Bryson DeChambeau is clearly the PGA Tour’s geekiest golfer.
The 23-year-old California native who earned a physics degree from Southern Methodist University has brought his data-driven, science-influenced, and exceptionally eccentric philosophy to the world’s top professional golf circuit in a big way.
GeekWire had a chance to catch up with DeChambeau last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where the PGA Tour pro was helping promote a new smartphone app from Bridgestone that helps golfers find the best golf ball for their game.
“I would say I’m at the leading edge of technology in regard to the game of golf, at least from a playing standpoint,” DeChambeau told GeekWire.
DeChambeau’s passion for science and technology started early in his golf career, when he tinkered with different devices and tools to help improve his game. He also read The Golfing Machine, a 1982 book that “helped enlighten me to understand the geometry of the golf swing and how it can work most efficiently or inefficiently.”
“From those premises, it allowed me to expand my mind not only just with playing golf, but with the world itself,” DeChambeau explained. “That led me on the path toward physics, and from there I started being able to better reckon with questions that weren’t previously answered in golf. It’s allowed me to go through the process of asking the right questions.”
Perhaps no golfer has taken an analytical approach like DeChambeau, who had an illustrious amateur career before turning professional last year. It’s evident in his unconventional golf swing; in the fact that he uses irons that are all the same length, unlike everybody else on the tour; and the way he soaks golf balls in Epson salts to determine their center of gravity.
More recently, DeChambeau started testing a “side-saddle” putting stroke that looks as bizarre as it sounds.
During our brief chat atop a fancy hotel on the Las Vegas Strip last month, DeChambeau started talking about everything from machine learning to Moore’s Law — his passion for science and math, and how it can impact sport, is undeniable.
DeChambeau sees huge opportunity with how today’s technology can change the game of golf. In November, he partnered with Microsoft and Seattle-area startup Sensoria to unveil a prototype “smart grip” that analyzes how much pressure is applied to the golf club throughout a swing.
“That’s going to be pretty incredible when it comes out to market,” he said. “It doesn’t even have to be from a golf standpoint; you can do this with a tennis racket, too. We can start understanding motion in every type of sport. You’ll be able to see what the best players do and relate it to amateurs around the world. It will enhance the performance for millions of people.”
DeChambeau, who in 2015 became the fifth player ever to win the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, is also working with Microsoft on utilizing data and cloud computing to improve performance (stay tuned for more about his partnership with the tech giant).
“The data analytics aspect of golf has helped me understand, from a percentage standpoint, where to hit shots, how to play a course, what clubs to use based on conditions, etc.,” he explained. “It’s also very helpful in regard to machine learning. Once a machine learns what’s happening on the golf course, it can tell you the optimized route.”
Another aspect of tech and golf that excites DeChambeau is the ability to install sensors inside clubs themselves, enabling each shot to be tracked in the cloud.
“I’m not sure how it will work in competition, but at least in practice, you’ll be able to understand what is happening,” he explained. “When you pulled that shot on hole 16, you can find out the exact reason why it happened and what happened to your body and be able to improve from there. That’s the next quest.”
Given all the new technology that can help people improve their golf game, DeChambeau said it’s a “perfect time” for someone like himself to explore new innovation and “do something special to change not only golf, but sports.”
“There will be a monumental leap in sport because of technology,” he said. “There will be a couple people who come out, just like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, and make a huge leap that people won’t expect because of technology.”