In the wake of Bryson DeChambeau's barnstorming carnival across multiple Florida counties, distance chatter is more en vogue than ever. DeChambeau has changed the game, if ever so slightly, and it has altered the habits and routines of more than a few of his peers, even if Rory McIlroy is the only one to voice it.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't anything to do with what Bryson did at the U.S. Open," said McIlroy after shooting 79-75 at TPC Sawgrass and badly missing the cut. "I think a lot of people saw that and were like, 'Whoa, if this is the way they're going to set golf courses up in the future, it helps. It really helps.'"
Distance does help, there's no denying that. You cannot out-math that statistical reality. But it only helps inasmuch as you can keep your swing intact in the process. That's what Masters champion Dustin Johnson ran into last fall.
"I messed around a little bit with it back in October maybe," said Johnson on a call this week to discuss the 2021 Masters. "I mean, if I want to, I could hit it further. I had a driver that I could definitely hit it a lot further than the one I'm playing. But to me, the little bit of the extra distance that came with it, obviously the harder you swing, obviously the bigger your misses are. For me, it just didn't help. Until I feel like when at my best that I can't beat someone, then I'll try and change something. But as of right now, I feel like if I play my best golf, I feel like I can beat whoever I'm playing against."
It's a sensible rationale that gets at the very ethos of D.J. Never has someone this good and this successful tried less to emulate anyone else around him. We are all an amalgamation of the people in our lives, those who influence us. However, it seems that D.J. is just D.J. No more, no less.
As one of the longest players in the game (and of all time), D.J. obviously does not need to chase distance (neither does Rory, by the way). But when three-time major winner Padraig Harrington was asked about distance at the Honda Classic this week, he said the longest hitters in the sport of golf today would actually benefit from hitting it ... shorter.
Harrington, who said he has chased distance every day of his life, explained how a proposed rollback of equipment by the USGA and R&A counterintuitively (perhaps?) accentuates the skills of the speediest swingers.
"The one thing that nobody seems to be getting in the whole of this argument, it's a massive advantage to the long hitters if they tail back the equipment," said Harrington. "If they bring it back ... Bryson gains massively if they draw back the equipment."
D.J. and Rory, too.
"The longer you hit it, if you reduce Bryson by 10%, say he's hitting it 350 [yards] and he's now hitting it 315 and you reduce a guy who's hitting it 300 and you reduce him to 270, Bryson is OK," added Harrington. "He's still that same percentage ahead, but it's a lot easier to hit the golf ball on a golf course at 315 than it is at at 345 or 350. It is an incredible advantage to the long hitters if they tail back how far the ball goes. I'm talking it will encourage even more of a chase of long hitting because it's such an advantage.
"... Now we're seeing Bryson, he's obviously getting the limelight for it, and it's very impressive, but ... he should be screaming for a rollback because it would give him a big advantage."
This point by Harrington is not one I had considered. It's bigger advantage to be longer when everyone is shorter for two reasons. The first is that your advantage in length is not linear, it increases even if distance away from the green disproportionately increases (that is, if a reduction in equipment closes the gap between Zach Johnson and DeChambeau by 5 yards, DeChambeau's advantage still increases as they move farther away from the green). The second is that it's easier to hit shorter irons out of the rough than longer irons. The third case that Harrington makes -- that it's easier to control 310 than 360, and thus DeChambeau will hit more fairways -- is a really compelling one.
DeChambeau knows all of this and more or less said it at the Saudi International earlier this year. And the conversation rolls on. More or less. Faster or slower. Bigger or smaller. There are so many angles and every one of the refracts 10 more. It's the most interesting topic in golf today, one that has not been ushered in by DeChambeau but simply exacerbated by what he's trying to do.
Though I guffawed at his initial self-comparison to folks like Einstein and George Washington, the spirit of the comp feels more apropos now.
"You look at trends in humanity and most like following the norm," he once said. "But you've also got people like Einstein and George Washington; they stood out and capitalized on their differences and showed the world a little different side."
A side that could reverberate up and down golf history for many years to come.