Baseball’s two highest paid players, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, have been revealed to be performance-enhancing drug cheaters over the last year, making golf seem like the last haven of non-mutant competitors.
Yet, is it?
Normally, Tiger Woods is the most private of superstars. Early in his career, Michael Jordan taught him how to politely answer press questions without saying anything. Pro golfers are typically extremely boring interviewees who never want to stir up controversy (until they retire, when they blossom into cranky old codgers with dirt to dish on everybody), and Tiger is blander than most.
With Tiger, everything is focused on winning. For example, I’ve never heard of the lovely Mrs. Woods being photographed at any movie premieres or fashion shows or other glamorous events that you might think the beautiful young wife of a zillionaire might patronize. A couple of winters ago during the offseason, Tiger extended a rare invitation to a couple of other pros (I think Charles Howell III was one of the two) to stay at his Florida mansion with them. Touring pros live luxuriously (often driving Ferraris), but the two grinders were looking forward to finding out what life is like for the world’s other 0.00000001%. It turned out to be less glitzy than they’d imagined: their host said goodnight to them every evening at 8:30 pm and was on the rowing machine every morning at 5:30 am.
A commenter on my blog pointed out this article in Men’s Fitness from 2007, when Tiger Woods was 31. It’s surprising because, after reading it, I would never have expected Tiger to give his Las Vegas weightlifting trainer permission to talk to the press about Tiger’s workout regimen. In the article, Tiger sounds reasonable and moderate about his weightlifting, but his trainer, Keith Kleven, sounds rather like all the musclehead trainers we’ve been hearing about in connection with steroid scandals in this decade.
By Roy S. Johnson
Looking back, we grew used to all things Tiger. Then one day, he was different. He was married—to a stunningly beautiful Swedish former model. He lost his father. And suddenly, so it seemed, he was ripped. No longer gecko-thin, he was a broad-shouldered beast with sculpted forearms and lats that seemed ready to burst from the back of his expensive golf shirts. “Pound for pound,” says Keith Kleven, who’s trained Woods throughout his pro career, “I put him with any athlete around.”
Now, through a mixture of a unique weight-training regimen, distance running, and late-blooming genes, Woods is about as fit as any athlete alive, and he’s as physically different today from his early pro years as a sumo wrestler is from Chuck Liddell. When he joined the Tour out of Stanford in 1996 [at age 20], Woods carried only 158 pounds on his 6’2” frame. [More like 6’0.5”]. Today, he weighs between 182 and 185—a gain of nearly 30 pounds. In ’96, his waist measured 29 inches; today, it’s 31.
My anonymous commenter says:
Roy S. Johnson’s article goes on:
The gains are evenly distributed. His upper body is clearly larger. “And my legs,” he says. “Definitely not my calves, though. They have never grown—at all. It’s just funny.”
Not surprisingly, Woods is as passionate about his fitness as he is about his swing. Kleven calls Woods’s training sessions “two to three hours of focus.” “He loves to work out,” Kleven says. “A lot of athletes don’t like to train; he thrives on it.”
Woods gave Men’s Fitness unique insights into his regimen and exclusive access to Kleven, his Las Vegas–based trainer, who has a master’s degree in physical therapy and is certified as an athletic trainer. Almost everything about Woods’s training defies convention. For one, he works out as many as six days each week, including when he’s playing in a tournament. “Sometimes, he’ll take two days off,” says Kleven. “But we alternate between different [routines], which allows him to be active all the time. Where the philosophy that you can only work out hard two or three times a week came from I don’t know. I know we produce better athletes by working five or six days a week.”
Well, the philosophy came from the pre-performance-enhancing drug era. One of the reasons that juicers like Barry Bonds seldom feel guilty about taking steroids is because the stuff doesn’t add muscle by magic. You have to lift huge amounts of weight. What it does is it lets your body recover faster so you can lift more weights than you could naturally. But you still have to do the work in the weight room. So the Barry Bondses tend to feel that they earned their extra muscle.
We know a lot about Barry Bonds’s workout regimens before and after he started juicing in 1999. Before the drugs, he had been a great player, a three-time MVP, a guy who had hit 46 homers. Barry was intensely competitive and extremely focused on fitness (his father Bobby Bonds had been a great talent, but had missed out on the Hall of Fame because he had been poorly managed and because he was a smoker and a drinker). But even Barry Bonds’s body could only manage about 15 minutes of lifting a day during the baseball season before ‘roids. And he wasn’t ripped until he started juicing.
Tiger isn’t ridiculous looking by any means. He looks great, not bizarre like some other athletes recently. But, this Kleven guy keeps trying to make him sound like the older Roger Clemens in the weight room:
Right now, Kleven says, Woods’ lifting level is “off the charts.” He wouldn’t talk specific weights but said Woods recently reached new highs. “His endurance and strength allows us to do more reps at high levels [of weight] than normally seen in a golfer. His resistance for high reps is extremely high.” [...]
Former Tour great Gary Player, who has long been known as one of the fittest men in golf, told the New York Times about running into Woods earlier this year lifting weights—working delts and pecs—on a day he was set to tee it up in a tournament. “This, to me, was incredible,” Player, 71, was quoted as saying. “I thought I was seeing things. Here he was pumping this iron, and I said, ‘Well, he’s raised the bar even further.’”
Gary Player is the epitome of the elder golfer who loves to stir up trouble, so I’m not confident that his comment was intended to be a benign blessing. From a July 18, 2007 AP article:
Gary Player put steroids at the forefront of the British Open on Wednesday, saying golf has its head buried in a bunker if it thinks the sport is clean and he knows of one player using performance-enhancing drugs. The nine-time major champion urged golf organizations to start random testing. …
“I took an oath prior to him telling me—I won’t tell you where—but he told me what he did, and I could see this massive change in him,” Player said. “And somebody else told me something, that I also promised I wouldn’t tell, that verified others had done it.” …
Tiger Woods, who last year said he would like to see the PGA Tour begin drug testing as quickly as possible, was asked Tuesday if he would be surprised if a golfer tested positive for drug use.
“If anything, probably out here it would be testing positive for maybe being hung over a little bit,” Woods said. “But that’s about it. I know some guys have taken Medrol packs for inflammation in their wrists, but other than that, I really don’t see anybody doing anything, or have heard anybody doing anything.” ...
Player said he felt 50 to 60 percent of athletes in the world are using performance-enhancing drugs. When asked for a number of golfers, he estimated 10. “I might be way out,” Player said. “Definitely not going to be lower, but might be a hell of a lot more.”
Back to the Men’s Fitness article:
Interestingly, Woods didn’t see any real results from his dedication to weight training and fitness until just a few years ago. Earl warned him not to expect his slender body to swell quickly, because men on both branches of the family tree didn’t generally fill out until their mid- to late-20s. … I would lift and not show any signs of weight gain at all. I ate terribly back then. So I started to eat healthy. Still didn’t work, so I’d mix it up. Eat terrible. Eat well. Nothing worked. I couldn’t gain weight.
“Around my mid-20s I changed naturally. I was actually able to lay down muscle for the first time, and I was able to keep it,” he says. “It was exciting. I’d never experienced that before. It was nice to feel stronger. All that work was starting to show up.”
Adding lots of muscle in your mid-to-late 20s is hardly as implausible as Barry Bonds adding lots of muscle in his mid-to-late 30s.
You see big jumps in power in their mid-20s with baseball players from before the steroid era: Stan Musial and Carl Yastrzemski were doubles and triples hitters before becoming home run hitters at age 27. Yaz’s homer peak was 20 in his first six seasons, then he hit 40 or more three times from age 27 to 30.
The typical baseball player peaks at 27 or so, but superstars often blossom earlier—Mickey Mantle hit 52 homers at age 24, Willie Mays 51 at age 24, Hank Aaron 44 at 23, and Lou Gehrig 47 at 23.
I’m inclined to credit Tiger’s explanation that his recent enlargement is just late-blooming genes combined with intense weightlifting. It’s hard to understand why he might bother with something physically risky and scandal prone.
Golf really isn’t that hard. There just isn’t all that much competition from great athletes. What it is is an extremely complex and expensive game. To be a top golfer at 25-30, you normally have to start playing relentlessly by age 10 to 12. (A common explanation for why Greg Norman never quite lived up to his potential is that he didn’t start playing golf until he was 16.) And that’s just very rare—only a few percent of boys do that, so there isn’t that much competition from great athletes. It’s mostly just sons of country club dads (or in Tiger’s case, a military golf-course dad).
And huge muscles aren’t necessary to hit the ball far. Tiger was driving the ball 270 as a skinny 15-year-old child in 1991 (using obsolete 1991 technology) when he won his first of three USGA Junior Championship for (which is normally won by 17-year-olds). When he showed up for his first Masters at age 18 in 1995, he led the field in distance off the tee despite his slight frame.
Tiger’s peak season was arguably at age 24 in 2000, when he won three of four major championships—winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes, wearing a shirt that looked two sizes too big for him.
(On the other hand, he was ahead of other golfers in fitness sophistication in 2000, but less so later in the decade. And the typical pattern of PED-user is to start out as a dedicated lifter, then max out when you hit your genetic limits, then turn to drugs to get over the plateau.)
And he doesn’t have to outdrive everybody else. He has so many other advantages, such as focused intelligence—Tiger makes Jack Nicklaus, who mentally intimidated everybody in golf in the 1960s and 1970s, look like Phil Mickelson when it comes to on-course decision-making.
So, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the muscle is all natural. Still, I’d be a lot more confident if I hadn’t read this Men’s Fitness article.
Or maybe he’s just superhuman.
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