By Dan Reardon
The Employment Office — Job Opening — Occupation: Professional Golfer; Opening: PGA Tour winner; Age: 23-25; Education: PGA Tour Qualifier 2014-2017; Requirements: Never won a PGA Tour event; Compensation: Seven figures.
A stretch? Not in 2017. With Bryson DeChambeau’s win last week at the John Deere Classic, the total for the year is now 13 players under 25 and 10 first-time winners on the PGA Tour. World #1, Dustin Johnson, seems downright old. Even with Johnson skewing the numbers with his three tournament wins at age 32, the average age of an individual winner on the PGA Tour since the start of the calendar year is 25.4.
DeChambeau posted six back-nine birdies, including back to back at 17 and 18, to run down a stumbling Patrick Rodgers for a one-shot win on Sunday at 18-under par.
It’s as if some mad geneticist back in the mid-90s began churning out a group of super golfers. Many have known and competed against each other since they were teenagers. Most of them hit their drives off-the-charts long. They show little fear of being in the hunt. When they struggle for a time, they climb back up on the high board and make an even bigger splash. You can question their longevity. You cannot question their presence.
If they are the Tour’s test tube babies, their most recent winner got his DNA from a different source. DeChambeau shares only a youthful win with his other 2017 maiden champions. He sparked some interest with his comments after backing up his NCAA individual title with a U.S. Amateur win at Olympia Fields in 2015. He rattled the cages when he contended in his first Masters the following year.
He may not be the product of a mad scientist, but his approach to golf is definitely new science. He’s the guy with a full set of clubs with largely all shafts the same length. He’s the guy who floats his golf balls in saltwater to find only ones that match identically. He’s the one who, before he turned professional, let it be known that he wanted to change the game in the same way Arnold Palmer changed the game.
For a while his science was treated as “junk” rather than revolution. While his fellow sensation, Jon Rahm, was racing past Tour qualifying late last summer, DeChambeau was scratching his way to status, finally locking it in with a strong showing in the Web.com series. When Rahm cracked the winner’s code in Arizona in February, Bryson was working on a stretch of six MCs and a WD in 11 rookie-year starts.
His exotic views on the game were gathering more cynicism than curiosity when he missed the cut at the U.S. Open for his eighth straight weekend off. Even the player who might be conservatively classified as brash was having his doubts. “Yeah, absolutely. It was more of trial and error, right? I was going through a process of understanding what is the most efficient way to hit the golf ball, to putt, for me, right, based on how I feel and how comfortable I am as well,” he said after the win.
“There is that aspect as well. You can’t just say, based on everybody, that you can do the same thing throughout the whole field. Not everybody is going to have the same type of feelings … out there. You got to kind of tailor to what the player is comfortable with. So finally I backed off that about four weeks ago and said, ‘Look, just go back to what you were doing in college. You did pretty well. Let’s see where it goes from there.’ Maybe I can understand a little bit more of what I was doing and why I played so well because of it.”
What he didn’t say, and perhaps would be reluctant to admit, is strange clubs and unique swing theories aside, a man who ranked just inside 200 in putting stats heading into the tournament, enjoyed his best week on the greens as a professional, finishing second in the field. His win in the Quad cities was prototypical for the event. Nothing may run like a Deere, but nothing wins at the Deere like first-time winners. DeChambeau raised the total to 19 first-time Tour winners in the event. He learned afterward that his fellow SMU grad and Kangol-topped predecessor, the late Payne Stewart, also made the event his first professional win.
This week’s third major, the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, may restore experience as a factor in winning. Majors tend to do that. But if you believe in trends, consider this: the Masters went to a 37-year-old, Sergio Garcia; the U.S. Open went to a 27-year-old, Brooks Koepka. If there is a 17-year-old in the field this week, find a betting shop in Southport and hope to ride the wave.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.