Mystery MealsApril 11, 2019

Masters 2019: The case of the incredible shrinking Brooks Koepka still looms large

2019 Masters
J.D. CubanBrooks Koepka second shot on 17 during the first round of the 2019 Masters Tournament held in Augusta, GA at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, April 11, 2019.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks Koepka has this look. Guys know what is. We all have it. It’s what we look like in the dark, or in the shower behind a fogged-up door. Supermen! We’ve all seen ESPN’s Body Issue. The beauty of the human body! Bring on the cameras. I’ll bring my laptop, placed strategically. Centerfold!

Thing is, Koepka has it for real. We saw him in St. Louis last summer winning the PGA Championship and before that, the last two U.S. Opens. One look at Koepka, we thought of the young Arnold Palmer, blacksmith arms hung on a linebacker’s shoulders. To call his jaw a piece of square-cut granite was to say granite never looked so bullet-proof.

He’d earned the look. Given a genetic head start, Koepka decided to go all-in. Even the morning of a Sunday round in the U.S. Open, he went to the gym and benched 225 pounds 14 times. No biggie, he said. He’d done 325. So, too, have I done 325, if we count lifting my laptop 160 times. Also, he’d eaten well. His entourage includes a chef learned in the culinary arts. My meals skew to mac and cheese.

So why, inquiring minds want to know, did Brooks Koepka go on a diet so radical that he lost maybe 25 pounds, down to 190 maybe, and put himself through some tests to “figure out what was going on”? He’s 28 years old, entering the best years of a professional athlete’s life. And yet, like mere men, he took himself in for blood work?

Maybe the Body Issue is actually the issue. Koepka has neither denied nor confirmed the prevailing notion in the golf community that he went on an extreme diet/workout program to get ready for ESPN’s arty nudes. Golf Channel’s lead commentator, Brandel Chamblee, called Koepka’s decision, if in fact it is a decision, the “most reckless self-sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime.”

In a Masters press room interview Tuesday, Koepka came off befuddled by what he’d done. He won his first tournament of this season, but in the last month has played poorly: “I mean, the diet that I was on was probably not the best. I was, like, 1,800 calories a day. I mean, you’re not going to be in the best physical shape at that point. You look at somebody like Michael Phelps or somebody like that eating 6,000 or 7,000 calories by lunch time. But I wanted to do it and try to lose some weight, and maybe went about it a little too aggressively for just a long period of time and the intensity of what I was doing.”

As to why he did all that, Koepka was coy. “You’ll see,” he said. “We’ll all see.”

What we’ve seen here in the first round of the Masters, where he scaled atop the leader board at Augusta National with a 66, is certainly not a miniature of Brooks Koepka. He still can bench-press Jordan Spieth. One supposes that after the ESPN shoot—it’s probably already been done—Koepka will return to eating like, say, an Olympic swimmer with 18 gold medals. Chamblee’s criticism is more nuanced, built on the idea that Koepka would do what Tiger Woods did 20 years ago—change his body for good.

“Tiger had the best body for golf and the best golf swing ever from 1997 through 2000,” Chamblee said. “He was sinewy and his swing was long and quick. He led the Masters three of those four years in greens in regulation and driving distance. Then, for reasons only he knows, he wanted to get stronger. He completely changed his body and that changed his swing to flatter, shorter, and faster from the top. He never again led in those categories.”

(After his 66 Thursday, Koepka was asked again about the criticism of his weight loss. "Well, I lift all the time," Koepka said. "I lift too many weights, and I'm too big to play golf. And then when I lose weight, I'm too small. So, I don't know (laughter). I don't know what to say. I'm too big and I'm too small. Listen, I'm going to make me happy. I don't care what anybody else says. I'm doing it for me, and obviously it seems to work."

Yes, we know fat guys can play. We’ve had Lumpy and Walrus, we’ve had the old-timer Porky Oliver whose car carried two refrigerators in case of a breakdown along the road at lunch time. We even had Fat Jack, who, in 1969, decided to drop 20 pounds in three weeks and showed up in a Sports Illustrated photograph emerging from a lake, svelte in a swimsuit, the new Jack Nicklaus.

“But Jack did it for the right reasons,” Chamblee said. “He did it for his life.” Also, the new Nicklaus played as well the old Nicklaus, winning his first two tournaments.

When an inquiring reporter (blush) proposed that Koepka probably didn’t need to lose much weight to look good nude, Chamblee said, “Not going there. The purple thong was enough for me.”

Excuse me? Say again. The purple thong?

“His girlfriend posted a picture on Instagram,” Chamblee said. “For the life of me, I can’t remember seeing Ben Hogan in a purple thong.”

All of which led the mischievous Chamblee to ask a good question.

“Which would you rather have,” he said, “a picture of yourself nude or a picture of yourself in a green jacket?”

But what if you can have both pictures?