Golf’s Mike Weir still a name. His game? Not the same
No. 3 in the world nine years ago, the 2003 Masters champion now has no ranking at all, not earning a single dollar on this year’s PGA Tour
VANCOUVER — The next wave of Canadians is battling through the final stage of PGA Tour qualifying school at the moment in La Quinta, Calif., while a few hours to the west, in Thousand Oaks, Tiger Woods has hand-picked a cast of 18 elite pros for his annual World Challenge.
Mike Weir hasn’t got so desperate yet — thanks to his $26.8 million in career prize money (No. 17 on the all-time list) — that he has to attend the former. But he’s fallen far enough that the phone doesn’t ring anymore with an invitation from golf’s No. 1 name.
Tiger used to call him Weirsy when they were sort of, though never quite, pals and nearly, though never quite, peers. It seems a long time ago.
The 42-year-old from Sarnia, Ont., who rose to a place no Canadian had ever gone before when he won the 2003 Masters, is still marketable enough — even at the end of a year plagued by what he calls “the perfect storm of bad scenarios” — to have been invited to play in Greg Norman’s 24-man Shark Shootout next week in Naples, Fla., so he’s not entirely gone from golf’s A-list.
The field includes Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler ... you get the idea.
He’s still a name in the fickle world of golf.
But the name is losing currency fast in his adopted country of residence.
So here’s your mission, Mike Weir, if you should decide to accept it, and it appears you have: get back on the horse that threw you, compete again on the PGA Tour, prove to the ever-doubting public that you are not one of those sad cases — an Ian Baker-Finch, a David Duval — not some passing comet that burned itself out and never had the nerve, again, to put four great rounds together and make a serious move back up the long ladder.
Just how impossible is that mission?
Well, the facts are grim: 34 Canadians are listed in the official world golf ranking, down to Michael Mezei at No. 1,425. Weir isn’t one of them.
The man who was No. 3 in the world nine years ago has no ranking at all, because he made not a single dollar on the PGA Tour in 2012, and only $23,000 in 2011. The man who won eight PGA Tour events has missed the cut in all 14 events he’s played this season, shot as low as 70 only twice — in his first round and his last — and has compiled a scoring average of 75.30.
And despite all these soul-sucking stats, Canada’s greatest-ever competitive golfer has no doubt he is coming back.
He’ll use one of his two exemptions based on career earnings to play a nearly full schedule this coming year, but money is clearly not what drives him. If it’s any one thing, it’s the desire to prove everyone wrong. Again.
“It’s always been about that,” he said, on the phone from his home outside Salt Lake City. “I’ve heard since I was a junior golfer I’d never be good enough to be a college player, and then I’d never be a good pro, and then I’d never make it off the Canadian Tour ...
“This is another setback I’ve had to go through, kind of the perfect storm of bad scenarios, of injuries, of getting into some funky problems, of being stubborn ... but it is where I am now, and I’m feeling good again and I’m sure there’s some good golf ahead of me.
“I know it’s easier said than done, because no question it’s been very stressful. To go out there and play that poorly is an awful feeling, there’s no joy in it when you’re used to a certain level. It’s very demanding mentally to try to keep an attitude and wake up the next day and get back to the grind, but I’ve been able to do that.”
Since early summer, he’s been doing it under the watchful eye of Kiwi Grant Waite. His days of switching from coach to coach, he says, are over. His elbow problems are gone. And he says he has gradually gained confidence despite results that haven’t reflected any significant improvement.
“I feel like I’m over the hump, even though the scores are not quite there,” Weir said, “but they’re starting to get lower, starting to be more fairways hit, more greens in regulation hit.
“Outside of the Players Championship and Arnold’s tournament and Jack’s tournament, which are invitationals, I can pretty much play in everything. So at least this year I’ll be able to set my schedule, and I’ve got a few other things out of the way, like coaching ... it’ll be a big difference from this past year.”
The quest for distance continues — at 5-9 and 155 pounds, he has to squeeze every inch out of his driver — but even that, he says, is improving.
“A guy my stature, my size ... I remember reading a story where Ben Hogan said he couldn’t sacrifice distance at all, he had to be able to go at it with everything he had, and I’m kind of built like him and I have to be able to do that, hit it hard and not try to hit it 50 per cent and just get it out there 260,” he said. “I have to get it out there 290 and take these nice big divots and pound my irons, and be aggressive. I feel I can do that now.”
The little girls who were toddlers when he won at Augusta are older now, and they want him to win again, too.
“I’m working extremely hard. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I had some left — I just wouldn’t,” he said. “And my kids are at an age where they motivate me, they want me to be out there, even though they don’t like to see me go, they’re like, ‘C’mon, dad, get out there and kick those guys’ butts.’ Elle will be 15 in a month, and Lili’s 12. They’re pretty athletic and they understand sports, so they see how hard their dad’s working.”
It’s not easy starting over. Even finding a caddy that wants to hook up with a player who’s had such little success of late is no piece of cake.
April at Augusta, where he will always be a champion, beckons, but he’s not looking that far ahead.
“When I tee it up for the Sony Open, I should be ready to go. That’s my goal, and I feel that’s very realistic,” he said.
If it doesn’t work out, he’s still got one more career money exemption left in the bag for 2013. Mention it, and there is a long silence on the phone.
“If I get to play a full schedule this year and stay nice and healthy,” he said, “I don’t think I’m going to have to use the second one.”
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