Notes: DeChambeau key in Gregory's SMU rebuild
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Bryson DeChambeau wants to be a theoretical physicist if golf doesn’t become a fruitful vocation. The SMU freshman already is putting some of his ideas into practice. Doing so has helped SMU find quick success under the man who was brought in to reap such rapid rewards, head coach Josh Gregory.
DeChambeau estimates he was 15 years old when he first read “The Golfing Machine,” Homer Kelley’s scientific analysis of the swing. That book is one reason why DeChambeau, a physics major, carries a unique set of clubs. All of his irons, from 3-iron to lob wedge, are equal length, approximately as long as a 7-iron. He uses extra-thick grips because they’re better suited for how he holds the club in his palm. Even his Ben Hogan cap is an ode to the quest for ballstriking perfection (the cap also is a tribute to the late Payne Stewart, an SMU alumnus).
“I think it’s a more consistent way of (playing golf),” DeChambeau said. It has paid dividends. He has made match play at the past two U.S. Amateurs and, at No. 66 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is the highest-ranked player on his team.
This is SMU’s second season under Gregory, who led Augusta State to the 2010 and 2011 NCAA titles before returning to coach his alma mater. He was brought in to return the Mustangs to national prominence.
Gregory was part of a larger plan, one that includes the construction of a practice facility named for Stewart and a golf course that is scheduled to be completed in 2016. Gregory called that course, which one day could host the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship, “the final piece.” Gregory – and former Web.com Tour player Jason Enloe, who became his assistant coach – were one of the first steps in SMU’s plan.
The Mustangs have produced three U.S. Amateur champions since 1998 – Hank Kuehne, 1998; Colt Knost, 2007; Kelly Kraft, 2011 – but never ranked better than 45th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings in the five seasons preceding Gregory’s hire.
SMU was No. 17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings before finishing third at this week’s Puerto Rico Classic, behind only Alabama and Oklahoma. DeChambeau finished eighth, while senior Mario Clemens was 10th and freshman Austin Smotherman placed 12th.
This is Gregory’s second season in charge, but first with his recruits. SMU’s top five players in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings are in their first year with the team (four freshmen and Mario Clemens, a transfer from UCLA). Gregory was known for creating a close bond with his players at Augusta State, and he has done the same thing with this team.
“There’s no hitting shots in fear,” said junior Harry Higgs. “If you hit a bad shot, they know you weren’t trying to hit it in the water. We’re already a big family.”
The team’s top three players – DeChambeau, Smotherman (No. 104 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings) and Ryan Burgess (170) – all hail from California. Gregory recruited players from overseas and Augusta State’s backyard at his previous post; he said he’s focused on Texas and California in his current position.
DeChambeau won the 2010 California State Junior, and Smotherman won that event in 2011. Smotherman also won the 2012 California state high school title, finishing one shot ahead of Beau Hossler. Smotherman and DeChambeau are good friends from their days playing the Junior Golf Association of Northern California circuit. They didn’t compete in many national junior tournaments, but were two of the top freshmen in this year’s class. Smotherman, a self-described “feel” player, jokingly asks DeChambeau for the formula that will solve this frustrating game. DeChambeau hasn’t found it yet – not for lack of trying – but he and his SMU teammates are on the right track.
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Florida State assistant coach Matt Savage will return to playing the game this week in the NGA Tour’s Killearn Country Club Classic in Tallahassee, Fla. The 72-hole event begins today. Savage, a 2007 All-American at Florida State, is in his first season as an assistant coach after a brief pro career. He hasn’t competed since the first stage of last year’s Q-School, but said he plays approximately once per week with the team.
“I decided to play this week because I still have the competitive side of playing in me,” Savage said. “The dates of this event worked out perfectly with our men’s and women’s teams’ schedules.”
Savage, who said he’ll play approximately three pro events this year, described his golf game as “very average” entering the event. “I can get it around the course, but it is far from sharp. I have no expectations this week. I know I have the ability to play well, but I’m not going to be upset if I play bad. I’m just going to have fun.”