The widely-held gentle-nature-of-the-game theory has all but disappeared from the biggest stages of the professional game.
As a young lad, singularly focussed on hitting it long, I would smash the ball with every club in the bag. It didn’t work out well every time but that was certainly the goal. One such time, I remember my father observing me on the tee with barely-disguised scorn. “I know you love the game son, but perhaps you should stick with contact sports… you don’t appear to have the temperament for this game,” he’d remarked. A rebuke that still stings mostly because, whether I like it or not, the years have borne out the truth in his assessment. ‘Golf is a gentle game, ‘ wrote Jack Nicklaus, back in the day. ‘And there’s no need for violence whatsoever. ‘ It’s a quote I know by heart simply because of the number of times it’s been offered as sage advice by playing partners over the years. That I’ve come around to that point of view is a separate story—a decision that has less to do with playing better, and more to do with preserving my sanity (and back!) especially when my swing deserts me.
The point I am trying to make is just how unrecognisable golf has become in this post-modern era. The widely-held gentle-nature-of-the-game theory has all but disappeared from the biggest stages of the professional game.
On another note it’s also why so many old-timers can’t stand what Bryson DeChambeau is doing to the game. Twitter is pretty excited about DeChambeau’s exploits. Now that his decimation of continental players at the Ryder Cup has become somewhat old hat, we have the spectacle of Chambeau smashing 400-yard drives at the World Drive Challenge. From what I’ve seen, DeChambeau’s heaves (no, even I wouldn’t call it a ‘swing’) at this event are even more violent than what he’s been displaying on tour. And still, miraculously, he manages to hit it virtually straight. That’s just not fair: with DeChambeau the entire precious versus power argument has become irrelevant. That he was ousted from the World Drive Championship finals on Saturday is somewhat irrelevant, even though his winning the event as a reigning major champion—would have been a first in the history of the game.
If there is any harking back to the past that DeChambeau’s swing has achieved, it’s a renewal of interest in the swing of legendary Moe Norman. For those who’re not acquainted with this Canadian golfer’s single-plane swing, and then I would highly recommend a quick digression to the internet. Norman didn’t fit in on the PGA Tour and quit rather early to pursue a teaching career instead. Those you played with, or saw him in action, swear by his accuracy and ball striking—arguably the best the world has ever seen. DeChambeau’s high hands at set up, and his entire swing technique does seem to have a lot in common with Norman’s—he’s definitely on to something.
Even the pros have been venting against the paradigm shift that DeChambeau’s driving has wrought on the game. In 2020, Matt Fitzpatrick told the press, “It’s not a skill to hit the ball a long way in my opinion. I could put on 40 pounds. I could go and see a biomechanist, and I could gain 40 yards; that’s actually a fact. I could put another two inches on my driver. I could gain that. But the skill in my opinion is to hit the ball straight.” Fitzpatrick went on to add that DeChambeau was “making a mockery” of the game, arguing, “Some of the places he hit it, and he’s cutting corners — when he’s on, there’s no point. … It doesn’t matter if I play my best.” Needless to say, things were frosty between DeChambeau and the English golfer until recently when the latter posted a video of humbly ‘getting tips,’ from the American when they had the opportunity to tee it up together at an event.
Could DeChambeau be the best player in the world? That question, which used to elicit mirth in 2019, is now looking not possible, but probable. There’s just no denying it: not only is he hitting prodigious distances, DeChambeau has a sharp short game, and can putt like a demon when he needs to. If his back holds up, and he can make incremental improvements to his approach game, I see very little in the way of the American becoming the top-ranked golfer in the world. Knowing DeChambeau, he might be motivated not necessarily by the ranking, but rather just because it’ll allow him to have the last word in his spat with Brooks Koepka. Take that.
Okay, so no more avoiding the elephant in the room—The Ryder Cup. Yes, I’ve got egg on my face: given the supreme and utterly misplaced confidence with which I had predicted a demolition of the American squad by the Europeans in my last column. In retrospect I’m not ashamed to admit that I was led more by the outcome the fan in me wanted to see. And I really did think that the team spirit of the Europeans would triumph over the individualistic and rather divided factions in the American team. I stand corrected, but I wouldn’t have traded sides even if I’d known the outcome. Sometimes you’ve just got to put yourself out there and accept the consequences. At least I didn’t put my money where my mouth is. Small mercies.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game