It is a relatively quiet period in pro golf, which makes it the perfect time for a big, juicy nothingburger of controversy. The other day, Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee, in a conference call with reporters, took aim at Rory McIlroy’s weight-training regimen. Alluding to Tiger Woods and claims that the 14-time major winner’s fondness for hardcore conditioning may have contributed to his physical decline and diminished results, Chamblee said that “it does give a little concern when I see the extensive weightlifting that Rory is doing in the gym.” His comments did not sit well with McIlroy.
The Irish golfer, who has won four majors and is ranked third in the world, responded via Twitter, posting a video of himself doing squats, followed up with a tweet describing his workout (according to McIlroy, the video was of the last of three sets of squats at 265 pounds; he said he had also done 3×10 at 225 pounds). A few years ago, McIlroy was a roly-poly kid who just happened to be able to crush 300-yard drives. Now, he’s a 26-year-old man with some definition to his biceps and abs. There is zero evidence that weight training has impaired his game. In fact, McIlroy says that the added strength has made it easier to hit those monster drives — he doesn’t have to launch himself into the ball with quite as much force as he did before. His lower back and knees have presumably thanked him.
There is a lot of discussion in golf circles about the benefits of fitness training. Most of that discussion centers around Woods, and rightly so: He brought a degree of athleticism to golf that the sport had never seen, and really revolutionized the professional game. Woods was fanatical about conditioning work, he dominated the sport as no one had ever dominated it, and other players, surmising that these two facts were not unrelated, began hitting the gym themselves. Sure, there are still chubby guys on the pro tour, but many fewer than there were a generation ago; lean and fit has become the standard profile. It may be that Woods took the weightlifting and running too far. His arms got to be very bulked up, and this may have impaired his flexibility and hand speed. In a book published in 2012, Hank Haney, Woods’s former swing coach, claimed that Woods blew out a knee while training with Navy SEALs and hurt his Achilles by doing high-intensity weight training. Haney said Woods was a fitness fanatic in part because he wanted to be seen as a real athlete.
Whether or not Woods overdid it, his desire to be seen as a real athlete was no bad thing. We live in an era in which people are very fitness-conscious, and to the extent that pro golf can present itself as a real sport with real athletes, that’s a boon for the game. A chiseled McIlroy is much better than a flabby one.