Masters Tournament: Is a skinnier Brooks Koepka ready for Augusta?

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 08: Brooks Koepka of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 08: Brooks Koepka of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) /

The Masters Tournament is one that clearly favors long, high-ball hitters, something Brooks Koepka has used to his advantage for some time. But after his recent weight loss, will he have the power to take over at Augusta National?

Brooks Koepka has become one of the premier major championship players over the past two years, winning back-to-back titles at the U.S. Open, and throwing in a two-shot victory over a charging Tiger Woods at the 2018 PGA Championship just for good measure. His is a game that seems tailor-made for the Masters Tournament. But this week, he enters his fourth Masters with some surprising questions about the state of his game.

Consider for the moment that Koepka won his first tournament of the new season, the CJ Cup back in October. As recently as last month, he finished runner-up at the Honda Classic at PGA National. But since then, he’s been in a pretty significant slump. Koepka missed the cut at Bay Hill, finished outside the top-50 at THE PLAYERS Championship, and failed to advance out of his group at the WGC Match Play, despite being a heavy favorite.

There’s one major connector here, as it turns out: Koepka dropped some significant weight in that time frame, rumored to be in advance of a photo shoot that many believe to be ESPN’s annual “Body Issue”. While Koepka has always had a physique to be proud of, he was also a fully functional athlete. He told media on Tuesday at Augusta that his weight-loss diet restricted him to 1800 calories per day, and it wound up sapping a lot of his energy.

“When you go from 212 pounds to 190, there’s not as much weight going forward through the ball,” he said at THE PLAYERS. “I don’t have as much feel. I just feel out of sorts.”

To be fair, Koepka also said that he was working to put the weight back on after Sawgrass, but the results haven’t come back with it. On Tuesday, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee absolutely eviscerated Koepka’s transformation, calling it “vanity” and “reckless”. Watch for yourself.

Whether you normally like Chamblee’s analysis or not (I tend to fall in the former category), it’s hard to argue with his conclusion. Koepka admitted that he lost 10 to 12 yards off the tee during his restricted diet, and he dropped from ninth in strokes gained off-the-tee (a key marker of success at the Masters) down to 61st today. Knowing how important power is at Augusta, can he still stack up?

To me, the issue – surprisingly – won’t be his power. He’s still averaging more than 307 yards off the tee overall this year. He was tenth in the field in driving distance at Sawgrass (299.7 average) and he averaged 300.5 at Bay Hill. He was second at Honda, averaging 312, but there’s one key detail some might be overlooking. Koepka is hitting it shorter, but by no means is he suddenly short off the tee.

A 300-plus driver is never a problem, even at Augusta, but where the power loss may give Koepka a hangover is in his approach game. He’s currently 47th on TOUR in strokes gained on approach, but just 175th in average proximity on approach. If he’s still hitting 6-iron into greens where he may have hit a 7- or 8-iron six months ago, that could be a challenge that’s too large to overcome. These greens are slick enough as it is, hitting lower, quicker approaches might be a recipe for disaster.

Still, shorter players have found a way to come through at the Masters before. Jordan Spieth took care of business in 2015, setting records while only driving 1.4 yards longer than TOUR average. Zach Johnson wasn’t exactly blowing people away off the tee when he won in 2007, either. But where those players made their mark was on the shorter holes at Augusta, specifcally the par-3s. Koepka struggles mightily on those holes, at least compared to the PGA TOUR average. His game is made to destroy par-5s, leaving mere mortals in the dust.

Next. Ranking the ten best players in the history of the Masters. dark

So, while Koepka’s weight loss won’t be the thing that keeps him from winning his second straight major and first green jacket, he’ll need to adapt his game in a way he never has before to triumph on this legendary course. The Masters demands nothing less than a player’s absolute best for four straight days. However this week goes for him, it will be the purest snapshot of his game right now.