The intrigue surrounding Bryson DeChambeau has captivated us all since he commanded a large share of the limelight at the 2016 Masters. The old-school driving cap is the one which most obviously catches the eye.
But the revolution doesn’t end there. His upright swing is hardly what you’d describe as mainstream. The side-saddle putting technique he pioneered is fascinating and peculiar in equal measure.
And I’m fairly confident there aren’t too many other pros who float their golf balls in water and epsom salts to test them.
But it is his use of one-length irons (specifically the Cobra King Forged variety) which has really got people talking. DeChambeau made the bold declaration after winning the DAP Championship on the Web.com Tour last year that it marked “the day the game changed” with respect to single-length clubs.
Such a proclamation appears to have been a bit premature in retrospect, but, following his triumph at the John Deere Classic, attention has once again turned to the 23-year old’s choice of blades, Certainly, watching him in action at the John Deere Classic would have had you in a trance. He hit 17 greens in regulation, and, on the back nine, hit five approach shots to within 16 feet. In addition, he also hit the par-five 17th hole in two.
Despite struggling at the Open days later, DeChambeau is making his presence felt, and his success has added fuel to the debate about whether he and his one-length irons will go down in history as trendsetter or anomaly.
And although the Californian is by far the most high-profile player to wield these particular weapons, there are numerous examples of top amateurs and lower-end professionals adopting them too.
In an interview with Golf Digest last year, DeChambeau made an interesting observation: “I knew I was carrying the torch of one-length clubs, but I knew it was going to prove itself out in the end. The game is due for a change. Irons haven’t really changed in 20 years, probably more.”
It’s an interesting point, and although iron technology has morphed considerably over the past two decades, the fundamentals have not. So, is change inevitable then? Or is this just a quirk for the sake of it?
One interesting point of reference is the ‘DeChambeau effect’ at amateur level. Although there are a handful of smaller players, the two primary single-length irons on the market today are Cobra’s King F7 One and King Forged One sets.
Research enterprise Golf Datatech found in an April study that collective retail sales of this duo account for just under 2 per cent of all irons sold. Given that they only launched last October, it makes for impressive reading. Cobra, too, have already begun some aggressive marketing in the wake of DeChambeau’s victory at the John Deere Classic, so you’d expect things to pick up even more.
But do these numbers represent the rumblings of a revolution?
Not yet, anyway. Yet there are positive signs. And for those who are unable to fathom a world where progressive-length irons have been overwhelmed into extinction, it may be worth going back to the beginning.
“If golf didn’t exist and you were going to invent it, and you had 14 different implements, no one would say, ‘Hey, let’s make them all different lengths,’” said David Edel, the golf inventor who developed the single-length irons which initially thrust DeChambeau into the spotlight. “They would make them all one length and then they would say, ‘Well, we’re having distance problems so how do we offset that?’ They wouldn’t then immediately make them 14 different lengths. They’d say, ‘Let’s keep it pretty simple.’”
Now Edel clearly has skin in the game. But it’s hard to argue with his logic. The ideal of different length clubs is not preordained gospel, and may well be an additional, man-made complexity that makes an already-complicated game even less user-friendly. Imagine only having to ingrain one posture, one setup, and one swing plane. Not that crazy, is it?
Yet while extolling the virtues of uniformity, simplicity, and, as has been mooted, extra distance, it is important to make note of the obvious drawbacks. Many testers of single-length irons report that the extremes are accentuated, whereby lower irons go even lower, and wedges go even higher. In terms of distance control and gapping between clubs, that’s as big a menace as you can get. Less of a concern for beginner golfers, perhaps, but this is an obstacle that will need to be scaled if the low-handicap market is to be captured en masse.
Perhaps we are on the brink of radical change, and this really is the next big thing. Maybe it will be more gradual. Or, quite possibly, this flame could burn out before it even starts. Who knows?
Whatever happens, DeChambeau can at least take one thing to the bank: he hasn’t just challenged the norms we take for granted. He’s challenged the very foundations upon which these norms have evolved. And it is through shifting the tectonic plates of common acceptance that exponential gains and advancements are truly made.
Perhaps DeChambeau won’t end up shaping the future of golf equipment in the way he imagines. But, directly or indirectly, it seems as though his influence on it will be profound.