivre and end up being won over by a ghostly couple performing a macabre, tortured waltz to Abide With Me’s somber strains.

These days, there is no relief from the tide of bleak news. And if you’re anything like a golf purist, the weekend news that Bryson DeChambeau hit a 400-yard driver probably left you with the kind of increasing trepidation you’d get if you were standing in a ScotRail ticket booth behind Margaret Ferrier.

Brave to leave? Well, Bryson is undoubtedly seeking new frontiers of golf, as the newly crowned U.S. The Open Champion gleefully shared a photo of his tee shot soaring an amazing 403.1 yards through the air on social media.

This day and age resembled the screaming cacophony that would be created if a banshee were to perform an exorcism on a room full of sopranos, the shrill cries of agony from those appalled at the immense distances a golf ball would hit.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Distance Insight Project of the R&A and USGA, put on hold, has a frightening new statistic to digest. A relaxing session with an osteopath almost involves watching DeChambeau rattle his driver with a huge, thunderous swing. In his arsenal, his sheer strength is a pretty devastating tool and one that was already rewarded with his first major victory.

How physically viable it is remains to be seen. Look at Tom Watson’s or Colin Montgomerie’s stunning, sustaining swings, and you can’t picture DeChambeau gliding in senior golf, can you? It is likely that his back will be rattled by the time he is in his mid-30s.

Nevertheless, without sacrificing finesse or sensation, DeChambeau has set a new standard for brute force. It’s quite an alliance of characteristics and one that has explained his choice to play with and bulk up his physicality. Extreme effort and risk were needed for the process, although the depth of his commitment remains remarkable.

DeChambeau can polarize opinions – for example, his speed of play could make the biblical character Job storm in a furious hurry off the green – but he remains an interesting athletic specimen.

With the Masters only three weeks out, analysts are already anxiously anticipating the demolition of Augusta National by DeChambeau. Of course, in this game, forecasts are a questionable proposition. He’ll possibly end 18th.

One thing we can say for sure is that another fuel contribution has been given to the long-running distance debate. Some have said that the approach of DeChambeau is a parody of golf, but he only takes advantage of what the modern game allows in this era of crash, boom, wallop.

And therein lies at the highest level the enduring issue of golf, as those in charge struggle with a host of horses that have bolted already. Or, as Tiger Woods put it last week, “The genie is out of the bag.” Strangely enough, although he was hitting gigantic drives in his heyday, the old Tiger was not heard moaning.

The conflict between old and new continues to trigger great dismay with beloved, storied courses attempting to fend off the bombers by being stretched, pulled and twisted like the loose skin of a previous Hollywood starlet desperately trying to avoid the passing of time.

The R&A and USGA, long accused of being asleep at the distance turn, must see that they maintain the game’s longevity while not provoking a war with manufacturers of equipment and tours that are multi-million dollar businesses. The boom of giant drives, after all, is seen as grandiose entertainment. Why would it have to be curtailed?

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