Patience, pitching and big drives put DeChambeau in position

Sports

Bryson DeChambeau, of the United States, watches his shot off the 12th fairway during the second round of the US Open Golf Championship, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bryson DeChambeau held off on shakes and steaks to work on pitches and patience.

All that work from the night before made him look like a genius come Friday.

With the wind kicking up and the temperature dropping at Winged Foot, DeChambeau was one of the very few to conquer the U.S. Open-like conditions that finally showed up for the second round. He shot 2-under 68 to reach the halfway point at 3-under 137, one of only five players in red numbers with the afternoon starters about halfway through their rounds.

As much as his eagle to end the day on the par-5 ninth, the keys to DeChambeau’s success came late Thursday, when he closed down the driving range — waiting until near sunset so he could practice his wedges while the temperature was about the same as what was expected for Friday.

“I waited so I could hit balls almost in the dark,” he said. “I got good numbers with my wedges and I felt comfortable today.”

And he redoubled his efforts on what might be the single-most important skill at a U.S. Open: staying patient.

“For me, it’s been a lot of breathing,” he said. “I know I’ve talked about it before, but just keep breathing and try and let the advantages play themselves out.”

DeChambeau’s advantages — his painstakingly analytical mind combined with the extra 40 pounds of muscle he’s packed on this year thanks to steaks, baked potatoes, protein shakes and weightlifting — have freed him up to look at attacking a place like Winged Foot, with the 5-inch-high rough and narrow fairways, in a different manner than most.

He has basically thrown out the long-held U.S. Open blueprint of hitting less club off the tee in service of keeping the ball down the middle, trading it for a strategy of hitting driver as far as he possibly can, then gouging out from the rough from short range when necessary.

“Phil gave me some great advice,” DeChambeau said of Phil Mickelson. “He said when he almost won back in 2006, he said he had the best short game week of his life. So that’s just a testament to showing that you have to have a great wedge game out here.”

With an average driving distance of 332 yards, wedges were all DeChambeau needed for much of the day. Hitting seven of 14 fairways — and 14 of 28 through two days — has made his task that much easier. According to the analytics, he gained 3.84 strokes off the tee to lead the field — nearly 0.3 shots clear of Rory McIlroy, who was in second in that stat.

DeChambeau opened the tournament on Thursday with a 384-yard drive down the middle. On Friday, he closed with a 380-yard monster on the par-5 ninth. He turned one of the few birdie opportunities at Winged Foot into something better — hitting 9-iron to 6 feet to set up eagle and ensure he’d be in one of the final groups come Saturday.

But being on the fairway wasn’t the only way he got it done. His most impressive scramble came on the par-4 16th, where he hacked a wedge from the rough, then made a 40-foot putt from the short grass in front of the green to make a birdie.

He finished with five birdies, five bogeys and the eagle that put him in the red for the round.

As he heads into the weekend, two good rounds from winning his first major, he’s posing the same question to the U.S. Open as he is to the PGA Tour: Can one player use power and statistics to impose his will on the game?

“That’s a question for God,” DeChambeau said. “I don’t know if you can — I mean, Tiger has been able to do something like that many times before, so I think there is something. But human scientific research does not say that there’s anything about that.”

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