For most of his career, he popped the ball out there about 260 yards or so. Suddenly, he reaches the Senior Tour and he belts it 280. After he won the Napa Valley Championship last week, his average stood at 279.7.
Forget what he did when he was younger (he was long enough to win 19 times on the PGA Tour). He just isnt the same guy ' either the way he looks or the way he bashes the ball.
He threw away his glasses, for starters. With a vision of 20/480, you dont see much without the Coke-bottle lenses. For 36 years, since the age of 12, he had worn the specs, changing the prescription every couple of years until he was virtually blind when he took the cheaters off. But he had LASIK surgery and now he sees with 20/15 vision, requiring glasses only when he reads.
He reached the Senior Tour and he went on an extensive physical program. Kite had always been a little apprehensive about too much exercise ' his legendary coach, Harvey Penick, frowned upon weights and such. But advances in the world of physiology convinced Kite that now was the time, and the stretching and lifting and aerobic work has packed pounds of muscle onto what was once a rather slender frame. Throughout his career he played at 150-155 pounds. But thanks to his workouts, he checks in at 170. And the extra pounds are all muscle. He actually has less fat content that when he weighed 155.
He gave up his old persimmon driver not long ago, one of last players to let go of the old dinosaur. But the new materials, a new ball and a new, improved Tom Kite have enabled him to launch the ball much farther than he ever did when he was winning all those tournaments in his 20s and 30s.
Actually, Im just standing, and as soon as I hit, I walk backwards, said Kite. No, he was just joking. But he ranked seventh in driving last season, and the difference on the rather slightly built man is obvious.
Its a huge advantage, Kite said. Theres no question about it. Kite is hitting shorter, more controllable clubs into greens. And hes hitting more par-5s in two whacks. And one of the big reasons is his workout program.
Todd Wright is the man behind the scenes. He is the strength coach for the University of Texas basketball program, and he has been entrusted with changing the bespectacled lightweight Kite into a golfing machine. And look at what he has done.
We get together during the off-season, and he absolutely just kicks my rear up one cheek and down the other, Kite said. He wears me out. But its a wonderful program that has added muscle, reduced fat and added speed to my body. Hes changed the way that I worked out ' a lot. And a lot of the distance that I have been able to gain, the credit can be given to Todd and the program hes developed for me.
Kite says he wishes he had known a little more about the human body when he was much younger. He wishes he had known the proper workouts to undertake in 1992, when he was winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach on a day unfit for anything but drinking hot buttered rum by the fireplace.
We were a generation ahead of all that fitness, said Kite a bit wistfully. When I was growing up, it was considered bad for you to exercise. Golfers didnt want to build up any muscles because they felt you would lose flexibility. The flexibility was considered more important than strength.
Gary Player was considered a ' I almost hate to say revolutionary because he was considered almost considered freakish. Why would you do that? He was way ahead of his time, in going to that extreme to work out, but most people considered that to be foolish for your golf.
Now, everybody does it. If you dont, you really have no chance to compete. Because now everyone is in great shape, and if youre not spending some time in the gym working on your strength, flexibility and speed, then youre not giving yourself a chance at all.
Kite made the cut and finished tied for 25th three weeks ago on the regular tour when he played with the youngsters at the Valero Texas Open. Undoubtedly, his family life restricts his win total ' daughter Stephanie is a gymnast at the University of Alabama, occupying much of Kites time, and he has twin sons that are now 19. But he has won three times in just 21 events on the Senior Tour this season, and he has played five more times on the junior circuit.
He is strong enough as an old fella to rattle the noggins of the twin sons, if the occasion ever arises. Ol Tom used to be just skillful. Now hes skillful and long.