A Winner Never Rests: Camilo Villegas' obsessive training regimen

A Winner Never Rests: Camilo Villegas’ obsessive training regimen

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

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.”

Fitness remains central to that equilibrium. The gym, for Villegas, isn’t just a fueling station but a refuge, a sanctuary from the near-constant distractions of his work life — what Villegas calls the “zoo of the PGA Tour.” Rising early in the morning to reel off several hundred crunches as electronica pumps through his surround-sound system amounts to a kind of hardcore meditation. Hopping on the seat of his road bike, Villegas feels the mental clutter melt away. “It’s something that lets me get away,” Villegas says of cycling. “I just lock onto the wheel in front of me and don’t lose it. That’s the only thought that’s going through my head.”

Such single-mindedness lies at the heart of who Villegas is. The term “Type A” undersells his disposition. His bedroom closet is color-coded, his shirts arranged according to both hue and style. When he cooks, he cleans the dishes before he eats.

Villegas’s younger brother, Manny, who followed Camilo to the University of Florida and is now struggling to follow him onto the PGA Tour, regards Camilo’s bearing with a mix of wonder and admiration. “He’s always been like that,” Manny says. “I work out with him a fair amount. But we’re very different. I like to work out like a normal human being.”

Villegas’s approach has helped earn him not only a superhero’s nickname but also a place in pop culture as golf’s buffed-out poster child. Late last year, he enhanced that reputation by appearing naked on the cover of a glossy magazine, splayed out in his famous Spider-Man pose: torso in plank position, one leg stretched behind him, the other bent and poised to spring.

“To be honest, I didn’t even think twice when I was asked to do that,” Villegas says of his Full Monty. “I’ve worked 10 years to get the body I have. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.”

Glancing quickly at the picture, you might mistake Villegas for a photo-shopped teen idol. But images of him that you swear were airbrushed prove undoctored when you meet him face-to-face. He has the chiseled calves of a sprinter, and square-cut shoulders sloping toward a tapered waist. Bulging veins run down his biceps like tributaries in a topographical map.

With every tournament he enters, there are, of course, groupies. Predictably, People named him one of the country’s “hottest bachelors,” and little about his home suggests that the honor should not be his. Gym aside, there are few furnishings, and nothing perishable in the fridge. His garage is given over to a turbo Cayenne Porsche, a Mercedes CLK 63 and a white Chevy truck with the license plate, KMILO. A hot tub on the back deck spills into an infinity pool. At the end of a dock, two Jet Skis sit suspended above the currents, ready to be lowered, James Bond-style.

Yet if the house has a few hallmarks of a playboy’s mansion, Villegas hardly leads the life of Hef. He rarely drinks. He’s tucked in by 10 p.m. most nights. His idea of indulgence is a weakness for sweet potato fries, and he admits to “eating only half a cookie.”

Inside his house, at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor, hangs a large framed photograph of the Rolling Stones. Among the faces gazing from it is the wizened, wrinkly visage of Keith Richards, a man who has known neither sacrifice nor regret — a better musician than role model.

“I try to live my life in moderation,” Villegas says. “Except when I work out. Then I tend to go at it pretty hard.”

He pauses, ponders. “The scary thing,” he says, “is how quickly you lose it when you don’t stay with it.”

It’s just another reminder, fixed into his psyche — like a slogan stenciled onto his wall.

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