The Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas marked the long-awaited return of golf to our TV screens. We speak to Bernard Gallacher to get his thoughts on the tournament, the atmosphere – and Bryson DeChambeau’s new physique!
How do you feel about golf being back on our TV screens after such a long time?
Golf, like other live sports, is a spectacle for television and it’s been sorely missed. The players will have to get used to the new version of golf in the short term.
On the first day, it looked like there were still some spectators – I saw lots of people walking around and lots of volunteers on the course. In that respect, I didn’t notice much difference. But when players were holing putts there were no cheers, which was a little surreal. It must have been quite difficult for the players to adjust to this.
Having said that, you look at some of the low scores and they weren’t that affected by the lack of spectators. The cut was -2, so the subdued atmosphere didn’t upset the players’ rhythm. You would think that, in the past, professionals would need big crowds around the greens to hit these kinds of scores, but they don’t.
It was a very strong field and the prize money was also good. So, aside from the crowd, it was about as close to normal as you can get in golf.
What did you make of Daniel Berger’s performance?
The golf course at Colonial Country Club is not suited to big hitters. It’s about strategy and placing it off the fairway, which is exactly what Daniel Berger did.
He’s only 27 years old and had a lot of potential when he turned pro. His problem has been that, although he’s won a couple of tournaments, he’s had a bad wrist injury which he’s just coming back from. Now that this has cleared up, he’ll feel able to get going.
To win a tournament, you need a break. Daniel certainly got a big break when Collin Morikawa missed a six-foot putt on the final hole to win the tournament outright and then missed a three-foot putt in the playoff. But all great players have breaks like this from time to time – look at Nick Faldo or Tiger Woods.
Daniel took advantage of the breaks that came his way and he can be very happy with his performance. His scoring over four days was superb, on a difficult golf course and amongst an exceptionally strong field.
What about the performances of the British contingent, particularly Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose?
Justin played well throughout the tournament. It’s not often you’d start with a 63, finish with a 66 and score 69 and 68 in the other two rounds and still not win! He can count himself unlucky not to finish higher than he did.
Colonial is the type of course that’s tailor-made for Justin. He’s a very strategic player who doesn’t try and kill it off the tee.
He’s changed his equipment since the lockdown, after splitting with Honma during the close season. It’ll please Justin that he’s using equipment which suits his game and that was reflected in his performance in Texas. He can be very optimistic about the rest of the season.
I was slightly disappointed with Rory. He had a very poor last round – 74 is not a good score when every player that finished in the top 10 scored 70 or under.
Although he hit 63 in the second round, you wouldn’t call Colonial his type of course. He’s a bomber off the tee and sometimes you’ve got to rein yourself in to give yourself better approaches.
But he’ll pick himself up, dust himself down and play at courses which suit his game better. His poor last round will make him angry – and golf needs to watch out when Rory is angry!
The Charles Schwab Challenge seemed to go smoothly. What have you made of the job the Tour have done of preparing for different eventualities?
It’s clear from Daniel Berger’s interview that the players felt safe, which is the most important thing. The Tour have done a great job of testing golfers for Covid-19 and making the transition that bit easier.
As I said, the players have probably felt a bit surreal, but they’ll soon get used to it. There were still people on hand to keep track of the scores, there were camera crews and everybody appeared to be social distancing. So, it went as smoothly as it could have done.
We shouldn’t forget a key piece of information, which Daniel Berger addressed in his interview – although there aren’t as many people at the venue, there are still millions watching on television. The television figures in America for golf tournaments are huge compared to the UK. You’re talking tens of millions. That’s what Daniel said kept him going and he clearly gleaned inspiration from that.
On that point, Rose and McIlroy talked about the unusual atmosphere in Texas. Do you think the lack of spectators is a problem for golf?
The players just need to get on with it for the time being. At the end of the day, they’re professionals who are still playing for the same big prize funds as they were before lockdown. This period is a test for them and one which they’ve got to come through, but they’ve faced many tests during their careers.
I’ve found that, as a golfer, you’ve got to try and find inspiration from wherever you can in order to play at your best.
Sometimes, you gain inspiration from crowds – Arnold Palmer had Arnie’s Army back in the day. But with everything that’s going on nowadays, players have to remind themselves that they’re professionals and they’re up against people who are trying to beat them and put on a good show.
It’s a different type of pressure, but one they’ve got to become accustomed to in the short term. Otherwise, they won’t make any money or earn FedExCup points.
As the season goes on, hopefully things will start to return to normal. But until then, the players have to show their professionalism and come through this testing time.
A lot was made of Bryson DeChambeau’s physique – he’s clearly bulked up during lockdown. What do you make of his transformation and the training he and other players have undertaken while they’ve been away?
The players have obviously been keeping fit and looked very lean in Texas. You wouldn’t think they hadn’t played golf for several months.
Bryson DeChambeau is an exception – he’s clearly been on the weights during lockdown. He looks like someone has blown him up! He’s gained around 20 pounds and it’s visible from his appearance. They call him the Mad Scientist and he obviously thinks differently to other golfers, but it doesn’t look right to me.
I’m a bit sceptical where his weight gain is concerned – he hit the ball far enough before he bulked up. There comes a point when golf’s not about length – shooting low scores becomes a cerebral game, not a physical one.
That said, he did well in Texas, finishing tied for third with Justin Rose. There was a lot of talk about him, which was good for television.
But long term, I’m not too sure it’s a good idea for a young guy like him to bulk up like that. It must affect his fitness and we’ll see how he performs over the next few tournaments. The big test will be whether he can maintain the fitness levels you need to perform consistently in top level golf.
Players were approached to wear microphones prior to the tournament and only Rickie Fowler wore one during play. What do you make of this proposition?
Rickie Fowler accepted the invitation and missed the cut by four strokes. I don’t know if that’s because he had a mic on or not, but for me it’s an added distraction.
If I’m a player, I don’t want to have to think about what I’m saying. I only want to think about my next shot and be able to concentrate when I’m walking down the fairway. I might chat to my caddie. Whatever I’m doing, I don’t want the intrusion of having a mic on.
I can’t imagine for one minute the likes of Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus allowing themselves to be mic’d up in a professional tournament, because it’s a distraction you don’t need.
Many players have turned down the option of wearing a mic in the past and allegedly only one player other than Rickie put themselves forward be mic’d up, which tells you everything. CBS Sports asked Jordan Spieth and he turned it down. They were probably too scared to ask Brooks Koepka!
It’ll be interesting to see what Rickie will say if he’s asked again. Colonial is a course which you’d say suits his game, but his score suggests that wearing a mic didn’t help him.