On Sunday at The Masters, Dustin Johnson ran away in record setting fashion. It was so record breaking that he beat other record breakers. Cam Smith became the first player in the history of the tournament to shoot four rounds in the 60s, and he still couldn’t bother DJ on the second nice at Augusta.
After two rounds this weekend at Augusta, the result was in the balance. A clustered leaderboard had many of us chomping at the bit for a historic November weekend. DJ was having no part of that nonsense, it was his weekend and we were all just the guests at his party (insert any DJ party joke you’d like here…).
On Sunday, though, another pairing way down the leaderboard drew a bit of attention. Bernard Langer and Bryson Dechambeau - golf’s version of the tortoise and the hare. After months of discussion about Bryson’s transformation to a ball smashing, major winning dynamo, many were excited about Bryson’s 73 on Sunday. On the day, he lost by two shots to the 63-year-old Bernard Langer who hits the ball 250 yards off the tee. 250 yards is about when they begin serving dinner on Bryson’s tee shots.
As is normal in social media “gotcha” culture, some used Langer’s two shot victory over Bryson on Sunday (and Langer’s one shot victory over the four rounds) to gloat that distance doesn’t matter as much we think. “See, a 63 year old can beat Bryson!” they said.
Sure, Bryson lost to Langer. However, we have to remember two things following this Masters (well, three things… Langer anchors his putter.):
First, a few months back Tiger Woods said that most guys on tour right now can try and pound the ball as far as possible and have a few good ball striking weeks to stay relevant and keep the their bank accounts nice and bloated. This is exactly what has been going on with Bryson, he flamed out at Augusta, but two months ago he won the US Open. Some good weeks. Some bad weeks.
Second, the reason Bryson added pounds and speed is because of guys like DJ and Brooks. Bryson, the nerdy golf scientist, was sick of being teased on the putting green and stuffed in mahogany lockers. So he went to work eating bacon, drinking protein shakes, and chasing distance to gain a form of intimidation.
If people want to laugh at Langer beating Bryson, they also have to scan all way up to the top of the leaderboard to see a record-breaking score at Augusta set by one of the dudes that Bryson is trying to emulate.
Dustin Johnson is the OG of modern-era distance. He has been flattening golf balls for more than a decade on tour, he might be the greatest "post-Tiger sex scandal” era golfer in the world.
For Bryson specifically, it will be interesting to see how he manages the spotlight long term. He is carrying the torch for the distance debate, and it seems that every tournament something weird happens to him. Golf balls disappearing (“If we can’t find it, is it a lost ball?”), dust-ups with cameramen, a broken driver at Harding Park, fire ants, and more. If he can mentally handle the highs and lows, Bryson will be here. But he even mentioned on Sunday that his mind didn’t feel right this week. But all he needs is four to fives weeks a year for everything to fall into place.
If we look at the guys that finished in the top 10, some of them don’t move it like DJ and Bryson (see: Cam Smith and Sungjae Im), but the long term issue goes back to what Tiger said, there will always be at least one bomber that syncs things up each week and dominates and there are only a few events on Tour right now that can nullify the distance gap like Harbortown.
So yes, it’s exciting that Langer beat Bryson, and in a vacuum it’s kind of hilarious. However, long term and big picture, that result doesn’t really matter. This season saw three major winners, two of them were Bryson and DJ. The other winner was Collin Morikawa, a guy that hits it 295 yards and is ranked 107th in driving distance. But if Morikawa is the hope for the shorter hitters, I will ask you this… what was the most memorable shot of 2020?
Answer: It’s the driver Morikawa hit on Sunday into the 16th green at Harding Park. He made eagle and cinched the PGA Championship.
We need to be careful that Bryson doesn’t become the personification of driving distance, because it’s everywhere and it isn’t going away, no matter how many times a 63-year-old German stares a bomber in the face and wins by two shots on a Sunday at Augusta.