From one champ to another, Larry Holmes says he supports Tiger Woods

From one champ to another, Larry Holmes says he supports Tiger Woods

Larry Holmes, shown here in 2007, and Tiger Woods shared the same trainer, Keith Kleven.
Steve Klaver/AP

And now, for a different take on the Tiger Woods mess, let us turn to Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight champion of the world.

He says: “You’re Tiger Woods — you’re some famous athlete or show biz celebrity, whatever. The girl’s got you in the corner. She’s in your face. You’re like, ‘No, no, no, I can’t do this. I got the wife at home.’

“But she’s pushing and pushing and finally you give in. It don’t mean nothing. It’s just 30 seconds. But it feels so good you want it again and again and again. They’re a toy to play with. And that’s all you are to them. You give them some money and they go away. You’re in Vegas. They don’t call it ‘Sin City’ for nothing. And if they catch you, they got photos of you right on top of the woman? You say, ‘No, man, that ain’t me, that’s my twin brother!’ And you go home and make love to your wife.”

On second thought, maybe it’s not a different take. That’s what Holmes will tell you. The only thing new in the Woods scandal is that now the media is much more aggressive in covering a celebrity’s sex life than in the past, and that news travels far, wide and fast with the long reach of the Internet.

Holmes, a popular man on the speaking circuit, is like a lot of people: he has an abiding interest in Woods. But he’s interested in what Woods does at the Blue Monster, the pricey Dick Wilson course in Miami, not the Blue Martini, the pricey nightclub in Orlando. Holmes — who lives in Easton, Pa., with his wife of 35 years, Diane, and his other-worldly 69-6 career record — turned 60 last month. In his boxing retirement he dabbles, at best, in golf. He first tried the game 30 years ago, in the old ABC Superstars competitions. He’d watch the baseball slugger Mike Schmidt smoke one long, straight drive after another and would try to follow suit but could not. (“I made a fool of myself,” he says.) His interest in golf on TV does not extend beyond Woods, whom he has never met.

“I love to see the shots he’s making. And the checks he’s making. One million dollars. Two, three, five. He’s making heavyweight money — and he’s a lightweight!”

Holmes is also interested in Woods because they have shared a trainer. Woods’s trainer, Keith Kleven of Las Vegas, was Holmes’s trainer from roughly 1978 to 1982. In the past week, Woods’s training techniques have come under question as never before, in part because a Canadian physician who has treated Woods, Dr. Tony Galea, is now facing drug charges. Holmes is dismissive of the connection.

“Those steroids and stuff,” Holmes said, “they can kill you. Tiger’s too smart to do something like that.”

Holmes was asked if Kleven had ever urged the boxer to use any performance-enhancing drug.

“Nah,” Holmes said. “And I don’t even like the man. Not my favorite person in the world. Couple times when I went out to Vegas I called Keith for dinner or something, and he didn’t even return my call. My wife and I ended up having dinner with his ex-wife. But he’s not the kind of trainer who would ever try to push drugs like that, not with me. He tried to get me to pull a tree. I believed in running and eating right.”

Kleven did not respond to a call to his office.

“I’m proud of him,” Holmes said, speaking of Woods’s remarkable golf career. “First off, the man is black, B-L-A-C-K black, I don’t care what he calls himself,” said Holmes, a native Georgian who is black himself. To Holmes, Woods is a black hero in a country club sport, just as Arthur Ashe was in tennis.

Look at all the good Woods has done, Holmes says, “all those black kids who are saying, ‘I want to be like Tiger Woods!'” To Holmes, Woods’s alleged affairs take nothing away from the traits that made Woods admirable in the first place: the golfer’s intelligence, discipline, work ethic, drive and ability. That list could be applied to Holmes, too.

Holmes said he hoped Woods can still work things out with his wife, Elin. “Time will calm her down,” he said. He predicted that Woods will return to his triumphant ways on the course. “People should leave him alone.”

In fact, the champ said, everybody should take a deep breath. That’s what he’s doing.