DUBAI (Reuters) - From outscoring Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in Abu Dhabi to barely making the cut in Qatar, amateur Bryson DeChambeau has discovered that his unique “scientific” approach cannot always prevent the vexing dips in form that dog every golfer.
Last year, the Californian became only the fifth player to win the top two amateur titles in the United States in the same season, his victories especially remarkable because he uses a set of irons fitted with shafts of identical length.
Those clubs, which McIlroy admitted to sneakily trying out in Abu Dhabi, are heathen to traditionalists and doubts remains as to whether DeChambeau can join the game’s professional elite with such a bag selection.
The physics student’s mixed performance on the European Tour’s so-called ‘Desert Swing’, the final leg of which starts in Dubai on Thursday, may have bolstered the argument for his detractors.
Two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, the 22-year-old shot a first-round eight-under 64, two clear of four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and four better than world number one Spieth in just his seventh appearance at a professional tournament and first on the regular European Tour.
DeChambeau’s second-round 72 earned him a spot in the leading trio that included McIlroy.
Such exalted company proved too much and a third-round 78 created a puzzle for his scientific mind, although equipment choice did not seem to be part of his post-tournament analysis.
“It’s great to look back and go ‘why did something change’?” DeChambeau said.
”It was too much adrenaline, too much going for me. I was 10 under through 20 holes. I know I can do it.
“The issue is how do you control the different situations that amount when the pressure is on, when you’re playing with the best players.”
Dressed on that third day in beige slacks, matching flat-cap and suede shoes, and shorn of the usual sponsor logos that adorn professional golfers’ attire, DeChambeau’s upright, aristocratic walk added to the impression of a player from a bygone age, even if his approach is cutting-edge.
“I‘m an analyst, I like analysing things, I love understanding numbers and figuring things out,” DeChambeau said in a video that garnered more than 290,000 views within hours of being posted on Facebook.
He has been labelled the most interesting man in golf.
“I just like being different and if people say that I‘m that, then I guess it’s cool,” DeChambeau added.
As well as their length, his irons have identical shaft and lie angles, and were developed after studying Homer Kelley’s cult 1969 manual “The Golfing Machine”. The only variation is in the loft, enabling him to hit different distances.
“It helps me keep my same posture, same setup, same everything,” DeChambeau admitted.
Equipment makers remain dubious.
“If manufacturers thought this would be beneficial it’s highly likely they would have done it by now because production would be easier,” golf club fitter Mark Woodward said.
DeChambeau, who likened his pioneering traits to those of George Washington and Albert Einstein, seems content to deepen his golfing education.
“Every day it’s a learning process. I‘m a golfing scientist, so I don’t take it with any emotion,” said DeChambeau, whose struggles continued in Qatar, where he made the cut by one stroke and limped home 17 adrift of winner Branden Grace.
“Regarding the past two weeks, it’s been fun. Learned a lot. Messed up a couple times but that’s how it goes as an intern,” he said.
His iconoclastic approach includes dunking golf balls in salted water to check for imperfections and also something called “vector green reading”.
“I‘m able to read greens at a faster, better level than most,” he said. “From a strategic standpoint I can’t give you all my secrets, but it’s based on shot dispersion.”
DeChambeau, who halted his studies at Southern Methodist University after its golf team was suspended due to rules violations involving a former coach, has temporarily forsaken the game’s riches to remain an amateur.
He cannot receive money from tournaments, equipment manufacturers or agents and was coy as to whether his club maker would try to market his irons.
“I can’t say too much about that yet,” he said. “There is some work we’re doing to try and figure out a fitting system.”
There will be no shortage of sponsors seeking his endorsement when he does join the paid ranks after his U.S. Masters debut in April.
In January, he signed with The Legacy Agency, which represents several U.S. golfers including Patrick Reed and Jim Furyk.
“I have been in a major championship but I haven’t played with the likes of Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth in the heat of battle and that’s where this is great preparation for the Masters,” he added.
“This time last year, I was kind of a nobody and to be honest I still think of myself as that. I try to be as humble as possible.”
Reporting by Matt Smith