Thursday 19 October 2017

Body of evidence

The cover of Vanity Fair which shows Tiger Woods' impressive physique.
The cover of Vanity Fair which shows Tiger Woods' impressive physique.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say -- and when the photos of a ripped and stripped Tiger Woods in 'Vanity Fair' magazine hits the news stands this week, a lot of guys and girls will take a peep.

For some golf-obsessed males, the attraction will be seeing the moulded contours of a body that launched Tiger from raw rookie pro in 1996 to the man who has 14 Major titles on his CV.

They've heard all about his athleticism and dedication, but golf shirts and trousers don't do justice to the outcome of sweat and grind in the gym.

Other guys will want to see the body that attracted nubile females to hurl themselves at arguably the best-known sportsman on the planet, and do some quiet comparisons.

They might well eyeball the muscular contours and feel inspired to take to the treadmills and weights

As for the girls ... well, they'll probably want to see the pecs and abs that played bump and grind with those free-spirited members of the sisterhood who played around (pun intended) with him.

It might not be cool to admit it, particularly if they're married or in relationships, but wouldn't the lady readers of the magazine be tickled by at least a smidgin of curiosity about Tiger's physical attractiveness?

Enough of all that, I say!

What's interesting to golfers about the photos -- which, remember, were taken in 2006 and might not have got an airing but for the recent scandal -- is that they show just how Tiger succeeded in creating a body of which any athlete would be proud.

This aspect of the Tiger phenomenon was done as part of the moulding process by which his father and advisors developed every part of Woods' golf game.

A healthy, fit body was one thing -- but Tiger raised the bar really high for the rest of the Tour pros, and the cute ones didn't wait too long to follow his example.

You just have to see the photos of Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley when they won the World Cup in 1997, a year after Harrington had turned pro: young men, healthy, fit enough to play tournament golf.

In fact, at the time, they would have been considered as examples of the modern golfer in good shape.

But 1997 was also the year Tiger won his first Major, cleaning out the Masters by a phenomenal 12-stroke margin. Woods was already making headlines, but the manner of his blitzkrieg at Augusta just opened the floodgates.

Fitness, athleticism, and golf-specific exercise programmes were put firmly on the agenda.

Harrington and McGinley were only two of the ambitious professionals who gradually began to seek out a new way of working with their body to maximise their potential.

It was about stamina and performance, but also about reducing the risk of injury and enabling the body to cope with the constant stress of practice and the work ethic of which Tiger was the High Priest.

What is noticeable about those photos of Harrington and McGinley is that their body fat in 1997 was considerably reduced a few years later as they developed their fitness regime, and has stayed that way.

Their performances haven't been too shabby in the last 10 years or so. Three Majors for Harrington, and Ryder Cup heroics and a Volvo Masters for McGinley, have justified every effort they made on and off course.

Is it necessary for the modern player to place a big emphasis on the physical?

What about those who say, 'yeah, in every generation the 'round bellies' like Lee Trevino, Craig Stadler, and Fuzzy Zoeller could win Majors, and so did John Daly, so golfers don't need to train like athletes to be successful'?

Interesting point. And indeed, Harrington himself has said: "Over the years we've seen guys who aren't the most physically fit be successful on Tour.

"I really just started to get serious about fitness in 2000, so it is possible to get by without working out, but I think most people need to work out to at least maintain flexibility.

"I went through a phase where I did a lot of cardio, but I think I realised I don't necessarily need to be 'cardio fit'.

"I still do some cardio and strength training, but I mainly focus on stretching, working with bands, etc. I can do a lot of my work in the hotel room and do about an hour a day. That keeps me going."

Expertise

Harrington is very much involved with the knowledge and expertise available in the Titleist Performance Institute in America.

This centre is recognised by leading players and coaches as a facility where cutting-edge research into the swing and the elements of bio-mechanics relating to golf is continually updated.

That such a centre exists is largely a response to the Tiger effect, and the multi-millions of dollars and euro on offer on the global golf Tours.

Put simply, no serious player is prepared to take a chance on his or her livelihood by ignoring the importance of flexibility and fitness.

The younger generation buy into that stuff, but some who tried to gain an edge by taking to the gym when it was not so fashionable found it didn't work out.

Nick Faldo was a case in point. Faldo at one stage used weight training but discovered it caused more problems than it solved, because the routines were strengthening muscles in a way that affected his swing.

Others who were clearly talented, but not by nature inclined to hit the gym, inevitably fell under the influence of the get-fit-to-compete-at-the-highest-level syndrome. Prime examples were Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke: big-boned men who were never destined to live on lettuce leaves.

They have each at times shed significant loads of weight, but did it help their golf swing or their golf game?

Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood have solid builds, and have trimmed down at different stages. Each of them was successful before and after their diet/fitness changes, but it's a moot point whether either man needs, or is destined, to get the poundage off and keep it off indefinitely.

Gary Evans, former Tour pro now in golf management with the Green17 agency, believes that golfers have to be cautious about making changes to their body shape.

banjo

"Some golfers, when they have lost weight, have found their game has gone down the toilet," he says. "Russell Claydon was a classic example. He was 18 or 19 stone for years. He lost four stone one year, and couldn't hit a cow's behind with a banjo.

"Any player who has played golf a certain way for a long time has to be very careful when they suddenly go on a fitness regime.

"If they get the wrong advice and don't train with somebody that understands a golf swing, and understands which elements are very important and which aren't, they could find it very difficult to perform.

"For example, if you're a professional golfer in your mid-thirties and you've never been in a gym, is it a dangerous game to play? I'm one of the people who thinks it is.

"It's different when you're Tiger Woods and you're 12 and you get chucked in a gym and you're told 'this is what we're going to do' and you build a swing around an entire lifestyle -- the way he eats, the way he sleeps, the way he trains.

"That's so regimented, and very few people can do that.

"Many people have tried it. I remember Howard Clark tried it, Faldo and others tried it and a lot of them fell foul of it because they hadn't done it in their life.

"John Daly -- he went and had a gastric band operation. Does it make him a better golfer? I don't know.

"He has lived his life a certain way. He's made some decisions that I'm sure a lot of us would disagree with, but it's his life.

"If you're representative of a brand, and a brand is coming for you because of the way you look, it's a different kettle of fish."

In fairness, Tiger did not re-invent the wheel in terms of putting attention on physical fitness. The difference is that so many of his peers followed suit, because they felt they had to do so in order to raise their game.

Gary Player, the diminutive South African golfing legend, has extolled the benefits of exercise for the last 50 years.

Necessity was his motivation, but then it became a way of life.

Player decided he had to do something different when he played his first Masters in 1957.

He found that he was unable to hit the par-5s at Augusta in two, while leading contenders, including Arnold Palmer, could do so with relative ease.

The South African embarked on a weight-training and exercise regime and lifted his game to new heights. He won his first British Open in 1959 and his first Masters in 1961 and finished his career with nine Majors on the main Tours.

For years Player was looked on as a bit of a crank by his peers for his enthusiastic endorsement of the fitness ethic, but it paid off for him.

Jack Nicklaus freely admits that for his first eight years on Tour, he had a heavy build, weighing around 15st 5lbs, but the turning-point came in the 1969 Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale.

This was the event in which Nicklaus famously conceded a half on the last green to Tony Jacklin, which ensured the match was tied at 14 points each.

Nicklaus' gesture was noble and hailed as such, and everyone was a winner, as Jacklin was saved a potential embarrassment after a great tussle and the drawn match ensure that USA retained the Cup.

The format that year was for two singles series on the last day, and Nicklaus became concerned when he felt tired on the golf course for the first time in his life.

At that point he decided he might need to lose weight, and did so successfully, taking off over 20 pounds.

Trimmer

The Golden Bear also let his hair grow and between the trimmer figure and the more trendy look, he received plenty of approval from media and fans.

Nicklaus appreciated it, as he had received plenty of adverse comments about being 'fat' when he first came on the scene.

This is an aspect that in the wider world as well as in sport has been overlooked.

Women are bombarded with images of air-brushed, stick-thin models and actresses, with the result that levels of bulimia and anorexia are soaring.

Men -- including top

golfers -- are in danger of falling prey to the same influences and anxieties about their body shape.

Nicklaus wrote in his autobiography 'Jack Nicklaus My Story' (Ebury Press) about his post-1969 Ryder Cup decision to shed some excess baggage.

"Soon people were telling me I looked younger and less Teutonic, and all kinds of nice things, and from then on I just kept up with the times in what I wore and how I had my hair cut.

"The positive impact my new 'image' made on the fans is an interesting insight into the importance of what are really superficialities in people's judgement of others.

"What I can assure you is that, however radical the exterior metamorphosis, it was not accompanied by any significant interior changes.

"I may have looked different, but I did not feel different. And I sure hope I didn't act differently."

Nicklaus' comment is relevant to the modern pros. It would seem that if they want to lose weight and get fit, they'd better be motivated by a desire to enhance their golf performance and reduce the risk of injury.

But if they think it's all about showing off their Schwarzenegger-type muscles to the world, then they could be going down the wrong road.

As for Tiger and 'Vanity Fair', when he posed for those photos he never dreamed of the context in which they would be displayed.

Maybe that's another good reason for the golf pros to keep their muscular frames under the wrap of their branded golf-shirts and trousers!

Irish Independent

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