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.”