DeChambeau has grand plan to cut Masters course down to size

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Bryson DeChambeau hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round at the Masters golf tournament Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Bryson DeChambeau is golf’s latest litmus test, hammering drives that sound and soar like mortar fire and cut corners in ways golf-course designers and his fellow pros never dreamed.

By the time the Masters ends Sunday, fans might still be debating whether that’s good for the game. Either way, though, real estate agents will be thrilled.

DeChambeau, in just his fifth season on tour, is on a mission to prove that courses worldwide — even championship venues now routinely stretching almost 7,800 yards — have run out of room. Last month, he overwhelmed a legendarily tough Winged Foot course and won the U.S. Open by six strokes. This week, he plans to cut even-more venerated Augusta National down to size.

“I’m just trying to get up there like I’m in a batter’s box swinging as hard as I can, trying to hit a home run,” DeChambeau explained this week. “I don’t know if there’s a better way to say it.”

The pandemic already guaranteed a Masters unlike any other. There will be no fans — strike that, patrons — on the grounds, and pomp and circumstance have been reduced to a minimum. But DeChambeau took advantage of the time off to add bulk to his frame and velocity to his swing; with a few tournaments under his belt, he’s far enough along in his quest to harness that added power with increasing effectiveness. That’s in addition to a championship-caliber short game.

Earlier in the week, DeChambeau was out on the practice range experimenting with a 48-inch-long driver — right up against golf’s rulebook and nearly two inches longer than most players use. The cart drivers who retrieve balls off the practice range ended up plucking some of those tee shots from bushes at the back of the range where they normally only find dead leaves. That didn’t augur well for the competition.

“It’s a substantially easier golf course for him than it is for everybody else,” said Justin Thomas, a long hitter himself who joined DeChambeau, defending champion Tiger Woods and former champ Fred Couples for a practice round. “I think once he starts messing with that longer driver and has a little bit more free time, then as crazy as it is, he might be able to hit it further.”

Golf has seen long hitters before, of course, and has plenty in the current ranks as well — Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy. Woods’ first Masters title in 1997 wrapped up at 18 under — still a record — and launched a course-expansion effort that was dubbed “Tiger-proofing.”