AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bryson DeChambeau had his own intricately analytical explanation for why his final fairway shot, perfectly aimed and expertly struck, struck the flagstick but bounced two inches away. “Too fast,” he said. “The terminal velocity was too high.”
More or less, and less scientifically, that was how the afternoon went on the first day of the Masters. Brooks Koepka and DeChambeau turned up some kind of inner velocity, each stringing four consecutive back-nine birdies to shoot 6-under-par 66. Phil Mickelson came within an inch or so of a hole-in-one on the par-3 16 and shot 67.
After a while, it was an upset when Koepka’s birdie putt on the 18th hole slid past or DeChambeau’s iron shot on the same hole did not go in for an eagle. America’s most determinedly green golf course yielded all sorts of red numbers on the leaderboard, with Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter each shooting 68, not to mention Tiger Woods, tied for 11th after finishing earlier with a 70.
“Absolutely, there is an energy. 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 mindset.”
Koepka, in his own way, has major championship preparation down to a science. He has the same routine, with the same housemates and the same attitude every time. “I get to whatever major championship it is and just when I arrive there, I just get a good feeling,” said the man who has won three major titles, two in the past year. “I just enjoy the big stage.”
Unlike DeChambeau, he detected nothing electric in the air. In fact, his two playing companions, Jordan Spieth and Paul Casey, shot a combined 12 over. “I can’t watch anybody else. I’ve got to play golf. I have a hard enough time doing that,” he said, although he made it look easy, as he did at Shinnecock Hills last June in the U.S. Open and Bellerive last August in the PGA Championship.
It was a moment of vindication after Koepka had taken some heat for having dieted aggressively and lost 20 pounds. “Well, I lift too many weights and I’m too big to play golf. Then when I lose weight, I’m too small. I don’t care what anybody else says,” Koepka said, then nodding to a scoreboard in the press room, added, “Obviously, it seems to work.”
Despite a bit of wind and some difficult pin positions, Augusta National was gettable, especially late in the day. “Look, the greens are softer than they’ve ever been, and they’re not as fast as they normally are,” said Mickelson, a three-time champion here. “So, today was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’ll get firmer and faster as the week goes on.”
Don’t bet on that. Forecasts indicate a chance for showers Friday and Saturday and a likelihood of thunderstorms Sunday.
DeChambeau no doubt will have that covered. He is famous for his intricately researched method of using irons that are all the same length, and for his lengthy practice sessions. Recently, he worked on the range for 14 hours. He has won the Northern Trust in New Jersey and three other PGA Tour events in the past 12 months.
He also came close to a hole-in-one on the 16th hole, which gave him a thrill. “I’ve never had an ace,” he said.
At this rate, either he or someone else is sure to get one here. As it was, Thursday afternoon was quite an occasion. “It was fun,” DeChambeau said, “when I had to make a two-inch putt on the 18th hole.”