You might have heard Jim Nantz at the end of the CBS telecast of the PGA Championship mention Gary Player’s prediction that “athletes will eventually choose golf and we’ll have players hitting it 400 yards. It’ll be a different game.” Player has said that for a while, but it was especially poignant this week as Brooks Koepka won at Bellerive, the same place Player captured the US Open in 1965. His 72-hole score was two-over. Koepka won at sixteen under.
After his victory, Koepka revealed his secret.
“I try to eat pretty clean,” he told reporters. “We had salmon last night, the chef from The Floridian works for me. Plus I lift six or seven days a week.”
Wait. What? “I lift six or seven days a week?” As a golfer? That was heresy as little as 10 years ago.
Remember when everybody blamed Johnny Miller’s fall from the top of the game on his working on his farm out West? Lifting weights was strictly taboo for golfers. Player, Greg Norman and then Tiger Woods changed all that. Plus the advances in athletic training brought golfers to a new level of fitness, flexibility and strength. It’s not just doing bicep curls or bench press. Golf specific exercises, increasing swing speed, “smash factor” and ball velocity have changed the game as Player predicted.
There’s lots of talk about 300+ yard drives. But what about the nine-irons from 181? And four-iron from 248? I mean those are astounding numbers. They can bend the clubs all they want, but when you’re hitting pitching wedge from 150, that’s a different game.
I met Brooks Koepka at his club near his home in West Palm Beach in January of 2015.
“This kid can really play,” our host said as Brooks and I shook hands.
Sitting in the grillroom we had a few laughs and the subject of the Super Bowl came up.
“I’ll be at Phoenix that week,” Brooks told me about his plan to play the PGA TOUR event called the Waste Management Open at the TPC of Scottsdale. “Look me up, I’m going out there by myself.”
So when I got to Phoenix a little early to fulfill my duties as the Hall of Fame voter for Jacksonville, I did head out to the TPC at Scottsdale. It’s known for the massive crowds that attend every year and that week was no different. Except it rained for most of the tournament. I went to the pressroom to look for Brooks during one of the delays but the PGA Tour rep (Doug Milne from Jacksonville) said he had just left.
“Tell him I came by to say hi,” I said, a bit disappointed. I knew I’d be working for most of the weekend and probably wouldn’t have a chance to catch up with Koepka.
Of course he went on to win the tournament.
Koepka has now won three majors and is only the fifth player ever to win the US Open and the PGA in the same year. His wrist injury earlier this season kept him out of the Masters, but he’ll be among the favorites in April in Augusta.
Although he’s shown to be cool under pressure and dominant with his game, Koepka has been overshadowed each time he’s won a major. First by the golf course at Erin Hills, then by it seemed everybody else at Shinnecock Hills and by Tiger’s resurgence at the PGA. Brooks will use that as continued motivation going forward. He’s that kind of competitor.
So beware. If Tiger was the tip of the spear of great athletes changing golf, Koepka is the harbinger of what the game will look like from now on.