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A Winner Never Rests: Camilo Villegas' obsessive training regimen

Camilo Villegas, Workout
Nick Laham
VILLEGAS, 29, during a workout in the gym he installed in his Jupiter, Fla., home.

Camilo Villegas would no sooner skip a workout than Mario Batali would miss a meal. But Villegas isn't one for taking chances. Emblazoned in block letters on the wall of his home gym is a warning that serves as his reminder: SACRIFICE OR REGRET...YOU CHOOSE! Three years ago, when Villegas bought his house, a two-story stucco spread on a leafy street in Jupiter, Fla., his first design decision was to furnish a downstairs bedroom in the manner of a 24-Hour Fitness. His second move was to clamber up a ladder and stencil on the bold-faced, finger-wagging message — a jolt of motivation for a man with plenty of his own.

"I'm not the kind of guy who hits the snooze button in the morning," Villegas says. "But I still like to see those words when I wake up and get going. They help keep me focused on what it's all about."

Sacrifice or regret. In the choice between them, Villegas, 29, has never wavered. At least not since the fall of 2000, when he showed up as a freshman on the University of Florida campus, a 138-pound wisp from Medellin, Colombia, and the shortest hitter on the Gator golf team.

Back in his home country, he had prowled the fairways as an alpha male, racking up an amateur record that made him something of a Latin Tiger Woods. College brought about his first Charles Atlas moment. "I realized," Villegas says, "that I was going to have to get longer and stronger if I wanted to compete."

Into the campus gym he went — weights, yoga, cardio, pilates — with a fervor worthy of its own Rocky soundtrack. Out he stepped four years later, having trimmed his body fat from 12 percent to 4.5 percent while adding 25 pounds of limber muscle to his threadbare frame. By graduation, Florida's shortest knocker had transformed himself into its longest bomber. Peter Parker had become... Spider-Man. "Without fitness, I wouldn't be on Tour. No doubt about it," Villegas says. "It's absolutely central to my success."

Success for Villegas — three wins and more than $13 million in prize money in four years as a pro — has come in the kind of torrents that allow for private jets and five-star hotels, both breeding grounds of softness. Villegas has responded by hardening his resolve and his already rippled core. His methods have the ring of the masochistic. His sit-ups aren't sit-ups: They're seated cable crunches in which he perches on a medicine ball and abuses his abs against 90 pounds of tethered weight-machine resistance. One way he works his lower body is through a freakish feat of strength and athleticism: Standing on one leg, he jumps to the top of a three-foot-tall box, then jumps down, landing on the other leg, 10 times fast. Fresh from that torture, he grabs a 25-pound medicine ball in both hands, squats with the ball between his legs, then leaps as if to dunk it through a basketball hoop, repeating the maneuver for four sets of 10. His approach sounds obsessive, ritualistic. "It's not a program or a regimen," he explains. "It's a lifestyle."

On non-tournament days, at home or on the road, Villegas is up at 6 a.m. and at it for the next two hours. Workouts that begin with stationary bike warm-ups and dynamic stretching give way to squats, presses, crunches and a grid of exercises that read like an astronaut's instructional manual: rocket jumps, thrusts, lifts, vertical swings.

Over the past decade, his longest layoff from the gym lasted all of seven days. "I'm not sure what happened," Villegas says. "I must have had a really nasty case of the flu."

"With a guy like Camilo, it's like you're dealing with a thoroughbred," says Chris Noss, Villegas's strength and conditioning coach. "The challenge isn't getting him to get going. The challenge is trying to rein him in."

In the depth of his dedication, Villegas calls to mind his idol, Gary Player, the Tour's original fitness guru. And like Player, he acknowledges the dangers of overdoing it, which doesn't always translate into his slowing down. An avid cyclist, Villegas alternates gym time with long hours on his road bike, often pairing them back-to-back. One year, Noss recalls, Villegas pedaled 80 miles from his home in Jupiter to Miami in time to catch a flight to a tournament. On trips home to Colombia, he trains with his fellow countryman, Santiago Botero, a world champion cyclist. Villegas himself competes in amateur races. Of the six 100-kilometer events he has entered, he has won four.

Last year, Villegas concedes, he spent so much time cycling that his play suffered. Though he won the Honda Classic and notched six other top-10s, fatigue set in late in the season. Noss had to ask his man: Do you want to be Lance Armstrong or the Tour's money leader?

Villegas says he won't make the same mistake again. "It's about balance," he says. "Too much of anything can get in the way of you achieving your goals."

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