Features

Features

The Incredible Bulk

Inspired by Bryson DeChambeau’s physical transformation, I went on a quest to pack on 30 pounds of muscle in search of more distance

BY JOEL BEALL

It’s unclear when I realized this was a terrible idea. Perhaps it was getting manhandled by a 62-year-old in a workout. Or after devouring so much protein that a Chick-fil-A ad induced nausea. Maybe when my wife, on the eve of the experiment, said, “This is a terrible idea.” Timelines are indistinct in the fog of war.

This much is certain: For three months, I tried my best to be Bryson DeChambeau, replicating his physical transformation in hopes of big gains with the big stick. All in the pursuit of science. And wonder. And love of the game. OK, it was mostly vanity.

 

THE PREMISE

I’ve always been closer to Ben Hogan than Hulk Hogan on the anatomy spectrum, although I was hardly a skeleton. Think lean rather than skinny. That waved bye-bye after a series of back injuries, punctuated by a fracture at the end of 2018.

The nadir was at the 2019 Masters. I was with Gary Player, who remains a living sculpture in his 80s, in the Augusta National clubhouse, when the Black Knight grabbed my arm and presented me to a group of green jackets. “We need to put meat on this man’s bones!” Player said to a nodding audience. It wasn’t a critique as much as it was concern, like Sarah McLachlan holding a malnourished dog in an ASPCA commercial.

Worse, this brittleness was affecting my golf. My game, which hovers at scratch, is predicated on power. But my ability to generate it had begun to wane in my 30s, and with injuries severely mitigating distance—for every 290-yard pop there were five 250-yard “bunts”— I was forced to (shudder) think my way around the course. It was hell, and I was determined to crawl out. So when word spread in the fall that DeChambeau was in the process of remolding his body for added length, while some pundits snickered, I was enthralled.

THE WORKOUTS ▶ During the lockdown, I used household items like water cases, firewood and bags filled with bricks for weights.

“I like to push the limits,” DeChambeau said. Unlike me, DeChambeau was far from lost. The former NCAA and U.S. Amateur champ ranked 10th in the world after the season-finale Tour Championship and was among the longer and more proficient hitters on tour (34th in distance at 302.5 yards and 24th in strokes gained/ off the tee). But DeChambeau was convinced there was more to unlock, and distance was the key. It was elementary, the Mad Scientist said. “I believe having shorter clubs into longer holes will provide a significant advantage,” DeChambeau said. “Strokes gained has proved to be a big statistic for me, and I believe I’ll become a better wedge player with my new distance.”

By December, he had gained 25 pounds in two months, and the muscle wasn’t just eye candy. At the time of the PGA Tour’s suspension at the Players Championship, DeChambeau had four top-five finishes in seven starts and ranked first in distance and third in strokes gained/off the tee. He added nearly 19 yards (321.3) to his average drive. “It has been pretty cool to see,” DeChambeau said of the returns. “I’ve really enjoyed the journey, too.” I had a muse.

My goal was to bulk up by 30 pounds in three months in hopes of a 20-yard driving bump. My co-workers deemed it impossible, my friends asinine, my wife as grounds for involuntary commitment. Bryson is a world-class athlete with world-class resources, seven years my junior without a history of back problems. The proposal, reasonable heads conveyed, was bananas. I didn’t refute this assessment. Just the connotation. It was crazy—just crazy enough to try.

MY MOMENT OF ZEN

BY KEELY LEVINS

I’ve always wanted to be someone who loves yoga. But taking occasional classes and getting reminded of my lack of flexibility and general Zen was more annoying than doing no yoga at all. Which is why when quarantine started and our gym closed, I decided to finally give yoga a sustained try.

I was able to find some great classes online for free. I’d heard of CorePower Yoga and people’s cultish love of it, so I gave it a go. I’ve been a believer in Peloton since getting acquainted with its spin bike years ago, and the company has yoga classes on its workout app. If you search “yoga” on YouTube, “Yoga with Adriene” pops up, and I liked her immediately. I began taking daily classes lasting anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.

ON THE COURSE, WHEN MY FOCUS STARTS TO DRIFT, I TAP INTO THE YOGA MIND-SET, AND I FEEL MORE CONTENT.

The instructors are so genuine in congratulating you on just being there that I found myself forgetting to chastise myself for teetering over in a Moon pose or being unable to get my foot up between my hands when transitioning from Downward Dog to a lunge. It made me consider that clicking on a yoga class and getting out of bed was accomplishment enough.

It’s that easy, light, calm mental state of yogis that I’ve always been curious about because I feel like I’m not there often enough. The positive reinforcement from the instructors and succumbing to the rhythm of breathing helped get me there—some of the time.

But then there were less productive moments. I thought I’d get better, faster. But the range of poses I could do in the first class were similar to the ones I was doing in my 30th. One big physical change I noticed was the elimination of some quarantine-induced back pain. Sitting in a dining chair for full workdays did something awful to my back. I was in pain constantly. But after about 10 days of yoga, the pain was gone, and it hasn’t returned.

Courses reopened after my 30th session. I can’t report any distance gains, but I did find myself tapping into that yoga mind-set when my focus started to drift. Yoga asked me to be there, in that moment on the mat, each day, even though I didn’t always feel like it. I leaned on the rhythm of my swing and turned my focus to my breathing between shots. I don’t know if helped the result, but I felt more content and less prone to self-judgment.

KEELY@GOLFDIGEST.COM

 

THE PLAN

There  was a common refrain from the fitness community when I brought up this project. (1) Please  lose this email. (2) Brandon Gaydorus is your guy. Gaydorus, 27, is the author of The Ultimate In-Home Golf Fitness Program and founder of Warm Heart Life in Greenwich, Conn. He also had a stint at the Florida Institute of Performance, training alongside Brooks Koepka, Michelle Wie, Daniel Berger and other golf stars. Not only was Gaydorus all in on the idea but, conveniently, his gym was 15 minutes from my house.

Starting at 6-1, 166 pounds, I assumed we’d be able to pack on weight immediately. Gaydorus knocked that down like a Scottish squall. “We’re going to have to break you before building you up,” he said. Aside from the 30 pounds, we were going to track driving distance and speed increases. Our starting numbers, via Golfzon simulator: 286.4 yards (274.3-yard carry), 163.6-miles-per-hour ball speed and 113.5-mph clubhead speed. Gaydorus said we could blow past the 300-yard barrier with ease, which was the most scintillating thing another man has ever said to me.

THE DIET ▶ I consumed close to 5,000 calories a day, which included four to five meals, two healthy snacks and a protein shake.

He devised a three-phase regimen that countered any muscle gain with flexibility and endurance drills. The former to ensure my swing wouldn’t get out of whack, the latter to guard against my body breaking in two. Each week had four formal workout days, each session lasting 45 minutes to an hour. I duplicated two of the workouts on my own, making six sessions per week. I also enrolled in a SuperSpeed Golf program, which involved swinging weighted sticks to enhance speed. Because of my back issues, there was also daily stretching and yoga, plus actual golf practice at a range. All while remaining a productive, dutiful employee and husband. (Jury is out on both counts.) My diet was revamped. Sweets, fast food and beer were out; veggies, lean protein and water were in. I learned about “smart carbs” and that, tragically, fettuccine alfredo isn’t among them. I consumed close to 5,000 calories a day, which included four to five meals, two healthy snacks and a protein shake.

A month in, it was working. Yes, there were embarrassments. My squat form was gruesome enough at the preliminary test that Gaydorus muttered, “You have insurance, right?” At one session, I was worked to exhaustion by Fred Santore, one of Gaydorus’ clients who was 30 years older and months into shoulder rehab. The food intake was a struggle: I felt bloated and gluttonous the first three weeks. Yet, I was already noticing faster swing speeds, and by Day 30, I had gained eight pounds. That might seem short of pace, but Gaydorus assured me it would be easier to load more muscle as we progressed.

I was flying high. For the first time in forever, T-shirts didn’t fit like tents. I hit the ball so true at the range that I envisioned entering U.S. Open and World Long Drive qualifying. Gaydorus’ daily emails, part instruction, part inspiration, deepened that spirit. If I felt this good after one month, what Valhalla awaited 60 days from now? The lesson: Never dream.

 

VOYAGE INTO MY PSYCHE

BY JAMES YANG

I’ve been using my time at home to practice meditation. I’ve ruined many rounds thinking about a cheeseburger only to find myself in the clubhouse afterward eating a bitter cheeseburger of regret. My wife, Abby, and I tried two apps: Headspace, and Oprah and Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience. Here’s what I learned.

YOUR WEAKNESSES IN GOLF ARE YOUR WEAKNESS IN MEDITATION. I’m famous for overthinking. The first Headspace lesson had me feel every sensation and movement while walking back and forth in a room. It’s a lesson about mindfulness, but it makes me self-conscious, and I forget how to walk. This is the exact same issue I have with my swing.

DON’T OVERTHINK IT. Deepak’s lessons use metaphors to help you focus. “Fear is a record of failure in the past,” he says. “It has no influence on the present.” This made me think about past golf failures, which broke my heart. Now I’m scared to think about thinking.

KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN. While taking a meditation lesson in the living room, Deepak asks us to look up to the sky. Abby sees a mark in our otherwise perfect ceiling. The mark is there because I swung a new driver and hit the ceiling. Abby has to focus on not killing me.

‘FORGIVENESS SETS US FREE.’ I CAN NOW FORGIVE THOSE WHO GAVE ME UNWANTED SWING ADVICE.

MODIFY MEDITATION LESSONS FOR GOLF. I’m mentally replaying a Headspace lesson before practicing a chip shot—a bad idea because I’m over the ball for a long time. This is an excellent way to enrage Brooks Koepka. It’s better to take a deep breath, exhale, then hit.

THE APPS PUT WHAT YOU REALLY NEED IN THE PAID VERSION. I’m trying free lessons, which are great for the basics. But many valuable lessons live behind a paywall. One titled, “Mindfulness after blowing up your round on the 12th hole,” would be perfect.

LET GO OF YOUR ANGER. I saw results after just a couple weeks. Within a few breaths, the mind settles. A breakthrough comes after a Deepak lesson on resentment. “Hate and resentment allow others to take us hostage. Forgiveness sets us free.” I can now forgive those who gave me unwanted swing advice.

LET THE CARS GO BY. Headspace has a great metaphor for golf. Imagine stray thoughts are like cars moving on the road. They might temporarily distract you, but let them pass so they don’t disrupt your flow. Now I have a great way for managing bad shots.

I can’t wait to put these lessons to use, but now I need to download the seven-minute workout app. It’s amazing how many bags of chips you can eat during a shutdown.

 

THE SNAG

We were beginning Phase 2 of the “Get Big like Bryson” plan when Connecticut began Phase began shuttering all non-essential businesses on March 16 in wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. With no gym access, to say nothing of the vast ambiguity that lay ahead, the venture seemed kaput. Except Gaydorus had no intention of surrender.

“You could give up and wait for this to pass,” he said over the phone, “or you can wait for it to pass by not giving up.” I didn’t and still don’t understand what he said, but I knew what he meant. Challenge accepted.

Gaydorus revised our strategy and created a routine that could be done at home, listing household items—water cases, firewood, bags filled with bricks—that would act as de facto weights. I was re-energized, especially as it dawned on me that . . . well, ostensibly . . . “Yes,” Gaydorus said, reading my mind. “This is basically a ‘Rocky IV’ workout.”

THE BODY ▶ My goal was to put on 30 pounds of muscle in three months in hopes of adding 20 yards to my average driving distance.

Appropriate, as DeChambeau was turning into my personal Ivan Drago. You see, Bryson had continued his offseason overhaul into the spring, posting the dividends on social media—highlighted by ball speeds of more than 200 mph—which my colleagues were more than happy to forward in my direction. If he was muscular in December, he now resembled a Mack truck. “I don’t have a target weight,” DeChambeau said when asked about his ongoing gains. “Going to see what my body can tolerate.”

In my mind, I heard the sound of a bell. I did 300 push-ups a day. Used a backpack for torso twists. Riffled cinderblock and raised furniture in my back yard, emitting barbaric groans as I went. (In a possibly related note, two neighbors put their houses on the market.) Public courses were closed, so I upped the SuperSpeed program and made 100 swings every afternoon.

Alas, it was nowhere near as effective as the in-gym supervised training. I might have had a beer or 20. Moreover, I couldn’t justify five meals a day, not during a crisis. To compensate, I added more protein shakes—just powder and water—to the lineup. This move at firepower, uh, backfired. Literally. This is a family publication; let’s just say the colon can handle only so much. I spent a fair share of nights sleeping on the couch. At the end of Phase 2, I had gained only an additional five pounds. With a month to go, I knew the battle, at least on the weight front, was lost. But, channeling the Spartans at Thermopylae or any professional golfer who faced Tiger Woods in 2000, I fought on despite my fate. The final tally after three months: 18 pounds. Sixty percent of my objective.

 

I HAVE A DIET FOR YOU!

BY ALEX MYERS

In a way, intermittent fasting has become the new CrossFit. If you take part, you’re bound by an unwritten law to tell everybody else about it. So now it’s my turn.

The timing of my latest in a string of unsuccessful attempts to get healthier—including, believe it or not, a brief CrossFit phase—turned out to be fortuitous. When I started IF (that’s what the cool kids call it) in February, I had no clue the next month would begin the most inactive phase of my life. Suddenly, I was on my couch more than even my FIFA-laden final semester of college. I have friends who’ve talked about putting on the COVID 15 while working from home, but I’ve actually lost a decent amount of weight.

Naturally, I heard about IF through a few friends who were eager (obviously) to share their success. I also came across a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody that said to be patient because it can take a few weeks to see results. But it’s clearly made a difference. I’ve lost nine pounds in three months despite eating whatever I want—just not when I want.

WAKING UP AND REALIZING YOU HAVE TO WAIT SIX HOURS TO EAT CAN BE A DIFFICULT MENTAL HURDLE TO CLEAR.

I’ve stuck to a schedule of eating from 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and fasting for the other 16 hours of the day. As the Times article explained, this is done to get your body to use stored fat for energy after taking 10 to 12 hours to go through the calories in glucose that are stored in the liver. There are different ways to achieve this, including full-day fasts, but the 16/8 method seems to be the most common. And the easiest to pull off.

Not to say it’s easy. Waking up and realizing you have to wait six hours to eat—especially with no morning commute as a distraction—can be tough (and I know I’m lucky to be able to make that choice). The worst part is about 10 a.m. Just kidding. The worst part is 10 a.m. to 12:30. But compared to other diets, I’ve found it easier than depriving myself of food I love like chocolate. And pasta. And more chocolate.

I’ve lost the weight without depriving myself of those things. I wasn’t trying to limit them, but cutting off my snack intake at 8:30 cured my late-night grazing. I can only imagine the progress I’d make if I ate healthy in my eating window and exercised. Hopefully, getting more rounds in now will help.

I vow to keep my intermittent fasting going longer than my foray into CrossFit. And I urge anyone looking to shed a few pounds with minimal effort to give it a try. OK, enough talking. Is it lunchtime yet?

ALEX@GOLFDIGEST.COM

 

THE RESULT

I found solace (assisted by a tremendous amount of revisionist history) that the weight was really just a means to an end, the end being increased distance. I hopped back on the simulator in late May. Just me, a mat, an electronic screen and destiny.

I was terrified. I was ready. I imagine it’s the same feeling a bull rider has in the bucking chute, waiting for the gate to come flying open. When the first ball raised from the artificial turf, I unleashed three months of fury. After 20 swings, I was drenched. Spent. But the numbers, those sweet, sweet numbers, delivered good tidings: 296.6 yards (285.1-yard carry), 174.2 mph ball speed, 117.8 head speed. Hallelujah. I think I teared up, marking the first time I’ve had a golf-related cry that didn’t involve a three-putt. But what good is distance if it doesn’t show on the card? I kept something from you, dear reader. I had a third ambition: improved score.

Before the pandemic, I wanted to compare 20 rounds during and after the experiment to my last 20 rounds in 2019. The quarantine battered most of that plan. But I wanted—needed—one round before this story’s deadline and got it at my home track, Sterling Farms in Stamford, Conn. The gains were evident. In missiles, highlighted by reaching the fringe on the 327-yard third. In misfires that made me realize added distance guides bad shots farther off line. Unfortunately, my mind was elsewhere, for I was so focused on seeing this through that I was lost upon crossing the finish line.

THE FUTURE ▶ Do I continue the routine in some iteration? Power and a cut physique are nice, but the demands are cumbersome.

Do I continue the routine in some iteration? Power and a cut physique are nice, but the demands are cumbersome: of mind, of body, of time, and I mentioned the fettuccine alfredo, yes? To spend three months doing this for one round and simulator-generated numbers felt pretty empty. Maybe everyone was right: This was a terrible idea. It was then I consulted my phone, pulling my last messages from Brandon and Bryson. From my trainer, a pat on the back: “That’s really great what you did,” Gaydorus said. “You still made something out of this.” From my inspiration, a kick in the ass: “I’m going to continue,” DeChambeau said of his workouts, two weeks before the tour’s planned restart. “It’s about continuing to improve and be the best you can be.”

Publication deadline be damned, the story is not complete. I have 19 more rounds to log, and the truth is, I might extend that target further. The adventure, after all, is not in the grail but in its quest, even if that quest requires an ungodly number of squats.

Twenty minutes later, I was on Sterling’s final hole, a reachable par 5. It’s unclear what went through my mind as I swung with all my newfound might. Watching my ball soar into the horizon, I know it wasn’t regret.


JOEL@GOLFDIGEST.COM