Since last July, when fatigue and pain forced him to cut short his comeback from hip-replacement surgery, Nicklaus has been on a six-day-a-week fitness program that, for the first time in his life, includes intense weight training. Although he turns 60 on Jan. 21, Nicklaus looks better, has more energy and possesses more strength than he has in years. His biggest struggle has been to drop a dozen or so pounds to reach his target weight of 190. "Jack eats good food, but he likes to eat a lot of it," says his trainer, Doug Weary.
Nicklaus's only regret is that he didn't start pumping iron sooner. He believes that strengthening his body has allowed him to generate explosive power in his broad hips and thighs and clear a free path for his upper body to smash the ball at the target, just as he did in his prime. For too long Nicklaus's hip and back injuries forced him to violently lurch with his arms and shoulders to produce power, which caused him to become a shorter and less accurate player. "Every day I play golf, I find something that I've forgotten that I used to do," says Nicklaus, who's planning to play all the majors on the regular and Senior tours, and about 20 events overall.
Nicklaus is known for his relentless optimism—and occasional hyperbole—but there's evidence to back up his latest claims. He was a winner in all three of the unofficial tournaments he played at the end of last year: the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge, the Office Depot Father and Son, and the Diners Club Matches. Nicklaus repeatedly outdrove his son Gary in the Father and Son, as well as Tom Watson, his partner in the Diners Club Matches.
According to Weary, Nicklaus was in desperate shape when they started working together. "Jack had the body and conditioning of a gentleman 20 years older," he says. "He was off-the-charts bad in strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance."
To lose weight in 1970 Nicklaus dieted on breakfast cereal. In the '80s he religiously followed a stretching program set by "anatomical functionalist" Pete Egoscue. In 1996 he dropped 20 pounds by going on a diet that called for bowls and bowls of bowel-bending cabbage soup. "I've never worked with anyone who has Jack's gift for discipline and focus," says Weary. "Other than time off for a hunting trip, he hasn't missed a workout."
This season has been portrayed as Nicklaus's farewell tour to big-time competition, but he avoids that characterization. "They're always saying this is the last year of my playing in the majors. Heck, I may have to go back to defend," he says with a wink.
Chalk it up to new-millennium madness, but just imagine....