MARTIN SAMUEL: Bryson DeChambeau is inspired by Tiger Woods but is struggling to play like him
To those waiting patiently in the grandstand around the 18th green, it must have seemed that Bryson DeChambeau enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular, time on the Kent coast. Just as he had hoped.
He planted his tee shot in the middle of the fairway, chipped to pin high, missed his birdie opportunity but sunk a tiddler for a steady par. Only the sweat on his forehead when he removed his retro cap told the real story of what had gone before.
Dreamland, the century old Margate funfair, may now be a shadow of its old self but DeChambeau is threatening to open his own rollercoaster business if he continues playing like this.
Bryson DeChambeau went through a rollercoaster first round at The Open at Royal St George’s
His four birdies demonstrated why he could one day be an Open winner, his five bogeys why it probably isn’t going to happen this week, or at this course, and the rest saw the most compelling golfer on the circuit teeter on the brink of triumph and disaster, much like riders on Dreamland’s old Orbiter.
The predictions, as usual, were for disaster. They often are, with DeChambeau. Bernhard Langer sneered that he couldn’t just aim for the sky at Royal St George’s and succeed, which seems rather a harsh critique of a player famed for a scientific approach to an ancient game.
Of course, when DeChambeau has spoken of bombing and gouging his way around some of the most hallowed venues he will not have endeared himself to traditionalists or those, like Langer, who never had that option open to them.
Worse, at Winged Foot last year, DeChambeau actually got the strategy to work, winning the US Open. Since then, all the talk has been of making courses Bryson-proof with great celebrations whenever it is proved unnecessary. Like on Thursday, for instance.
The American attempts to play out of the rough as he struggled with the Sandwich course
With four birdies and five bogeys, DeChambeau had an inconsistent start at Royal St George’s
It wasn’t that Royal St George’s chewed up DeChambeau and spat him out. More that it exposed his inconsistencies in a way that suggested he is some way from the summit on The Open’s links.
When it was suggested that DeChambeau may have to change his game to plot his way around Sandwich, he airily replied that he had studied how Tiger Woods played with restraint in some of his Open triumphs. This, he suggested, was how to approach such a challenge.
One problem. Woods, a three-time Open winner at St Andrews and Royal Liverpool, had a much better game than DeChambeau. He could dial it down and, when he did, remain effective. DeChambeau did not attempt to bludgeon Royal St George’s, so that wasn’t why he finished over par. He took irons from the tee, he refused several invitations to dare.
The problem then was that his approach play might fail, or his short game. He couldn’t stop the ball on the green, or get the read no matter how many times he spotted and re-spotted his ball.
DeChambeau struggled in a bid to replicate Tiger Woods, pictured winning The Open in 2006
It wasn’t that DeChambeau played poorly, indeed some of his saves were quite magnificent — and even some of his bogeys given that he was in a position when it might have taken a lesser competitor two to get reacquainted with the fairway — more that this is a complex, artful course and it is a lot easier to be inspired by Woods than to replicate him.
So on the 17th, DeChambeau’s final bogey of the day, he was left bemoaning the tiny technical flaw that was the difference between driving tee to green, and catching a tuft of rough 50 yards from the intended target area and being dragged to the depths again.
‘I wanted to hit that good,’ DeChambeau complained to his caddie. ‘That was on the green if I hit that good.’ On the 15th, having picked up and replaced his ball three times, he still couldn’t get the read on his save putt and it died well before the hole. It negated a fabulous chip that had him bounding up to the green, all energy and youthful enthusiasm. In all, whether at his bravest or playing conservatively, DeChambeau could only find four fairways out of 14.
It is nigh impossible to win a major golf tournament with those numbers. At the bomb and gouge Winged Foot Open, DeChambeau was considerably straighter.
And then there were those moments when DeChambeau picked up his driver like he was rekindling romance with an old flame. Those reunions didn’t always go well either. On the ninth he must have hit it 70 feet left of the fairway, over the snaking line of spectators who were already at a distance and into an expanse of rough in a hollow, dense and long.
However, the 27-year-old showed why he could still win The Open with magnificent play
BRYSON DECHAMBEAU’S ROLLERCOASTER DAY
The American carded four birdies and five bogeys to finish the first round one-over-par
There were unruly growths of weed-like wild plants almost as tall as DeChambeau as he pondered his next move. Incredibly he got it out and on to the green. Too good, in fact. Through and slightly up the bank at the back. So it wasn’t only the tee shot that cost him; it was taking three to get down from there.
‘I’ve been saying this a long time,’ DeChambeau explained. ‘If I can hit it down the middle of the fairway, that’s great, but with the driver right now, the driver sucks. It’s not a good face for me and we’re still trying to figure out how to make good on the mishits.
‘I’m living on the razor’s edge. When I did hit it outside the fairway, like in the first cut, say, I catch jumpers out of there and can’t control my wedges.
‘It’s quite finicky for me, because it’s a golf course that’s pretty short, so when I hit a driver and it doesn’t go on the fairway, if it’s not in the first cut, it’s in the hay. It’s tough for me to get it out on to the green and control that.
After the first round DeChambeau carded one over par, leaving him well down the order
Between shots the American could be seen immersed in his notes, but at times he seemed lost
From the middle of the fairway on 18, I was able to hit a nice shot to 11 feet and almost made birdie. I’ve got to figure it out, or it’s forever.’
His comments provoked a furious pushback from his club manufacturers, Cobra.
This was the DeChambeau that left Detroit GC earlier this month declaring ‘I hate golf’ after a poor round at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Certainly, it must be hard for him now with a misfiring driver on such unforgiving terrain.
Between shots he could be seen immersed in his notes — his new caddie, Brian Zeigler, was barely part of this process — or giving himself an impromptu swing lesson. All professional athletes live, to some extent, in their own heads but DeChambeau in those moments seems lost, oblivious.
He is far from out of contention, mind, and if Woods at The Open is the blueprint, he often eased into a tournament, too. Yet rarely did he board the rollercoaster that DeChambeau rode on Thursday. It wasn’t a disaster; but it certainly wasn’t Dreamland.