For one thing, Brooks Koepka lost 24 pounds for a photo shoot. He is to appear in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, which depicts athletes without clothes from a wide swath of sports. He lost 24 pounds so he’d look better naked. Thankfully, not many PGA Tour players have that to worry about.
To lose the weight fairly quickly, Koepka embarked on a diet that limited him to 1,800 calories a day. Dustin Johnson, a Koepka friend and frequent workout partner, was asked about that regimen at the Masters. “When I’m hungry, I eat,” Johnson said. “When I’m not hungry anymore, I stop eating.”
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If only Koepka were that simple. He had the chef from Floridian National Golf Club in south Florida, where Koepka is a member, with him all week in the house that Koepka rented in Augusta, Ga. Koepka’s favorite meal of the week was chicken quinoa with vegetables. Sounds great, huh? Worth bringing a chef with you to cook? Only if he can make chicken and quinoa somehow taste good.
Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee was loudly critical of Koepka’s abrupt physical change, which took the 6-foot, 205-pounder down to about 180. “For him to change his body, and his body chemistry, for vanity reasons, for a vanity shoot, is the most reckless self-sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime,” Chamblee said on the eve of the Masters.
“I lift too many weights, and I'm too big to play golf,” Koepka responded. “And then when I lose weight, I'm too small. 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.”
Still, he conceded that the radical diet might not have been the best thing for his health.
“I mean, you're not going to be in the best physical shape at that point,” he said. “You look at somebody like [Olympic swimmer] 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.”
Yet, Koepka wound up in a three-way tie for second behind Tiger Woods at the Masters, and if he hadn’t rinsed his ball at the par-3 12th in the heat of Sunday’s final round, he would have had a real chance to win his fourth major championship. So, can we really say that Koepka doesn’t know what’s best?
He didn’t drown his chances in Rae’s Creek because of chicken quinoa. It was because either he didn’t know or ignored the wisdom that you don’t shoot at the far-right pin on Sunday.
Koepka always has gone his own way and has traveled an unconventional road. After leaving Florida State, Koepka went to Europe in 2012 and played two years on the European Challenge Tour instead of making his way to the PGA Tour through the Web.com Tour.
There’s little money on the Challenge Tour, and the golf courses aren’t top shelf. But Koepka wanted the experience of traveling through foreign countries with different currencies, hotels, food and customs. He thought that would develop more of his character than finding the Hampton Inn in Evansville, Ind.
He won three times on the Challenge Tour in 2013, earning a promotion to the European Tour. In 2014, he split time between the European Tour and the PGA Tour, winning once in Europe and tying for fourth at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. The next year, he won the Waste Management Phoenix Open and was T-5 at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
In 2016, he had two runner-up finishes and was T-4 at the PGA at Baltusrol. So, to say that his major success in 2017 and 2018 – winning two U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship – came out of the blue would be wrong. He was on the verge for some time.
Though Koepka can appear to be complicated on some levels, he is incredibly simple in others. In fact, he was asked at the Masters what he thinks about when competing in a major.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said, which seems impossible.
“I don't want to say you kind of black out, but you just kind of – you're not really thinking about anything. You make it kind of a reaction sport. That's kind of how – you see the ball, you kind of see your shot, and then whatever you see and just pull the trigger and go.
“You're not thinking about anything. You're not thinking about missing. You're not thinking about the trouble. To be honest with you, I'm not even really thinking about it going in. My mind goes blank. It seems like an hour period where that goes by in about five, 10 minutes.”
That’s either superior mind control or completely letting go of, well, everything. It’s either incredible training or he’s blessed with more than physical gifts.
Koepka told Golf Digest in 2015 that baseball was his first love. "To be honest, I'm not a big golf nerd," he says. "Golf is kind of boring; not much action. I come from a baseball family, and it's in my blood."
Depending on which position you play, baseball is 90 percent standing around. But be certain that in his chosen sport, Koepka is doing way more than sitting still.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf