NCGA Golf

Winter 2019

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D ragonfly Golf Club, a humble public track surrounded by farmland in Madera, does not look like a breeding ground for superstardom. On the edge of the range is the Mike Schy Golf Performance Institute, a rather grandiose name for a raggedy, vinyl tent. It is stuffed with disfigured golf clubs that have been sacrificed in the name of progress as well as all manner of jerry-rigged teaching contraptions. To warm the tent during the winter, a fire burns inside a large steel drum. The trappings of the tent are of a piece with Madera, a tiny blue-collar town marooned in the Central Valley, a hardscrabble swath of California that would've been the perfect setting for John Steinbeck's novels if he hadn't wound up just a little farther west. But Dragonfly birthed the hottest player in the game, Bryson DeChambeau, and his unique origin story is the key to understanding the rise of the man now known on Twitter simply as "The Artist." Says DeChambeau of Dragonfly, "This place is me." DeChambeau was born in Modesto and lived there until he was 8, when his family moved to Clovis, not far from Madera. His father, Jon, became director of operations at Dragonfly — then known as Riverbend Golf Course — and hired Schy, who found that his untraditional teachings were too radical for the country clubs where he had worked. Bryson quickly fell under his thrall, a felicitous meeting of the minds for two highly intellectual non-conformists. The DeChambeaus didn't have the resources for their son to compete on the AJGA circuit, so they concentrated his efforts on playing local events and, especially, daily skull sessions in Schy's tent. "What Mike and I have is unique," DeChambeau says. "He understands me, and he lets me be me." Says Schy, "I learned a long time ago not to try to win an argument with Bryson. He needs to work things out on his own. He'll try something until he's convinced it won't work. So when he finally finds some- thing that does, he has no doubt it's the right way." When DeChambeau was 15, Schy slid him a worn copy of Homer Kelly's "The Golfing Machine," the highly-technical tome that has developed a cult follow- ing. "Mind blown," says DeChambeau, an engineering major at SMU. In the summer of 2011, before his senior year at Clovis East High, DeChambeau used a riff by Kelly to conclude that he had 13 different swing planes, owing to the varying length of each club. DeChambeau came up with a solution that seemed blindingly obvious to him: Make every iron the same length with the same weight, the same shaft flex and the same lie angle (72°), allowing the exact same swing plane to be repeated over and over. In Schy's vinyl tent he made a homemade set of single-length irons, and thus was born the most talked-about set of clubs in golf. In 2015, DeChambeau became only the fifth player in history to win the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur in the same year. He turned pro the following year. It took a little while for DeChambeau to find his footing, but in July 2017 he won his first Tour event, the John Deere Classic. He's been on an almighty tear ever since, winning four more tournaments, represent- ing the U.S. at the Ryder Cup and rising to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking. In a landscape littered with bland corporate mouth- pieces, DeChambeau has become one of the game's most intriguing players because he always does things his own way. (After winning one of the 2018 FedEx Cup playoff events, DeChambeau announced he was heading to Colorado to do "oxygen depletion" training.) He may now squire a glamorous girlfriend with an Instagram following and drive a Bentley as part of an endorsement deal, but at heart DeChambeau will always be the kid who dug the secrets out of the dirt on Dragonfly's driving range. For years, Schy has talked about building a swankier headquarters, but the vinyl tent endures. As he said recently, "Bryson feels at home there, so I'm not sure it's ever going to change." Alan Shipnuck is a senior writer for Golf Magazine and columnist at Golf.com. He lives in Carmel. 20 WINTER 2019 | NCGA.ORG O N T H E B E A T Birth of 'The Artist' BY ALAN SHIPNUCK In a landscape littered with bland corporate mouthpieces, DeChambeau has become one of the game's most intriguing players because he always does things his own way.

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