News & Opinion

Through thick and thin, they don't always win

Bryson DeChambeau  with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and David Duval
Bryson DeChambeau, who regularly smashes tee shots 350 yards and beyond after having bulked up during the PGA Tour’s recent suspension, has undertaken a physical transformation reminiscent of such champions as Tiger Woods (top right), Jack Nicklaus (middle right) and David Duval (bottom right).

Bryson DeChambeau isn’t the first PGA Tour player to change his physique in an effort to be the best. Consider the mixed results for Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, David Duval and others over the years

Bryson DeChambeau’s remarkable body transformation has a lot of people in a tizzy. How did this come about so quickly? Was it really just protein shakes and barbells? As hard as DeChambeau swings the golf club now, isn’t he more prone to injury? It’s funny how the guys built like plumbers never seem to get hurt, while the buff dudes such as Brooks Koepka, Jason Day (and Tiger Woods, for that matter) have missed significant time over the years due to mechanical breakdowns.

If you don’t have any muscles, there’s nothing to strain, tear or pull. That said, DeChambeau is probably very happy with his new physique. He recently won his sixth PGA Tour event by driving it unfathomable distances in Detroit, and besides, he can kick sand on anybody he wants to when he goes to the beach.

Who’s going to mess with a behemoth like that?

The golf gods, perhaps?

You could put together a mighty fine ballclub with the list of tour pros who have undergone physical reconstruction during their careers. Remember a guy named Jack Nicklaus? He barged onto the scene in 1962 as “Fat Jack,” overweight and under loved, and when he knocked off hometown hero Arnold Palmer at the U.S. Open that June, the galleries at Oakmont were rather harsh on the chubby kid from Ohio.

Nicklaus won golf tournaments by the bushel, however, piling up seven major titles over five years before the well ran dry near the end of the 1960s. Several factors likely figured into Nicklaus’ three-year majorless stretch; it wasn’t until he felt fatigued during those 36-hole days at the 1969 Ryder Cup that he finally did something about the spare tire.

“I was always worried about losing weight,” Nicklaus said in 2016. “Whether it would affect my play, my distance, things that I would do, but I didn’t want to be tired, either.”

Goodbye, Fat Jack. Hello, Golden Bear. By hopping on a Weight Watchers diet and running the course instead of walking or riding during his offseason rounds, Nicklaus dropped 25 pounds and began picking up big trophies once again. He remains the best example of a player who won through thick and thin, whose performance level and health weren’t compromised by a dramatic change in his figure.

At this juncture, every dues-paying member to Club Tiger would beg to differ. Indeed, Woods won a truckload of tournaments as a skinny phenom, then continued to amass victories after embarking on a weightlifting regimen in the mid-2000s. The problem is that his body started breaking down after taking on a power-friendly weight program. Woods’ knees already were giving him trouble before he shifted his exercise routine. He was an enthusiastic runner until he turned 30, give or take a month.

According to suburban legend, Woods climbed out of bed at 4:30 a.m. on Masters Sunday in 2005 and jogged five miles before going head-to-head against Chris DiMarco over the final 27 holes of the tournament, which he won on the first hole of sudden death. A rain delay had halted play the previous afternoon, necessitating a completion of the third round. Woods never was big fan of beauty sleep.

By 2007, he’d become a bulked-up specimen, owning the physique of an NFL strong safety, but there were more knee issues (2008) and, of course, the back miseries that would sideline Woods for lengthy stretches throughout the 2010s. We’ll never know what he would have accomplished if he’d chosen a less stressful method of maintaining his fitness. Two things are for sure: Woods has been incredibly good, and he’s been hurt a lot.

Speaking of which, there were two David Duvals: the flabby Floridian who unseated Woods atop the Official World Golf Ranking in 1999, and the tapered-down version whose brilliance evaporated after a weightlifting program mangled his back in the early 2000s. Not only does such an impairment make it tough to play at your best, but it can lead to unintentional changes in a man’s golf swing, often as an accommodation to the limitations that a bad back imposes on the body.

Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major since sculpting his frame into a lovely slab of Northern Irish granite. Koepka lost 25 pounds in early 2019, leading to an amusingly fractious feud with Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who referred to Koepka’s daily 1,800-calorie diet as “the most reckless self-sabotage I have ever seen.”

Chamblee was forced to eat those words when Koepka won his fourth major a month later, but he messed up his knee last fall and hasn’t been the same player since. What DeChambeau has taken on is far more extreme than anything Nicklaus, Woods or anybody else did in terms of refining their physicality. Fat Jack basically moved some furniture in the living room. Tiger redesigned the entire second floor. Bryson the Brainiac blew up the entire house and dug up the old foundation.

There’s a substantial risk involved, not just competitively, but as it relates to the long-term quality of a man’s lifestyle. If the Big Fella Upstairs wanted you to carry that much extra bulk, he would have made you a gorilla. DeChambeau gets a lot of love (and publicity) for his high level of intelligence, and much of that probably is deserved, but there are times in many people’s lives when common sense must declare war on obsession.

The farther he hits it, the farther he was to walk. And the greater the chance he’ll eventually step into the wrong neighborhood.

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