LA QUINTA, Calif. – Brendan Steele is a native of nearby Idyllwild, Calif., a town nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, and as a kid attended the Bob Hope Classic a few times with his father and brother.
He remembers once getting an autograph from his favorite player, Corey Pavin. Years later, when Steele won the 2011 Valero Texas Open, Pavin made a congratulatory call upon hearing that he was Steele’s idol.
“Kind of a cool story,” Steele said.
Now Steele, 30, is back at what qualifies as his hometown tournament, now called the Humana Challenge, and is kind of a cool story once more.
To wit: He prepared for his 2014 debut by strength-training for several weeks using the Russian Conjugate Method, a type of strength training that combines three different methods of weightlifting. Then he scrambled around the past couple of days finding fill-in caddies because his usual looper had visa issues upon landing in Los Angeles on Sunday and was immediately sent back to New Zealand. Finally, for this week, he hired a former California-Riverside teammate as his looper – a big, burly Los Angeles policeman who is wearing a pink cast because he broke a wrist when crashing his motorcycle recently.
Usual PGA Tour stuff.
Now Brendan Steele might not win the Humana Challenge, but he seems to be the tournament’s early leader with regard to human interest. Before we get into Russian heavy lifting, let’s focus on the immigration blockage at LAX and the fact that Kiwi Sam Pinfold has had better days than the most recent sabbath.
“They treated him kind of like a criminal and turned him around with two guards that made sure he got onto a plan straight back to New Zealand,” said Steele, who will use temporary caddies on the West Coast until the situation is sorted out.
Steele’s understanding is that Pinfold could work for a foreign player in the United States but not an American. Whatever, he turned to cop pal Will Farish for this week.
“He’ll be easy to spot because he’s 6-4, 225 and (he has) a big pink cast on his wrist,” Steele said. “It should be fun having him out, but we hope Sam can get back as soon as possible.”
You may know Steele by that Valero victory and the fact he contended in the PGA Championship that year in Atlanta, too, until a final-round 77. He lapsed into a slump after that, blaming a bad attitude. He says he was too hard on himself and didn’t give his best when out of tournament contention.
But now he’s nothing if not committed, particularly with regard to trying to improve his body and performance via intense exercise and strict diet. If you’ve seen Steele over the years, you know he’s tall (6-2) and lean (182 pounds). The mind’s eye says that if he turned sideways and stuck out his tongue, he’d resemble a zipper.
That is particularly the case now. He used to be fat-skinny. Now he’s ripped-skinny. There’s no sign of a stomach. He weighs 7 pounds more than he did 13 months ago when he started the program, but his body fat has dropped from 16 percent to 8 percent since he ditched a high-carbohydrate diet of pizza and pasta, and focused more on protein.
“Before, I was kind of just playing how I played in college, which was just eat whatever I want, do whatever I want and then go out and hope I played well,” Steele said. “My body fat was high even though I would look skinny. It’s a big change.”
He has more energy. He says he’s probably “three times” as strong. His swing speed and carry distance have improved. He has avoided injury, as well.
When he started training, he’d bench press 65 pounds eight times. Charles Atlas, he wasn’t. Now he can pump up 180 pounds three times.
His power improved and waistline shrank thanks in part to the Russian Conjugate Method, forcing him to alter his driver and putter. His trainer, Brad Davidson of Irvine, Calif., prefers that system over golf-specific exercises, Steele said, because “why work what you’re already good at? The idea is to get stronger. He treats me like a forward in the NHL who wants to work on his slap shot and endurance.”
Hence, you’ll see Steele in the gym doing heavy upper-body lifting one day, heavy leg work the next, followed by separate days of high-repetition resistance training in those areas.
“It keeps your body kind of in shock the whole time for big strength gains,” Steele said.
Steele finished in the top 25 last fall in his last two starts of this 2013-14 wraparound season. He sounds like someone who expects to improve upon his 81st place in the 2013 FedEx Cup standings and have his best season yet.
“Being stronger, I can get the club more in the position that I want to, so I feel it’s definitely a big advantage,” Steele said.
If he and a large sidekick wearing a pink cast get considerable TV air time Sunday afternoon, you’ll really know this man of steel is on to something.