We need to talk about Bryson
Bryson and single length are in the limelight again. More interesting than the great single length question is what the reaction suggests about the mind-set of golfers and the world/business of golf.
Why is DeChambeau playing so well? Is it because he’s figured out the secret? (the secret is there is no secret) Or is he just very talented? Over the years I’ve become aware of something that doesn’t seem to exist in other sports, golfer’s believe or more precisely desperately want to believe that good players know something they don’t. It manifests itself in all areas of the game, from the disingenuous messaging used by major golf brands (based on research) to the casual conversations between the club champion and the beginner. Ultimately, it comes down to human frailty. The desire to believe that great players are the gatekeepers of the game’s secrets is really about not wanting to accept the limitations of one’s capabilities. Sadly this belief results in the game being less enjoyable and ultimately stops us learning the lessons golf can teach us on and off the course.
I recently observed a small spat on twitter between Rory McIlroy and Steve Elkington. Elkington had rightly pointed something out do with McIlroy’s approach to the game. Sure enough, McIlroy’s response was to point out his playing record (and bank balance) over Elkington’s. Predictably the sycophantic mob piled in as if the reason McIlroy had won more majors had something to do with his knowledge of golf. I can assure you Steve Elkington is way more more knowledgeable in all areas of the game than McIlroy.
It’s also important to note that the worlds best players are owned by the major golf brands. They are paid to push the message; there is no greater example than the distance debate. Any good golfer with a brain can see clearly that over the past 20 years golf course design and equipment have eroded the skill in the game but only a handful of top players are willing to say it. Even more amazing is the way the mob follows the message. Golfwrx is supposed to be a site where amateur golfers talk golf yet day after day its obvious that about 70% of the audience want to shoot anything down that’s not in keeping with what the top players are saying or doing. ‘If they are doing it it must be right? Right?’ Well no, actually what they are doing is telling the story they are paid to tell.
Whilst growing up I was lucky enough to be around some great players, I was never one of them. I was playing in the same events but I was making up the numbers, I could hit some great shots, some days I even looked like a great player but I wasn’t a great player. I played with two people who went on to be world no 1 and many others. Some of the most talented ones never even made it to be known. Great players are born with the capacity and desire to be great, to go beyond where others go. It’s not necessarily about being physically gifted, rather it’s the ability to go beyond where others can go. Obviously, they still have to work hard but hard work doesn’t make an average player great.
Consider the spectrum of players we have the moment, I would consider Rory McIlroy to be at one end; a once a century talent and Ian Poulter at the other. Sure Poulter is a great player but in terms of raw ability there are hundreds as good as him born every year. Ian Poulter maximizes his greatness through grit and determination. Rory McIlroy is the other end of the grit spectrum to Poulter. He can win the odd major and cruise around the world in the top 20 with out breaking a sweat.
So where does Bryson sit? Only time will tell, obviously he’s a great player. Only six weeks ago his clubs were strewn all over the range at Carnoustie and his head was in his hands. Something we can all relate to. He’s an independent thinker; he has to own everything he does in his conscious mind. It must be exhausting, but clearly he has a hell of a conscious mind. I am absolutely sure his golf equipment is not a factor in his great play. I am not absolutely sure his approach to the game will not hinder him in the future and indeed so far. He could just be so great he can still win. Whatever happens he has masses of self-belief and that’s the real asset, its what enables him to go his own way. Tiger was similar, always practicing on the far left of the range, using a higher spinning ball than anyone else etc.
There are so many bad ideas in golf that sell because the story told ignores multiple major factors. Single length is a good example. Whilst ignoring multiple factors it’s easy to sell the logic of being able to swing every club the same. Plausible and very marketable. However, amongst the multiple factors that make it entirely unworkable in practice are having to adjust to get a four iron with a six iron shaft off the ground and controlling a wedge with a six shaft when pitching. Ideas like this only come out of an industry where the status quo is broken.
Somebody like DeChambeau needs to get everything boxed off in his mind to play well and this is how he does it. Being different feeds his confidence, winning his way makes him stronger and stronger. What he ends up doing to create that mind set is not the point. The point is he manages to achieve that, he believes it and guess what? He’s really good a golf. What he has that most golfers don’t is his own wisdom. He controls the message and that matters more than whether he’s right or wrong. The everyday golfer’s search for secrets and shortcuts to ‘better’ golf is what the industry is built on.
Over the years the world of golf has cultivated the shortcut mindset. ‘Buy this driver and you’ll hit it further’. It’s the golf industry’s great big dirty secret. Play what the pro’s play is a con. The marketing messages actually chip away at our acceptance of the realities because we want to believe it. In order to keep selling new products the industry constantly asks golfers to dump old ideas and try new one, meaning golfers never get ownership of their approach to the game. The stone cold reality is that not only is the shortcut marginal gains mindset the best way to ensure we never reach our full potential but also a way to ensure all the joy is removed from the greatest game on earth.