Young, bright, cerebral but still with some sense of artistry.
It’s an apt description for the player many eyes are falling on this week at The Masters – Bryson DeChambeau. The 22 year-old Californian amateur is actually considered a threat by some to win the major – a feat never accomplished by anyone but a member of the pro ranks.
Besides his splendid record as the 2015 United States Amateur and NCAA champion, he enthrals observers of the sport with his intriguing approach to just about…well…anything. His swing, built on the teachings of The Golfing Machine by Homer Kelley, and his irons – all built at a single-length and each bearing a nickname, set him apart. He is rich target for those looking for a story at the historic 80th Masters, one where much attention has also been on the 30th anniversary of the unprecedented 6th win by Jack Nicklaus.
1986 stands as big moment in time for many modern golfers and in some ways, it ties into DeChambeau as well, and his golf equipment. He just may not know it. It is through a man that also happened to be young, bright, and cerebral – a long, long time ago.
You see, the first real concept of DeChambeau’s single-length golf clubs that he chooses to play, at least in a commercial version, came to life in the very same year that Nicklaus donned a yellow shirt and roared into the clubhouse on a memorable Sunday.
And it happened in Canada.
Eric Cook grew up in rural Saskatchewan between the two great wars. It was a dust bowl, the economy barely had a pulse and, like many others, he was a youth with ambition but few prospects. So he did what many in his era did – he joined the military.
The quick-witted prairie boy would earn a degree in mechanical engineering and rise to the rank of Major in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Eventually he transitioned into a private sector career in engineering with Hovey & Associates, a company based in Ottawa, Ontario.
But Cook’s passion did not only lie with the creation of all manners of mechanical items used in industries around the world. His hobby was golf. And he would not let the sport go untouched by his inquisitive and brilliant mind.
In 1982 Cook opened Iso-Vibe, Inc., not far from the Hylands Golf Club where he was a member. It was there where he often kibitzed and exchanged ideas with head pro Bud Malloy. The two would go on to study why golfers often chose a favourite among their clubs, leading to a Single Frequency Matching System for shafts. It was the basis for Iso-Vibe and a patented system that would go on to provoke much thought among clubmakers, designers, and golf engineers for years to come.
In his effort to be exacting in his club-building, Cook also experimented with, and eventually offered for sale, a set of irons all with equal length shafts. It was 1986 and Nicklaus was winning his final Masters.
Three years later major manufacturer Tommy Armour Golf would try and sell the concept at a mass retail level with their EQL line of clubs. The Armour product would leave the shelves after a couple years. Others tried to delve into. None found success.
But for Cook, he always had it available in his back pocket, if needed. He dealt directly with customers in his shop on Bentley Avenue, and his work for them was personal, meticulous, and reflected his exacting background. To this day renowned club designer Tom Wishon gives credit to Cook as the root of the single-shaft length concept.
Eventually, as his health failed, Cook would close his shop. He would pass away in March of 2014 at age 85.
To his end though Cook believed in his work and while his same-length shaft concept never found favour on the professional tours, he did find success there. For a time David Frost, a winner of 10 PGA TOUR events, played with matched “Swing Sync” irons.
This week, as The Masters returns and with so much attention on an amateur and his golf equipment, it gives me pause to recall a man who delved deeper than many in the field of golf equipment science, and was kind enough to share that in columns for our readers.
Some scoffed at his work, but he pushed on.
And if Bryson Dechambeau should pull off the improbable this week, with his single-length shaft irons in his bag, he will have a lot of people to thank. That includes one he is probably not even aware of, who was like-minded and pondered the same questions he did, decades before.
Eric Cook. A boy from the grasslands of Canada who dreamed of something more but was unlikely to imagine just how far his legacy might reach.
All the way to Augusta, Georgia.
/ Scott MacLeod @Flagstick