Bryson DeChambeau is the only golfer at the Masters with a set of irons that are all the same length. The last guy to try that was none other than Bobby Jones, the club's co-founder.
DeChambeau is a U.S. Amateur champion — like Jones was once — and the 22-year-old rookie's debut may be the most anticipated since Jordan Spieth's a couple years ago. DeChambeau also won the NCAA title last year, a double accomplished previously by only Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ryan Moore.
What makes his entry more tantalizing still is his unique iron set. Unlike a traditional set, where each club from the 3-iron through the wedges gets shorter and more lofted, all 10 of DeChambeau's irons measure 37 1/2 inches, the length of a typical 6-iron.
DeChambeau became intrigued by the idea of equal-length clubs in 2009, not long after his golf coach, Mike Schy, introduced him to an esoteric swing manual called "The Golfing Machine." The book was written by Homer Kelley, a Seattle aircraft mechanic determined to lay out the engineering specs of the golf swing on a page. It offers students a chance to build their own swings by choosing between 24 different components, each offering between three and 11 variations.
DeChambeau settled on a swing that keeps the club on a single plane from start to finish, and that his interest in physics led him to conclude the easiest way to accomplish that was to use a set of irons all of the same length. That concept was tested and employed by Jones, but it never caught on with golfers or the big equipment companies.
The first time DeChambeau and Schy experimented with the concept was in 2011. They kept adding lead to both the clubheads and grips trying to find a balance.
"Took us two weeks to make it," he recalled. "It was an old set, all mangled and had a lot of metal taken off it and lead tape put on. It was quite ugly looking, but it was fun."
It's easy to understand why DeChambeau was thrilled on his first visit to Augusta to find Jones' similar iron set on display in a glass case in the club's grill room.
"It was a pretty special moment, because we'd always heard that story, never verified it," DeChambeau recalled. "But when I actually got to go up to that case and I looked in, I went, 'Oh my goodness ... It inspired me even more. It was gratifying to our journey."
DeChambeau, who grew up in Clovis, California, is confident in his approach.
"He comes at the game from such a different point of view," said Phil Mickelson after a practice round with the youngster, "and he has such well-thought out opinions as to why and how it should be played a certain way, a different way, the way that he plays it.
"He's a terrific player," he added, "Fun to be around.
Dave Edel, who manufactures and custom-fits the iron sets for DeChambeau, said the youngster's reputation as "quirky" or too steeped in science sometimes scares people off. But if anyone can re-ignite interest in the concept, Edel added, it will be DeChambeau, but only if he can build on his early success and become "the tungsten tip at the end of a rocket."
"They're making him out to be a character that he's not," said Edel, president and founder of Edel Golf. "He has always been bucking the trends. He got turned down by so many colleges because he was using single-length golf clubs."
Nearly all those college coaches must be feeling regret. DeChambeau, whose father played briefly on the PGA Tour, settled on SMU and won the NCAA individual title his junior year. Later that summer, he won the U.S. Amateur and was one of the few bright spots on the losing U.S. Walker Cup side.
The school was barred from postseason play for one year because of violations, so DeChambeau plans to turn pro at next week's RBC Heritage. To get ready, he put together an ambitious test-run of pro events that carried him from Argentina to the Middle East to Australia over the past six months.
He termed it an "internship," a chance to prepare for life on the tour and manage everything from travel to his diet. He got a good sense of the either-or nature of life as a pro, shooting 78 the first time he played in a group with Rory McIlroy in Abu Dhabi. He was paired with McIlroy again on the final day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two months later and shot 66.
"Well, I've gained a lot of experience," DeChambeau said. "There's no doubt about that."