Inspired by Bryson DeChambeau’s physical transformation, Joel Beall went on a quest to pack on 15 kilograms of muscle in search of more distance.
It’s unclear when I realised 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 KFC 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.
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.
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 260-metre pop there were five 2250-metre “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 late last year that DeChambeau was in the process of remoulding his body for added length, while some pundits snickered, I was enthralled.
“I like to push the limits,” DeChambeau said. Unlike me, DeChambeau was far from lost. The former NCAA and US 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 276.6 metres 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 11 kilograms 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 more than 17 metres (293.8) 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 15 kilograms in three months in hopes of a 20-metre 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.
There was a common refrain from the fitness community when I brought up this project. (1) Please lose this e-mail. (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, Connecticut. 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 185 centimetres and 75 kilograms, 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 15 kilograms, we were going to track driving distance and speed increases. Our starting numbers, via Golfzon simulator: 261.9 metres (250.8-metre carry), 163.6-miles-per-hour ball speed and 113.5mph clubhead speed. Gaydorus said we could blow past the 300-yard (274-metre) barrier with ease, which was the most scintillating thing another man has ever said to me.
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. (The 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 three-and-a-half kilograms. 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 US Open and World Long Drive qualifying. Gaydorus’ daily e-mails, 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.
We were beginning Phase 2 of the “Get Big like Bryson” plan when it seemed like the whole world began shutting all non-essential businesses on March 16 in the 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-energised, especially as it dawned on me that… well, ostensibly… “Yes,” Gaydorus said, reading my mind. “This is basically a ‘Rocky IV’ workout.”
Appropriate, as DeChambeau was turning into my personal Ivan Drago. You see, Bryson had continued his offseason overhaul into the northern spring, posting the dividends on social media – highlighted by ball speeds of more than 200mph – 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 neighbours put their houses on the market.) Courses were closed, so I upped the SuperSpeed program and made 100 swings every day.
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 line-up. 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 two-and-a-bit kilograms. With a month to go, I knew the battle, at least on the weight front, was lost. But, channelling 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: eight kilograms. Nearly 60 percent of my objective.
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: 271.2 metres (260.7-metre carry), 174.2mph ball speed, 117.8 clubhead 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. The gains were evident. In missiles, highlighted by reaching the fringe on the 299-metre third. In misfires that made me realise 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.
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. The gains were evident. In missiles, highlighted by reaching the fringe on the 299-metre third. In misfires that made me realise 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.
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 the 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.