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Fitness the biggest trend in pro golf

Fitness the biggest trend in pro golf

The biggest trend on the PGA Tour is not found in the bag, but in the gym.

One of the hot spots during the Mercedes Championships was the exercise room at Kapalua Ritz-Carlton. Players put in as much time on the treadmill as on the putting green. They were pumping iron in the morning and swinging irons in the afternoon.

Among them was David Duval, who has become so buff that one reporter was prompted to ask, "Who is more an idol of yours: Charles Atlas or Sam Snead?"

Duval isn't the only one.

Tiger Woods, while he won't divulge any secrets to his training, has added about 20 pounds of muscle since he first turned pro in 1996.

Greg Kraft has been working out with a New York Yankees trainer in Tampa, Fla., the past couple of years. Jesper Parnevik is working with the same trainer as Vijay Singh, Tom Pernice and Gabriel Hjertstedt. Even Tim Herron, known as "Lumpy" for obvious reasons, has pledged to get in shape.

Craig Stadler dropped about 35 pounds by walking every morning with his wife and eliminating a few links from the food chain.

"I got tired of being fat," he said.

It hasn't always been this way. Gone are the days when the only heavy lifting by PGA Tour pros was a glass of gin. Players feel they have to be in the best shape to compete with Woods, Duval and a wealth of young talent.

And it's not just the PGA Tour.

Tom Watson was in Hawaii last week for the MasterCard Championship on the Senior PGA Tour when he walked into the exercise room at the crack of dawn and had to wait his turn. Bruce Fleisher, the 1999 player of the year and Bruce Summerhays were already there. Even funnyman Gary McCord was working out.

"All those guys were exercising at 6 a.m. on the day of a practice round," Watson said. "That tells you something about this commitment to conditioning. The attitude of today's athlete in all sports has to be that you can't let another athlete get the advantage because they're in better condition."

Dating to the days of Sam Snead, the school of thought was for golfers to avoid swimming and weightlifting to stay flexible. Now, players view themselves every bit as athletic as football and basketball players.

The programs vary. Some are simple exercises conducive to the swing. Others are geared toward sheer power.

"They've made a believer out of me," said Jack Nicklaus, who described physical fitness as nonexistent when he turned pro in 1962. "At my age, it's necessary to have that strength."

No one has gone to extremes quite like Duval.

Since October, he has stuck to a program in which he works out 13 of 14 days -- lifting one day, running another -- along with strict eating guidelines. Duval estimates he has lost 10 pounds. With the amount of muscle he has added, it looks more like 25.

He has never been a big believer in a workout specific to golf. On the days he lifts weights -- and that includes before a tournament round -- he considers it general bodybuilding. He does six to eight sets on each muscle group, decreasing repetitions with increasing weight.

"It generally makes me feel better," Duval said. "It makes me know that I am as fit and athletic as anybody playing right now. It makes you feel good that you have the endurance and the strength.

"I feel like that part of preparation will be an important piece of the puzzle to get beyond where I've been."

Woods weighed 158 pounds when he turned pro and is now up to 180. He calls it a combination of lifting and natural maturation.

He also calls it important.

"In any other sport if you're not stronger, you're either going to get your butt kicked, run over, someone is going to hit more home runs than you," Woods said. "You just need to get stronger to keep up."

That's what Justin Leonard had in mind when he hired a personal trainer four years ago. A former U.S. Amateur champion who thinks his way around the course, Leonard found himself falling behind the learning curve it what has become a power game.

He now works out six days a week, and runs four miles a day. His program changes every five weeks, the emphasis shifting from strength to endurance to speed.

"I feel like I can better compete out here," said Leonard, who won the British Open at Royal Troon in '97 and The Players Championship a year later.

Working out isn't for everyone. Some players are restricted by ongoing injuries. Others, such as Ernie Els, are naturally strong.

"I'm never going to become a workout freak," Els said. "I do my thing. I get on the bicycle. Look what David Duval did to himself. Tiger keeps getting bigger and stronger. I'm 6-foot-3, I weigh 225. I think I'm big enough, strong enough for this game."

Maybe it's the titanium. Maybe it's the ball.

Arnold Palmer has been around long enough to know that most players never found the gym except by accident. There has always been a small group who felt fitness was important, but "we didn't work as hard."

"These people are carrying it that extra mile, and I think it's wonderful," Palmer said. "That's probably why we're seeing a lot better scoring."

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