Winged Foot was the heavyweight champion of the USGA and, for all intents and purposes, the world. A course with a 90-plus year history of doling out pain to golfers who dared step forward to confront it, and a combined score of 16-over-par for the five previous U.S. Open winners there, was supposed to remind all these young power hitters how agonizing golf can be when you fail to keep it in the short stuff.
Then Winged Foot met bulky Bryson DeChambeau and staggered away from their four-day fight with a bruised rough and ego.
DeChambeau, who estimated he gained 20 pounds of muscle during the PGA Tour's three-month COVID hiatus, won the U.S. Open on Sunday by overpowering a golf course previously immune to such advances. He pounded the ball all over the course, routinely finding the thick rough designed to lead to bogeys, and still shot 6-under par to win his first major.
The performance was symbolic of the power movement sweeping golf and a course's inability to fight back. A combination of equipment technology improvements and a focus on fitness from the players has led to longer drives and shorter approach shots. The "bomb and gauge" philosophy (drive it far, slash it out of the thick stuff with a wedge) has worked on tour, but no one thought it would translate at Winged Foot, where thick rough and undulating greens make it challenging to save pars when drives go wayward.
Not so much for DeChambeau. He hit only three fairways during the third round and shot even par. On Sunday, he hit six fairways and shot 3-under. For the week he hit 23-of-55 (41.8%) fairways and still shot the lowest score at a U.S. Open played at Winged Foot.
Power has always been an advantage in golf. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were two of the biggest hitters of their time, and Tiger Woods revolutionized the game with his powerful all-around game. But accuracy typically outweighs power at the U.S. Open. And nowhere is accuracy more important than Winged Foot. Or at least it used to be.
After Gary Woodland won the 2019 U.S. Open with a 13-under score at a player-friendly Pebble Beach, many came into this week assuming the USGA would tighten the screws at arguably the toughest course in its rotation. We all remembered Phil Mickelson imploding the last time the U.S. Open was held at Winged Foot and assumed more pain was to come for the top players in the world. But the hooks, jabs and uppercuts Bryson DeChambeau threw at Winged Foot landed flush and in the end, there was no defense for the former heavyweight champ.