March 9, 2009

Alarm Clock Required

Life as Vijay Singh's trainer often means rising before the sun for workouts. It is a world with which Bob Verdi is unfamiliar

Why is this man smiling? Because he's in better shape than most players half his age.

Why is this man smiling? Because he's in better shape than most players half his age.

Remember this name. Gabriel Lopez. He's new to the PGA Tour, not as a player but as the new trainer for Vijay Singh. Being a trainer for Vijay Singh is what's known as a full-time job, which might explain why the job does not come with the type of tenure that college professors enjoy.

Lopez replaces Junior Tuyo, who replaced Jeff Fronk, who replaced Joey Diovisalvi. All were very good at what they do, according to Singh. It's just that Vijay is like the Energizer Bunny. He never knows when to stop. As Fronk said not long ago, "sometimes it's the trainer's job to get a guy up in the morning to get going … with Vij, sometimes you have to slow him down." Begging the question, who's pushing whom?

Singh recently underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He stepped in a hole during the Father-Son tournament late last season and limped to victory the next week at Tiger Woods' Chevron World Challenge. After playing the opening 2009 event in Hawaii, the Mercedes Benz Championship, Singh went in for repairs.

At the time he was working with Tuyo, who is based in Hawaii, where Singh spends a lot of time at a 52-acre macadamia nut farm. However, while he was rehabilitating near his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Singh hooked up with Lopez, who introduced himself to me on Monday with a handshake. On Tuesday, my right arm began to regain feeling.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Lopez, who looks the part. I would tell you that his biceps are the size of my legs, except I already told you that about Junior, Jeff and Joey. "I don't want to disparage any of the work Vijay did with the other people he was with before me, but we have a lot of work to do," Lopez went on.

A lot of work to do? In other words, Vijay at 46 is going to train harder than ever? "Not necessarily harder, but more efficiently," said Lopez. "We're going into certain areas, more specificity, which includes core strength, legs and of course, nutrition."

Lopez has quite the resume. One of his clients was Dexter Jackson, who is the reigning Mr. Olympia. Furthermore, Jackson is a three-time winner of the "Arnold Classic," which has been designated the "greatest physical culture extravaganza outside the Olympics" by no less an authority than the Arnold Classic website. (Arnold does not refer to Palmer, but Schwarzenegger.)

Jackson's measurements -- if that's what they're called -- are staggering. He's only 5-feet, 6-inches tall, but has a 52-inch chest, a 28-inch waist, and thighs of 30 inches. I don't know about you, but if I see someone whose thighs are wider than his or her waist, I'm crossing the street. Here's the capper. Although only 5-6, Jackson weighs 235 pounds. And, according to Lopez, if you took all his body fat and poured it into something, that something would be a thimble.

With Singh, members of his inner circle often get to fly privately. They live in nice hotels and see the world when they aren't seeing the gym. I have no idea why Vijay burns through so many trainers, except I don't like to wake up at 5 in the morning to exercise, let alone watch somebody else exercise. Most of the time, when I wake up at 5 in the morning, I'm thinking about a bar bill not a barbell. But to each his own. Vijay returned to action at Pebble Beach, and he's at the CA Championship this week, showing no ill-effects of his knee injury.

"I feel great," said Singh. And he looks so great, I was moved to slide over to Darren Clarke on the practice green at Doral. Clarke, a fun-loving Irishman, was smoking a cigar, bless him. I asked about his recent announcement about giving up alcohol. "Oh," he said, "that was just for January. It's not January anymore." Bless him again.