Lynch: Matt Fitzpatrick’s DeChambeau comments, while petty, call out statutes deficient in protecting golf
It is perhaps the most impressive example of Bryson DeChambeau's distance command yet of being able to dominate a golf tournament that is more than 5,000 miles away from the event in which he is actually participating.
On Thursday, DeChambeau made his first start since winning the US Open with six strokes and promptly shot 62 to take the lead in the first round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. Until Friday he was hardly less of a factor in the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship of the Flagging European Tour. It was at this point that the leading man at Wentworth - Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick - noted that the number 6 in the world, with the amazing distance he now commands, was making "a little mockery of the game".
"In my opinion, it's not a skill to hit the ball far," said Fitzpatrick. “I could put on 40 pounds. I could see a biomechanic and win 40 meters; that is actually a fact. I could put another two inches on my driver. I could win this, but the ability in my opinion is to hit the ball straight. That's the ability, it just takes out the ability in my opinion. I am sure that many will disagree. It's just stupid. "
Fitzpatrick, a man so leanly built that he may have to jog around the shower to get wet, discovers DeChambeau 85 pounds, the mass of which may soon require him to shower in a car wash. Fitzpatrick is on average only 150 feet from the tee, a respectable number, but usually still a Walmart or so behind the hull.
In response to these comments, DeChambeau showed more reluctance than is his habit when bringing up little white things.
“I'd say it actually takes more skill to do what I'm doing,” he said. "I still think that with the distances I hit back then, I will hit it closer than last year. I really appreciate these comments."
It's easy to dismiss Fitzpatrick's comments as sour grapes. Every generation sees players left behind, judged by their physique to believe in a style of golf that other elite competitors have surpassed. He's Corey Pavin with an accent. But even if that's true, Fitzpatrick is correct in his assessment that professional golf is increasingly one-dimensional, with no nuances, dominated by what my old high school woodworking teacher used to call "BF and I" - brute force and ignorance.
Matthew Fitzpatrick shakes hands with Bryson DeChambeau during the Abu Dhabi 2020 HSBC Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Andrew Redington / Getty Images)
It's not DeChambeau's fault. He does everything that is permitted within the parameters that are relevant for sport in order to gain a competitive advantage. It just so happens that these parameters degrade the value of golf course architecture and reduce the concept of course management to a simple matter of player preference on the day rather than a thoughtful answer to what is asked of them. Professional golf is becoming less a battle of strategy - player versus course - and more a dispute over governance, man versus rules. Fitzpatrick isn't the only one who believes current laws have shown the protection of sport to be utterly inadequate.
As recently as last February - prior to a life in 2020 - the USGA and R&A released their Distance Insights Report, which moved the governing bodies from the dithering phase to the deliberation phase. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the following measures until March 2021. In the meantime, we find ourselves in the midst of an annoying tweeting stalemate between those who believe there is no problem and those who believe there are no other problems.
DeChambeau added more fire to the fire on his second round at TPC Summerlin by hurling a 373 yard drive onto the green at the par 4 7th hole and making eagles (he also drove the green on Thursday). Impressive for sure, but the only thing PGA Tour players get on Fridays is a ride back to their hotel. DeChambeau tied for the 31st time on Sunday morning, seven shots back. This week, like most weeks, he won't win. He may dominate the headlines but DeChambeau has some way to go before he dominates the game.
PGA: US Open - Finals
Bryson DeChambeau during the final round of the US Open at Winged Foot Golf Club. (Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports)
This is not a week that should be included in the evidence book of the remote debate. On the day DeChambeau shot his effortless 62, four other men shot 63 and another five shot 64. On Saturday, Matthew Wolff added a 61 to the previous rounds of 68 and 66, and he's still not leading! PGA Tour setups in Vegas are easier to choose than the rubles chasing a broken road right on the Strip. But we should hope that what happened in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.
The next real proof phase begins in 32 days with the Masters tournament, in which DeChambeau is considering a 48-inch driver to create even more distance between himself and Fitzpatrick. Gimmicks and showmanship are popular in Las Vegas, but may be received significantly cooler in Augusta National.
Still, purists should cheer DeChambeau in hopes that he will pulverize Alistair Mackenzie's masterpiece, that he will shoot tees over the tiger-proof trees planted two decades ago, and that he will flip-wedge the par 5s that were once career-defining iron shots from legends. This could be the final outrage necessary to lift the powers up from the trembling to the deliberation to the final action.
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