Just about any story on Tiger Woods will involve Earl. He died little more than a year ago. Yet Earl Woods still lingers about the room like a comfortable, knowing breeze, inspiring stories, laughter, and smiles. It’s a cool May afternoon in Orlando, and two old acquaintances are discussing those things that shape us into men. Our parents. Our children. Our choices. If we’re fortunate, those choices are guided by the people who raised us, who created the boundaries that shape our behavior and provided the light we follow while pursuing our own goals.
“It’s amazing,” Woods says. “The older I get, the smarter Dad’s gotten. It’s amazing the amount of knowledge I’ve gotten from both of my parents that I use on a daily basis. It’s uncanny how it works out that way.”
Tiger Woods is now a man, as difficult as that may be to grasp. We’ve known him practically all his life—from the grainy footage of his appearance on The Mike Douglas Show through his domination of amateur golf, and during his now-inevitable quest to win more major championships than anyone in the sport’s history. But losing a father changes a young man. In time, after the grieving, he grows. In that way Woods is no different from the rest of us. He’ll be 32 years old before the end of the year, and by midsummer, he’ll become a father. Elin, his wife, is due in July.
Dismissing golf (for now), Tiger Woods can still be considered one of the best athletes on the planet. He’s already the richest, and he just may have the highest business IQ of anyone who’s ever played professional sports. We once wanted to Be Like Mike. Now Mike—Michael Jordan, of course—seeks counsel from Tiger, his BFF. And we all want to Be Like Tiger. We want to swing like Tiger, by any definition of the word. He is the sports icon of our
It sort of crept up on us—this transformation from precocious phenom to champion to man. We grew used to his sweet swing and his make-you-wanna-smack-yourself power, and certainly we grew used to his winning. With 12 major titles, Woods is just six short of Jack Nicklaus’ record, and only the most delusional still doubt he’ll ultimately own the mark. In a sport that used to laud “top-10 finishes,” Woods made winning matter. Who even brags about top-10 finishes anymore? Win or take your balls and go home.
Over the 11 years since he arrived on the PGA Tour—a tall, slim whippet who swung the golf club so violently your own discs slipped—Woods had won a total of 57 tournaments at the time we chatted, fifth on the all-time list and 25 behind the legendary Sam Snead. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, tied with 31 wins each, were the next current Tour players on the list.
And Woods has won so much booty—money, you filthy-minded slugs—that we stopped counting long ago. He’s already pocketed more Tour cash (nearly $70 million) than anyone in history—even when you take inflation into account. After all, he pretty much captures the annual money crown playing only half as many tournaments as the typical Tour swinger. In 2006, he won nearly $10 million in just 15 tournaments; Ameri- can Jim Furyk, No. 2 on the money list, won $7.2 mil, but he needed 24 outings to do so. Heading into summer, Woods had banked a bit more than $4 mil this year, pocket change ahead of Mickelson. But Phil teed it up 12 times for those checks; Woods had only played in seven tournaments.
Of course, tournament cash is really Woods’ play money. His financial empire is being built away from any fair- ways, greens, or bunkers. His lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Buick, American Express, Accenture, and other Fortune 500s already make him the highest-paid athlete ever. Last year, he was the top jock on the Forbes Celebrity 100, with $90 million in earnings. But like the most truly business-minded athletes before him—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Magic Johnson, and others—Woods isn’t satisfied with mere product-pitching money. He wants to own a stake in the game—or a few. Late last year he formed Tiger Woods Design, a global golf-course design firm that will seek to build courses on unique sites around the world. And earlier this year, after hints that Woods might start his own tour began floating in the wing (as if he doesn’t “own” the Tour already), he made a deal with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to create a tournament in the nation’s capital that is set to debut this Fourth of July weekend. The
announcement last March prompted some whining from a few Tour pros, who were concerned they might get excluded from the tournament’s limited field (120 players). But the AT&T National will be played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., with a $6 million purse. Charitable proceeds from the event will help build the second Tiger Woods Learning Center, in the Washington, D.C., area. (The $25 million, 35,000-square-foot TWLC in Anaheim, Calif., opened in February 2006.) “It’s just another tournament,” Woods said. Uh-huh.
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 fore- arms 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, Woods carried only 158 pounds on his 6’2″ frame. Today, he weighs between 182 and 185—a gain of nearly 30 pounds.In ’96, his waist measured 29 inches; today, it’s 31.
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’ 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’ training defies convention. For one, he works out as many as six days each week, including when he’s playing in a tournament. “Some- times, he’ll take two days o≠,” 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.”
Kleven’s philosophy begins and ends with posture and physical symmetry. “Posture is my number one concern,” Kleven says. “I’ve always tried to maintain a perfect state of posture for both his upper and lower quarters. Power with speed, combined with making sure both sides of his body are balanced and symmetrical.”
The regimen Kleven developed for Woods uses different “systems” (free weights, machines, balls, and rollers), and it has two specific components: Manual Therapy: A system of extensive stretching (34 to 40 minutes before each workout) and manipulation/mobilization of Woods’ muscles and joints. “This involves everything from his cervical spine to his toes,” says Kleven, adding that this element is essential for allowing Woods to maintain the kind of flexibility throughout his body that allows him to release his trademark power. “We make sure to release the joints and at the same time strengthen the tissue and produce balance and freedom of movement.” High-Rep Weight Training: This program features higher reps (often 25 to 50) and submaximal weights, rather than the sets of 6–12 reps with heavier weights favored by bodybuilders and others trying to add size. “We’re working for balance, control, endurance, and speed,” says Kleven.
Woods lifts to enhance his entire body, with a specific emphasis on the back and shoulders (“Because we’re always hunched over and we need our back muscles to support our posture and our swing,” he says); legs (“That’s the platform for everything”); and chest (“Yes [I bench-press], but I don’t like it. I do it to change it up, to shock the muscles. I just do it to get that muscle group stronger. I’ll hit ’em The maturation of Tiger Woods is a tale of physical growth and a longtime respect for the game. He decided long ago to “treat golf as a sport.” “I let other people treat it like a hobby,” he says. “It would be asinine for someone not to work out and go play football. It doesn’t make sense for golf, either.”
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.”
Woods says he occasionally challenges himself in the weight room (are you really surprised?). “Sometimes I do,” he says. “It depends. Sometimes I do it just to maintain the power in the muscles. And other times, when I’m trying to get my weight back that I lost at a tournament, then I’ll push myself a little bit.” He rarely lifts a lot of weight, he says, sometimes adding plates more to break up the routine than to flaunt testosterone. “No, never,” he says when asked if he’s as competitive in the weight room as on the course. “No. That’s the stupid way of lifting. I’ve never, ever hurt myself lifting. I hear people say, ‘I hurt this,’ or ‘I hurt that.’ I don’t even know what that feels like. I’ve been sore, but I’ve always been able to function and do whatever I wanted to. A lot of people have had injuries or been so sore they can’t do anything. I’ve never experienced that. Some people let their ego get in the way. You have to listen to your inner self. Your body knows what it can and can’t handle. It knows when it can be pushed and when you just need to back off a little bit.”
Woods enhances his weight training with extensive core training (“I like doing situps, thoroughly enjoy them,” he says. “I think they’re fun. You have that lactic acid buildup and you can still go through it. I just enjoy the feeling of it.”) and running, including three-mile “speed” runs and “endurance” runs of up to seven miles. (“I just enjoy running; it’s fun to me,” says Woods. “Some people hate it. But I get a nice sense of calm in running. I just find it peaceful.”)
Nutritionally, Kleven says Woods is also an ideal client and easy to keep happy at the dinner table. “He eats extremely well,” the trainer says. “Great on vegetables, good on protein, stays away from fats, lots of fish, and doesn’t eat junk food at all.”
In fact, during our chat Woods was passionate about educating young people about the importance of fitness and proper nutrition. Moreover, he says it’s a key component of the educational program at the Tiger Woods Learning Center. “[Kids] need to know what they’re eating; put that in the story,” he said. “From there, it’s up to them to make the right choices if those choices impact their ability to achieve their dreams.”
Regarding supplements, Woods seeks “good bone protection and supplements he needs for nutritional support,” Kleven says. Specifically, Woods takes Nutriex and Ortho-Bone products.
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.’”
In truth, before Woods arrived on the Tour there was no “bar.” Not when it came to fitness, which was anathema to golfers, like stylish pants. “There was no one in the gym,” Woods recalls of his early days on the Tour. “There was just me.” Of course, Woods’ success changed everything in golf—from the size of the crowds, purses, and television viewership that suddenly was attracted to what was once an elitist sport, to the size of the average waist among Tour pros. Today, fitness is a dawn-to-dusk passion for many pros. At each official event, the Tour provides two 48-foot trailers with about 1,500 square feet of space. One is dedicated to physical therapy (rehab and preventive); the other, to physical conditioning. The trailers open about one and a half hours prior to the first tee time and remain open until dark.
Since Woods turned pro, the distance off the tee of the Tour’s biggest hitters has increased from 302 yards to a high of 321.4. Technology is typically credited for the incredible surge, but Woods thinks the increased emphasis on fitness also played a role. “The equipment is part of it; there’s no doubt about it,” he says. “But it’s not the entire puzzle. Guys’ bodies have changed dramatically. Now there are trainers that travel along with the tour, trainers that travel with certain guys on the tour. The guys have gotten bigger, stronger, more fit. They have more speed and are hitting the ball farther, not just because of equipment but also because our physical nature has changed.”
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. “Some matured earlier on my mom’s side but on my dad’s side they always matured later, physically,” Woods says. “Dad would say, ‘You probably won’t hit your optimal weight until you’re 30 or 35.’ I said, ‘I’m trying to put on weight.’ He said, ‘It ain’t gonna happen. When the body says it’s time to fill out it’ll fill out.’ 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.”
Fitness in golf isn’t simply about striking the ball harder or farther, Woods says. Physical fitness directly impacts mental fitness—the ability to weather the pressure of a one-shot lead with two holes to play on Sunday while others wilt, to execute the shot (be it a drive down a tight fairway, an approach over water to a tight pin, or a 20-foot putt with a nasty break) when one swing can be the difference between winning and, well, bragging about a top-10 finish.
The mental fatigue, coupled with the jarring action of the golf swing itself, takes a real toll. Add that golf essentially has no off-season, and it’s easy to discern why pros are finally striving for six-packs rather than reaching for them. “In golf, you are in a continual maintenance phase,” Woods says. “That’s probably the best way I can explain it, because you’re always playing. Hence, you’re always trying to gain a little after you lose a little. You’re always trying to recover. You’re not trying to make the big, drastic gains some [athletes] are trying to make, because we really don’t have an off-season. Once our tour ended the last week of October, sometimes first week in November, but guys used to go play in Asia, South Africa, or Australia [during those last two months]. So that time is covered. Next thing you know, it’s the first week in January and we’re teeing it up again.
“My best friend is, obviously, Michael Jordan, and he had a whole off-season to build up. Same with [Derek] Jeter. He has an off-season to build up, but then he’s in a continuous maintenance phase as well, because he has to play so many games. He’s always trying to maintain what [fitness and weight gain] he has. For us, that’s all we’re doing all year long.”
Many weekend golfers are reluctant to lift weights during golf season for fear of getting bulky and tight, unable to swing free and smooth. Any advice, Tiger? “There is a thing called stretching,” he says, flashing a mischievous smile rarely seen during competition. “I know that might be a new concept for some people.”
Another new concept? Family. “Elin and I were talking about that a while ago,” Woods says. The subject now is fatherhood, the next piece of the transition and maturation of Tiger Woods. “It still seems so far away. But then again it’s so close. It snuck up on us a lot faster [than we thought it would]. I don’t know [what it’s going to be like]. I really don’t know. My friends have explained to me it’s like having a puppy, which I’ve had, just a million times harder. My caddy, whom I’m very close to, just had kids; my agent [Mark] Steinberg’s kid is 10 weeks old now. They tell me about the lack of sleep, that your sleep patterns are all messed up, how hard it is for the first three months or so. And that’s right in the middle of my season, so it’s gonna be hard.”
Just how hard, Woods confesses, he hasn’t a clue. He says he can deal with the sleep deprivation because he currently doesn’t sleep much anyway. “Five [hours] would be great, if I ever got five,” he says. “It’s usually less than that. Ever since college, when I used to have to pull two all-nighters in a row because I was so far behind, my body just became accustomed to not getting much sleep, and I haven’t slept much since.”
And he probably won’t again for quite a while. “I know, it’s scary isn’t it?” Woods says with a quiet smile. When he speaks about the kind of father he hopes to be, Earl creeps into the room again, and the son indeed sounds as if he’d be pleased to emulate the man who shaped him. “I just hope to be a parent that would raise a child to make the proper decisions,” he says. “Instill in them the knowledge to make the right choices, the core values, things you don’t understand as a kid but when you get to the fork in the road and start reflecting, it gets pretty easy to make those decisions. And [raise them to be] someone who’ll make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Woods pauses, then asks his own question. “They say [parenting’s] the most rewarding thing and the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. That true?”
I tell him it’s all that, and scary, too. I tell him it’s scary because all of a sudden you realize you’re responsible for a life, for their very survival. And that’s frightening. I also tell him it’s a feeling you’ll never have with anything else in life. I tell him being a father is the best thing we’ll ever do.
He smiles. “I’m looking forward to that.”