September 15th, 2016

The New Kid on the PGA Tour Block

Who is Bryson DeChambeau? Besides being only the 5th golfer ever to win both NCAA Division I Championship and the US Amateur in same year? He is a 22 year old Southern Methodist University graduate, who is known as much for his clever mind and physics degree as for his unique golf clubs. The theories behind his single length clubs (all of approximately 6 iron length and constant overall weight; with changing lofts and probably different head weights) and jumbo grips have already received much attention. The influence of Homer Kelly’s Golfing Machine on his swing is also well-known. In what other scientific ways does deChambeau stand out among his fellow professional peers? He is working in collaboration with some companies on devices which can show grip pressure through impact and on ways and means to formulate a putting model which can produce good results on any surface. He is trying out different shafts to see whether slowing down his speed or giving him lower trajectory might be more efficient.  He says, “a robot cannot perfectly understand what a human is doing through a 3-dimensional stroke pattern,” which is why he is involved in shaft testing to factor in the golfer aspect. What about his own game? DeChambeau has already, in a relatively short competitive career, made some very astute observations, which many far more experienced players have not yet cottoned onto. He believes cutting out excessive movement is vital. He also wonders why many golfers rely on “feel” so much. Feel, he feels, is after all like the wind - easily blown away. Golfers should instead have a “baseline” they can revert to whenever not playing well. Bryson is capable of formulating his own theories and analyses, enabled by his long-time coach Mike Schy, a firm believer in letting his students grow and progress through self-discovery. In fact, modern learning theories all emphasize athlete-centered learning, where the athlete, through personal experience, improves both decision making and problem solving skills. While his coach believes that “plane is king”, DeChambeau terms it “getting the momentum vector to be applied correctly on the plane”, and thus both, whether stating it in simple terms or couched in more physics-specific terminology, want a single plane swing for Bryson. The combination of a Moe-Norman-like palm-grip with jumbo club handles which better facilitate it, and the swing consistency of single length shafts, should make Bryson a winner every time. What then has gone wrong as Bryson has struggled through several back-to-back events not making the cut? Has he not been able to return to his baseline? “The chemicals in my body allowed me to feel some pressure and did not allow me to perform to my best potential”. He was spot on while making these comments, and those are the very same chemicals released in any golfer under pressure. It is the reason even the most seasoned players can perform well during the week and make the most amateurish mistakes over the weekend. The problem no-one in golf has even considered so far, is the placement and position of the key joints of the trail shoulder and the hips. When a golfer must make compensatory movements to undo complex joint positions from the top of the backswing, inconsistency is guaranteed, especially under pressure, when the chemicals Bryson mentions increase production! A trail shoulder which is tight or forward leaning at impact prevents the release of the club to the ball at the appropriate time and place. Similarly, inappropriately positioned hips cannot generate quick rotary speed as they become slowed down by hip-leveling or weight-shifting movements. A chase for plane alone with no care for the shoulder and hip joints is a futile search, because it is a sign that the human body has not been factored into the equation. However, these facts will not elude the curious mind of this talented golfer for long. It will be a great experience watching this bold “I love going to extremes”, confident and scientifically savvy young man reach his full potential as he matures as a professional golfer. Since this article was first written, Bryson has missed several more cuts and will probably be headed to Q school later this year. Adapted from my article of July 2016 in My Avid Golfer Magazine.

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