A funny thing happened yesterday on Twitter that caught my attention. When Jon Rahm skipped his ball across the pond on the 16th hole at Augusta National and drained it for a hole-in-one, it seemed the entire world suddenly learned about one of the longest-standing traditions at the Masters.
Forgetting the fact that skipping the ball on the 16th during practice rounds dates back to the 1980s, and that every year players drain the shot, people retweeted and quote-tweeted Rahm's highlight proclaiming it the best golf shot they've ever seen. And not just golf sites and social media handles. Everyone from CNN to FOX News to ABC News lauded the shot.
That kind of exposure, my friend, is exactly what golf needs right now.
Over the last decade-plus, since Tiger Woods' cheating scandal cast a pall over golf interest and viewership for the first time since Woods burst onto the scene in 1995, golf's leaders have struggled to find ways to connect with a younger audience the same way they did when Woods was in his prime. They've tried tactics like promoting their young stars and their relatable off-course endeavors (none more so than Ricky Fowler's love of dirt biking), but nothing captured the attention of the young casual sports fan, or even someone who didn't know or care about sports, quite like Woods once did.
Well, here's your answer. It's not about marketing budget or rebel golfers without a cause or manufactured storylines. It never was with Woods and it never will be with the next generation of young star players, of which there are many. It's about real, tangible moments that capture the audience's attention because they awe or excite or, as is the case with Bryson DeChambeau, befuddle the perception of golf in general.
Since gaining 20 pounds of muscle during the PGA Tour's COVID hiatus, DeChambeau has done more to make golf a topic of conversation than any of the more lauded young players on tour. That's meant as no disrespect to Fowler or Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas or Brooks Koepka. Those players are great and have certainly created large fan bases who adore them. But getting a random person who doesn't watch golf to tune in just because you're hitting a tiny white ball has never been their strong suit. The reason, in my opinion, is they follow the same script as all of their buttoned-up predecessors. DeChambeau does not.
DeChambeau is the stat-nerd-turned-bodybuilder who wants to break golf. As is his design, he drives it farther than anyone else on tour, conjuring memories of the MLB's home run craze that saved that sport. Clearly, everyone still digs the longball.
Even better, his methods have been criticized by his peers, most notably Koepka, creating real drama that extends beyond the course. Two co-workers who don't get along. That's a storyline soap opera fans (or any working-class person) can wrap their head around.
DeChambeau also understands the importance of social media. He brags (another good trait to attract an audience) about his clubhead speed on drives surpassing 200 MPH. You don't need to know what a clubhead is or why clubhead speed is important to know 200 MPH is fast. And cool. And worth a retweet.
It's important to emphasize again that DeChambeau alone isn't the solution for golf's audience growth issue post-Woods. Thomas and McIlroy and Koepka and Rahm and all of the young stars have a role to play. Hell, the older players do too. We need more highlight shots that overtake social media for short bursts and introduce new viewers to the wonderful world of golf.
But the differentiators between DeChambeau and the rest of his peers is what makes him more relatable. It's why people are talking about him leading up to the Masters and why we can't wait to see what he is going to do at Augusta.
And those differences are genuine. They aren't conjured up by some marketing team. They happen because DeChambeau wants to hit it farther than any golfer before him and wants to embarrass courses long held in mythical esteem. If he can keep doing that as he did at the U.S. Open, it will expose the game of golf to more people than thought possible a few months ago and achieve something golf's leaders have been struggling with for over a decade.