“PART artist, part mad scientist,” read one headline as Bryson DeChambeau edged towards joining Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore in an exclusive club by adding the US Amateur Championship last month to his NCAA title triumph earlier in the year.
In fairness to the 21-year-old Californian, the second part of that description is linked to the first – as DeChambeau was happy to discuss in detail as he prepared to represent the United States in this weekend’s 45th Walker Cup at Royal Lytham.
For that event, he will use a set of irons that are all the same length, having been altered with precision to get the right head weight. The golf balls he pegs up will also have been tested personally by DeChambeau in a fairly scientific process. You’ve maybe guessed already, but he’s majoring in physics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“I started using the same-length clubs, which have all been built around a 7-iron, about four years ago,” he said. “I was trying to figure out a way to make it a little bit easier to hit the golf ball. I had already started developing a single-plane swing at the time but, once I realised I couldn’t do that for every single club due to the fact I’d need to change my posture 13 times, I said, ‘why can’t the irons – also the driver, 3-wood and hybrid for that matter – be the same length?’ The driver, 3-wood and hybrid are in the works right now, but the irons work perfectly. I figured out that the mass of the head could be exchanged for the length of the golf club quite equally from a force perspective.
“With a normal set, with a pitching wedge, for instance, the length of a club is cut down from a 7-iron and weight added to the head and for a 3-iron they will lengthen it and take the head weight off. What I’ve done is just reverse that process by making everything exactly like a 7-iron. All the clubs have the same length, same shaft, same swing weight. Everything is the same except for degrees of loft, which accounts for about 12 to 14 yards of distance.”
While the concept failed to take off when the Tommy Armour company launched a range of EQL (equal) irons in the late 1980s, it certainly works for DeChambeau and did so straight away. The first time he tested out the clubs, an 8-iron went the “normal distance” at the first, as did a 5-iron as it flew 210 yards at the next hole.
“It was a pretty incredible discovery at that point,” he admitted, having already displayed his slightly eccentric side by revealing that he only wears his Ben-Hogan style flat cap on tournament days. “I’m not sure why it didn’t take off when it was tried with the Tommy Armour EQLs, but I’ve made it work and I’ve made it work at a high level, even though it is still not perfected.”
Quite possibly the next Jordan Spieth – the Texan played in this event at Royal Aberdeen four years ago, after all, before going on to become a double major winner and world No 1 – DeChambeau leaves nothing to chance when it comes to his golf. Most golfers may have tossed golf balls into a basin to give them a scrub and make them respectable, but few, if any, will do so to test them for balance.
“I put them in Epsom salt combined with water, mixing it up,” revealed DeChambeau of a process he will be undertaking as normal before tomorrow’s opening foursomes session at the Open Championship venue in Lancashire. “It floats the golf ball in the middle of the water and I spin it. If it wobbles to where there’s a heavy point in the ball, that’s when I know that gravity isn’t in the middle of the ball so is out of balance. On average, I would say that I won’t play four balls out of a dozen.”
Great Britain & Ireland’s preparations for the two-day match have included a talk by Paul McGinley, the inspirational winning European captain of last year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. “Paul said he’s been involved in 13 teams, including the Ryder Cup and the Seve Trophy, and won 12 times, so he obviously knows the winning formula,” said Stirling University graduate Cormac Sharvin, one of five Irishmen in the home ranks. “It would be good if we can get a bit of that to rub off on the team this week.”
That team, of course, includes Bearsden’s Ewen Ferguson, who stepped up from first reserve last week after US-based Englishman Sam Horsfield withdrew citing “personal reasons”. “We’ve moved on from that,” said GB&I captain Nigel Edwards in response to being asked what he thought about Horsfield turning out instead this week for the University of Florida. “My focus is the GB&I team”, added the Welshman, who was also at the helm for a 14-10 win in Aberdeen. “Ewen has come into the team and is playing fantastically well. He’s very comfortable, is one of the characters and is fitting in like a glove.”