April 12, 2019: One relies on algorithms. The other, athleticism.
Two different roads sharing the same destination: the top of the leaderboard at Augusta National.
Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau are tied for first at Augusta National after an eventful end to the opening round. They played in two of the day’s final three groups, signing their scorecards 11 hours after Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus kicked off the proceedings.
It was worth the wait, as both decimated Augusta National’s second nine with 5-under 31s to close a sun-soaked and low-scoring day.
The late-afternoon air density was just right for DeChambeau, who birdied the last four holes, including approach shots to within inches on 16 and 18. His final approach banged into the flagstick for just the fourth birdie of the day on Augusta National’s difficult closing hole.
“Too fast. My terminal velocity was too high,” DeChambeau said about that final approach.
Koepka has no need for polysyllabic words and terminology pulled from a physics textbook. He likes to keep it simple.
“I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds … to hit a golf ball,” Koepka said recently on the Golf Monthly podcast. “It’s not that hard.”
He made it look easy Thursday as he established himself as Augusta National’s alpha male. His 66 was the day’s only bogey-free round. Five of his birdies came on the second nine, including four in a row on 12-15. Koepka is seeking his third major in his last four starts. We haven’t seen a run like that since Tiger Woods was in his prime.
DeChambeau, who closed 2018 with three wins in his last five PGA TOUR starts, is seeking his first major, at a golf course that he has a deep affection for. It started when he arrived here three years ago as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. He was in contention through 35 holes and won low-amateur honors in his final start before turning pro. He hasn’t finished better than 15th in a major.
Thursday’s round was the fruit of the thorough testing that is his trademark. He spent 14 hours last Wednesday trying to solve his iron-play struggles. This time, he was analyzing his “spin loft.”
“We didn’t understand how to get it back on the correct side,” he said.
DeChambeau looks at an endless array of variables when assessing a shot. And he admits that he can be obsessive in the quest for an answer. Koepka scoffs at such analysis.
“It’s always between two clubs,” he said in that same Golf Monthly interview. “There’s a miss short. There’s a miss long.”
There was room for both approaches to work Thursday. It was hard not to get on a roll as roars reverberated across Augusta National. At times, it sounded like Masters Sunday. The cheers carried home the final players on the course, several of whom shot the day’s lowest scores.
The five players who shot lower than 69 all played in the day’s final half-dozen groups. Phil Mickelson, playing behind DeChambeau, birdied five of his last seven holes to shoot 67. He’s trying to join Tiger, Arnie and Jack as the only players with four or more green jackets. Dustin Johnson shot 68 while playing alongside DeChambeau. Ian Poulter also shot 68.
“There is an energy and there is something in science that does talk about that and more and more science is coming out about that,” DeChambeau said. “It’s great to have momentum and hear a great atmosphere. It gets you all pumped up, creates some adrenaline flow and allows you to get in a different mind?set.”
Koepka came home in the anchor group. He didn’t finish better than 56th in three starts preceding the Masters, but a smoother transition resulted in what he called his best ball-striking round in a major. He missed just three greens and two fairways.
That performance provided an answer to those who’ve been critical of Koepka’s recent weight loss. A restricted diet caused him to lose more than 20 pounds.
“I lift too many weights, and I’m too big to play golf. And then when I lose weight, I’m too small,” Koepka said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m too big and I’m too small.”
Then he looked at a scoreboard inside the interview room.
“Obviously it seems to work,” he said.
Yes it does.