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I Did It My Way

The 120th edition of America’s oldest Major Championship returned to storied Winged Foot Golf Club in New York and it showcased two of the game’s most unique and individual talents.

Heading into Sunday’s final round 21-year-old rookie Matthew Wolff had taken a two-shot lead after a spectacular 5-under 65 that left him two clear of Bryson DeChambeau. 

Wolff has the most unique swing on Tour and more moving pieces than a Swiss timepiece. The only modern swing to compare with the Oklahoma State graduate and 2019 NCAA Champion would be Jim Furyk (whose swing David Feherty once described as “It looks like a one-armed man trying to wrestle a snake in a phone booth”).

Wolff’s motion is similar but he has many more mannerisms and motions to co-ordinate than the 2003 U.S. Open Champion. And that is what makes him special; that in this day and age of perfect similar motions he is so completely himself. What he does do as well as anybody is return the clubhead to the right position at impact consistently which is really all that matters. It is a lesson to all of us that each person’s swing is different and their own and that great players know what works for them.

Already a winner in his maiden campaign in last July’s 3M Championship, the Californian is also one of the longest hitters on Tour (doing so he became only the third player in history to win an NCAA title and a PGA Tour event in the same calendar year, joining Tiger Woods and Ben Crenshaw). Wolff prevailed in a playoff over DeChambeau but the 27-year old ‘Mad Scientist’ would reverse the tables on Sunday. 

DeChambeau has completely changed his body over the last 8 months adding 35 pounds of muscle on what was already a linebackers’ physique. DeChambeau has also always marched to the beat of his own drum https://www.birdgolf.com/the-golf-scientist/ but that too is his mystique. The longest hitter on a Tour of long hitters, DeChambeau set out to change his body (picture the Incredible Hulk in golf clothes with a Ben Hogan cap) so that he could over-power courses. Which is exactly what he has been doing this year.   

The defense that any course has is it’s rough which always resembles healthy lettuce in a U.S. Open. But when a player hits 350-yard drives even if they hit it into the rough, they are hitting wedges to the green which takes the ‘d’ out of defense. 

Winged Foot in a U.S. Open is everything that the USGA wants for its most prestigious tournament. The Tillinghast masterpiece has withstood the passage of time to still be one of the most difficult challenges (but fair) in the game. Both players tread water on the front-9 on Sunday until the par-5 9th hole where each made brilliant eagle 3’s. As they headed to the back-9 DeChambeau would lead by one at 5-under. They were the only remaining players under par for the week.

On the pivotal par-3 10th DeChambeau made a birdie to Wolff’s bogey to take a 3 shot lead but things change very quickly on a course like this in these conditions.     

When Wolff dropped another shot on the par 4 14th it stretched DeChambeau’ s advantage to four with as many to play. A double bogey by Wolff on the 16th saw the lead go to six and made the last two holes a coronation.  

 Two finishing pars gave DeChambeau a final round 3-under 67 and a 4-round total of 6-under, an even half dozen clear of Wolff. DeChambeau was the only player to better par in the last round and only the third winner of the U.S. Open to be the only player under par for the Championship. It was the most empathic of wins.        

It was in all ways a valiant effort by Wolff but DeChambeau rose higher to the occasion to record his 7th Tour victory and his first Major. Doing so validates his transformation and his approach to the game and is a quintessential example of a genius. Someone who does everything to the opposite of accepted norms but who is absolutely convinced that they are right. 

A great week of golf culminated with a very worthy Champion but it moved two individual characters with even more idiosyncratic swings to the forefront of the professional stage and that is a grand thing indeed.