As the PGA Tour’s fall swing starts to heat up with a lead-in to the most anticipated event of the year — a November Masters at Augusta National Golf Club — there is one story that has emerged as pre-eminent above all the rest. It’s not whether Tiger Woods can repeat in his green jacket bid (he cannot) or whether Rory McIlroy is more likely than ever to complete the career grand slam. Rather, it’s what the most recent major champion, Bryson DeChambeau, will do next and — maybe more instructively — what golf as a whole will do in response.
Before winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club three weeks ago, DeChambeau talked about possibly using a 48-inch driver (several inches longer than the standard) and noted that week that he wanted to continue to add bulk to his body and length to his drives. All of this in addition to the fact that he has previously stated that he wanted to do some unholy things to golf’s most holy ground.
DeChambeau will play this week at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, his first event back since raising the U.S. Open trophy, and the only narrative that matters right now is what happens next and who can possibly stop him (as well as how they will do it). If that feels like an overreaction to a single win at Winged Foot, it’s not. DeChambeau’s plan to melt iconic golf courses around the globe may have begun with Winged Foot, but his footprint will extend far beyond that place.
Now the only thing anyone can talk about is the Bulky One with the bizarre putting grip and what now feels like an overwhelming advantage over an unprepared field at Augusta. People are discussing it as it relates to McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and what the future of this stupid, wonderful sport holds.
This week in Las Vegas is the next step in that evolution. Where things go from here is anyone’s guess, but what previously was perceived as little more than a joke on social media has become the storyline in a sport not short on them.
DeChambeau is not likely to follow his U.S. Open win with one at the Masters, but that is hardly the point because what he does — win or lose — has assumed the throne of takes (both hot ones and reasonable ones) in golf. That’s telling in two ways. The first is how successful his plan to get big and hit it far has been, and the second is that there is legitimate concern over how to stage major championships at peewee stadiums into the future. That sounds like hyperbole, and it is for now, but it won’t be in five years when he figures out to drive the ball 400 yards and decimates even the cleverest existing golf architecture.
To be sure, there are other big stories and players to follow over the next six weeks as we settle into what should be a phenomenal Masters. But none of them are going to change the very sport they’re currently competing in. DeChambeau might not either, but it’s at least on the table, which means that his oversized shadow looms the largest with Augusta on the horizon.