Given that golf has been around since the fifteenth century, and that it went professional in the early 1900s, you might think it churlish that one man could change the face of the sport.
And we’re not talking about Tiger Woods here – the unbelievable 15-time major winner who has done so much to progress the position of African-Americans in the sport – either.
Instead, we’re talking about the man formerly known as ‘the Scientist’ for his precise approach to golf. Today, Bryson DeChambeau has gone from science and sorcery to sheer all-out brute force.
Sick of watching his opponents hit their ball further than him off the tee, the 26-year-old had an epiphany: if you can’t beat them, join them.
So in the past nine months, he has gained 45lb – most of that muscle mass from a, erm, healthy appetite – in order to add extra power to his game. Has it worked? Well, DeChambeau now tops the PGA Tour for Driving Distance this season and won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July averaging 350 yards off the tee, which was basically 40 yards more than anyone else in the field.
Kevin Kisner, the multi-time PGA Tour champion, said that DeChambeau had ‘changed the entire way the game is played, while Colin Montgomerie has been left so fearful for the future of golf’s traditions that he has called for new rules to be implemented to stop others following the 26-year-old’s path to glory.
Will DeChambeau change elite-level golf beyond all comprehension? Only time will tell on that front, but if you can hit the fringes of greens on Par 4 holes with your tee shot, clearly something is going right.
Could he become a hall-of-fame athlete in years to come? If he is to be, he will need to accomplish feats like those of other stars who changed the face of their sport forever.
Jesse Owens (Athletics)
It’s hard to even quantify the achievements of Jesse Owens in words.
At the most base level, he was an extraordinary athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Game – and who, at one track meeting in 1925, once broke four world records for sprinting and the long jump in under an hour. Imagine the press that would get today!
But beyond that, Owens was a beacon of change at a time when Hitler’s regime in Germany was threatening to turn large swathes of Europe and perhaps the world into fascist states.
Owens’ miracle at the 1936 Games in Berlin came against the backdrop of far-right sentiment, and he also became the first African-American sports star in history to be sponsored – wearing the fabled three stripes of Adidas.
An incredible moment in history came when Hitler, fond of the Aryan race remember, was forced to salute Owens as part of the gold medal celebrations. Some 80,000 people – many of whom supporting Hitler’s fascist regime – also rose to their feet to clap the star’s exceptional achievements.
Herbert Chapman (Football)
He’s perhaps a strange inclusion on this list, given that he wasn’t exactly fabled as a player.
However, it was as a manager that Herbert Chapman changed the face of football forever with one simple change: he did away with the traditional 2-3-5 pyramid formation.
That act of renegade thinking – which was met with quite some consternation from those within the game, ultimately led to other managers thinking outside of the box in how they set their teams up, and helped to create the sport that so many love to this day.
Chapman won four Division One titles with Huddersfield Town and Arsenal ad two FA Cups, but more than that he altered the way in which he sport was played around the world – football’s own butterfly effect.
Serena & Venus Williams (Tennis)
For decades, women’s tennis was a sport of style and grace played largely by white ladies in their twenties. And then the Williams sisters came along to change everything.
Between them there are 27 Grand Slam event titles across singles and doubles, four Olympic gold medals and countless years spent at number one in the world rankings.
But what Serena and Venus Williams have done is to transcend the sport of tennis, becoming the originators for both African-American women to succeed at the top-level as well as adopting a more physically aggressive approach to the game, dominating with booming serves and powerful baseline play.
Few opponents, if any, seemed to be able to cope in the early days – hence why they played each other in so many major finals.
But the Williams’ boast more than just brute strength. They have mental toughness and resilience too – not least Serena, who at the age of 38 is still eyeing another Grand Slam title despite having a year off to care for her first child.
Muhammad Ali (Boxing)
These days, Muhammad Ali is as well known for his whip smart trash talk as he is for his in-ring skills – a shame, really, given that he was the first three-time heavyweight champion of the world in history.
Also an Olympic gold medallist, Ali was the poster boy for American sport until he did something jaw-dropping – he consciously objected from fighting in the Vietnam War, and was subsequently banned from boxing by the authorities.
He came back five years later, defeated George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle and proved that you don’t have to besmirch your own moral code in the pursuit of excellence.
Wilma Rudolph (Athletics)
The final place on our list goes to Wilma Rudolph, who practically became the living embodiment of the phrase ‘overcoming adversity’ on her journey to three Olympic gold medals.
Her family were so impoverished when she was growing up that Rudolph would suffer a number of health conditions directly related to their lack of wealth – pneumonia, polio and scarlet fever to name just three.
That meant that she was forced to wear a leg brace throughout her childhood, and because black families in the Deep South were often denied treatment at ‘white only’ medical facilities, Rudolph was in almost constant pain.
Talk about pain making you stronger. Wilma eventually started to get healthier and developed an obsession with running, and her progress was such that she was called up to the US sprint team for the Olympics in 1956 – winning bronze in the 4x100m relay – and again in 1960, where she won gold in the 100m, 200m and the relay.
Rudolph became the first female from the US to win three golds at a single games, and when she returned home the people of Clarksville – white and black – threw the city’s first ever fully integrated event to celebrate the achievements of a black individual.
Now that’s what we call changing the game forever….