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Posted February 18, 2020 05:02 pm
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In thin air, Bryson DeChambeau lights up on topic of monster drives

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    Dechambeau (Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

MEXICO CITY — Bryson DeChambeau, at the end of his range session Tuesday, unleashed a drive that flew 397 yards before touching down on land.

“It’s completely unrealistic to normal golf,” DeChambeau said.

But it’s fun, he added with a big smile, hitting the ball that proverbial country mile. It makes him happy, especially when he launches a drive that goes so far he can’t track it with his own eyes.

While DeChambeau’s recent addition of 25 pounds of muscle had something to do with his enormous drive, the key ingredient was the air. More specifically, the thin air. Welcome to Elevation Central on the PGA Tour this week here at Club de Golf Chapultepec, home to the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.

Resting 7,800 feet above sea level, the tree-lined, 7,345-yard, par-71 layout is a field of dreams for the long ball, where drives exceed 400 yards, 6-irons hit the 250-yard sign and 8-irons top two bills.

Three years ago, this week’s defending champion Dustin Johnson increased his driving distance numbers hitting 2-irons. Think baseball’s Coors Field in Denver – and then place the hitter’s ballpark 2,600 feet higher in the Rocky Mountains.

“I love it,” DeChambeau said of playing in thin air. “It just makes the golf course super short. Which doesn’t mean it makes it easy.”

No, it’s not all wine and roses this week. First of all, players have to get their bodies adjusted to the thin air. One loses their breath here a lot quicker than down by the sea. A rule of thumb? Do not talk while walking uphill. Drink plenty of fluids, especially the night before to allow your body to catch up. And conserve energy as much as possible.

And the players aren’t going all John Daly – just grip it and rip it.

Swinging out of their golf shoes won’t be the norm, for this isn’t a long-drive contest. Instead, it’s a battle to find distance control.

Along with their caddie, the players have to take on the role of mathematician as all variables must be considered. The thin air can play mind games, and Trackman, a launch monitor that examines each shot’s characteristics including ball speed, spin rate and distance, is working overtime as players try and dial in their games.

The ball will travel some 10-18 percent farther than it does at sea level. But how far will the ball fly downwind or into the wind? When it’s cooler in the morning compared to hotter in the afternoon? Shots that draw or fade? A three-quarter shot vs. a full shot?

“You have to make sure you hit it solid every time,” Billy Horschel said. “And no matter what launch you want to hit it, you pick a window to hit it through. Let’s say, if you’re trying to hit 7-iron 212 yards, which is what I’m hitting it here instead of 180 that I regularly hit it, if I launch it too low, it won’t go 212 yards. It will go about 205 and that’s a big difference. If I launch it too high, it will go 220.

“Hit it through the window you want.”

Brandt Snedeker said you have to adjust on the fly.

“There is a lot of feel this week, when you feel the ball will go a lot longer than the numbers say, or you feel it won’t go that far,” he said. “How high you hit it makes a difference. You can’t get stuck on the numbers and the percentages.”