Steve Stricker got an up-close look at bombers Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Champ last week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and was blown away – literally and figuratively.
Stricker, 53, of Madison, has seen just about everything during his nearly three decades on the PGA Tour, but he admitted the distances that young, athletic, bulked-up players are hitting the ball these days has taken golf into uncharted territory.
The U.S. Ryder Cup team captain also saw a glimpse of what could be in store for Team Europe at the 43rd Ryder Cup, whether the matches are played at Whistling Straits in September as scheduled or are postponed, as is expected, until 2021.
Asked Monday night on The Golf Affect Radio Show whether he could provide a Ryder Cup update, Stricker said, “I could, but I can’t. An announcement is coming soon and that’s pretty much all I can say. I don’t know if it’s going to be this week or the first part of next week but something will be coming out very shortly.”
In the meantime, Stricker can ponder what it would mean to have bombers such as DeChambeau and Champ on his team. He played a practice round with DeChambeau last Wednesday and was paired with Champ in the final round Sunday at Detroit Golf Club.
DeChambeau, who packs 240 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame, won the Rocket Mortgage Classic by three shots at 23-under and in the process set a PGA Tour record for average driving distance by a tournament winner at 350.6 yards, shattering Tiger Woods’ 341.5 mark at the 2005 British Open.
“I played with Bryson in a practice round on Wednesday and I was fascinated to watch him go about what he’s doing,” Stricker said. “Shoot, I found it entertaining and fascinating to watch.”
As if that wasn’t an eye-opener, Stricker was paired with Champ in the final round. DeChambeau and Champ rank 1-2 in driving distance this year, with DeChambeau averaging 323 yards and Champ averaging 322.6. They rank fourth and 46th, respectively, on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list.
Asked what was going through his mind as he watched DeChambeau and Champ unleash bombs off the tee, Stricker joked, “Should I stay home? Yeah, get me on the Champions tour, where I belong.”
Stricker ranks 214th in driving distance at 280.8 and although he can still move it 300 yards when he needs to, he’s not in the same league with the young mashers on Tour.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Every day, it seems, I’m playing with guys that are hitting it 30 (yards) past me. I played with Cameron Champ on Sunday, another young guy who hits it 50 to 60 yards past me. And I’m not exaggerating.
“I hit a good one at 18 on Sunday and I had 160-some yards (to the pin) and then I’m watching the telecast and Bryson had 95. I mean, he had me by 65, close to 70 yards. When a guy is flipping in a wedge compared to my 8-iron, I’ll take the guy with the wedge all day long.
“Yeah, it’s a little disheartening. And it’s getting harder for me each and every year, but it’s still fun to come out there and compete and try to play well.”
DeChambeau in particular has turned golf on its ear by bulking up in the gym, packing on pounds with protein shakes, doing golf-specific speed training and making distance off the tee his singular focus. His ball speed of 200 mph is 25 mph faster than the Tour average. He nearly drove the green on several par-4s during the Rocket Mortgage Classic and typically has short-irons into greens for his second shot on par-5s.
“I was talking to Bryson about it and he said, ‘You know, if you’d try some of this stuff, you’d probably break.’ And he’s probably right,” Stricker said. “If I tried to swing it that hard at my age … Like I said, I found it fascinating. I was asking him questions all the way around.
“There were times when he was doing all this speed training that he actually had to get away from trying to hit it so far because his body was starting to fail. One side of his body was becoming weak; the other side was trying to dominate. So he had to go back to the gym, take some time off in trying to hit it hard, and build his body back up.
“He’s going about it the right way because he is working on his body at the same time. It’s not for everybody. Everybody is different, but it sure is fun to watch. He’s actually driving it pretty straight for as long as he’s hitting it.”
Stricker addressed other subjects in his 10-minute segment on The Golf Affect:
On the state of his own game, after finishing 67th in Detroit: “Oh, everything has kind of slipped a little bit since coming out of this quarantine, I feel like. I don’t know why because I played a lot of golf during the quarantine time, the three months that we had off. I think I got into some bad habits, not really paying attention to what I needed to do. Kind of just going through the motions when I was playing.
“I played with my family a ton and still do and it kind of taught me that I have to pay attention a little bit more. But I’m getting back on track, I think. I’m just not very consistent at this time. I can hit some great shots and I hit some really, really poor shots last week, as well. That’s the nature of the game. I’m seeing some better results on the range during the practice sessions. I hit a ton of balls last week and I think I kind of wore myself out come the weekend a little bit, just trying to find a few things. But as the year and the summer goes on, I should hopefully get in a better position to do what I want to do.”
On the PGA Tour’s safety protocols during the coronavirus pandemic: “I feel pretty safe out here. You can do as much or as little as you feel necessary for yourself. You don’t need to go in the clubhouse. You can stay away from everything if you want. Everybody is wearing their masks when you go inside. A lot of hand sanitizers around. Guys are paying attention, not getting too close to one another. They’re wiping down the pin flag when they’re done with the hole.
“I feel like the Tour has done a really good job. When you start to look at other sports and they haven’t even gotten going yet, you’ve got multiple guys in hockey and basketball and baseball that are testing positive. Golf is fortunate to be played outside; you can stay away from everybody if you need to and that’s what we’re doing. Guys are taking it serious and we just feel fortunate that we can get out there and play and try to make a living.”