Catching Up with Mike Weir
RBC Canadian OpenSteve Kopp
There are a total of 26 Canadians competing in the first two rounds of the RBC Canadian Open men’s golf tournament, being held this year at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ontario. Of those, a few of them have won on the PGA tour in the past couple of years. But only one of them is well known to both the avid and the casual golf fan: Mike Weir.
Weir is making his 28th appearance in Canada’s only national golf championship. He has never won the tournament, although he came oh so close in 2004. He actually missed the cut the first 9 times he played, from 1989 to 1999 before making the cut and finishing 70th in 2000.
But it was in 2004 that he came the closest to being the first Canadian to win the Canadian Open since 1954. All he had to do was par the 72nd and final hole at Glen Abbey and the tournament was his. But he made bogey, which set up a playoff with Vijay Singh. On the second playoff hole, Weir had a five-foot putt to win, but missed it. An errant shot into a hazard on the third playoff hole sealed his fate and allowed Singh to win the tournament.
In the first round of this year’s Canadian Open, Weir shot an even par 70. He had 5 birdies which were offset by 5 bogeys.
“Very sloppy,” said Weir after his round. “It was not what I expected. I’m playing better than that. I was not very sharp around the greens and gave a lot of little hots away. Just didn’t get much out it.”
For those of you who may not know much about Mike Weir, or perhaps you once did but have forgotten since he has been out of the PGA limelight for the past half decade, here are some of his highlights.
He was born May 12, 1970 in Sarnia and grew up just outside of Sarnia in Bright’s Grove. Like many Canadian kids, he played hockey growing up, where he was a natural left-handed shot. When he started playing golf at the Huron Oaks Golf Course, he got a some left-handed woods and irons from his Godfather’s son as hand me downs. When he was 12, he won his first golf tournament, where the prize was a full set of irons. The year prior to that, he met golf legend Jack Nicklaus when the golfing great visited Huron Oaks to play in an exhibition.
Nicklaus would play one more role in young Mike Weir’s golf life. When Weir was 13, he considered switching and playing right-handed. But before doing so, he wrote Nicklaus and asked for his advice. The response from the 18-time major champion was for Weir to stay with whatever felt natural to him. Weir stayed as a lefty.
He spent one summer playing the Tyson Tour, which was a tour for junior golfers that was run out of London where golfers played different courses in and around London. In 1986, he won the Canadian Juvenile Championship, followed by the Ontario Junior Championship in 1988 and the Ontario Amateur title in 1990 and 1992. He attended Brigham Young University in Utah on a golf scholarship where he was a second team all-American in 1992. Shortly after that, he turned pro.
“It wasn’t until college age that I started dreaming that could be a possibility,” said Weir when I asked him when he started seriously thinking about a career as a professional golfer. “I mean, I wanted to (be a pro golfer) when I was a junior golfer, for sure, that was a goal. But it wasn’t until I was in college.”
He spent his first few years as a pro on the Canadian Professional Golf Tour, where he won three events. He also played a bit on the Asian PGA tour. He first year on the PGA tour was 1998. He won over $218,000 that year, but he finished 131st on the money list and since only the top 125 players kept their tour status, he lost his tour card. He had to go through the gruelling six-round qualifying school late in 1998, where he finished first overall and got his tour card back.
His big breakthrough came in September, 1999 when he won his first ever PGA tour event. He shot back to back 64’s in the final two rounds to come from behind and win the Air Canada Championship in Vancouver. Weir became the first Canadian to win a PGA tour event since Richard Zokol in 1992 and the first Canadian to win a PGA tour event on Canadian soil since Pat Fletcher became the last Canadian to win the Canadian Open in 1954.
“It was super special”, said Weir when I asked him about that first win. “To have your first win happen in Canada, in your home country, and the way it happened was really special.”
In the final round, Weir holed a shot on hole number 14 and sunk a long putt on hole number 16 on route to victory. “I’ll really remember that, forever probably, because your first one is really special and to happen in Canada was really cool.”
Wins continued for Weir with the World Golf Championship in November, 2000 and the Tour Championship in November, 2001. After going winless in 2002, Weir broke through into the big-time golf consciousness in 2003. He won three times: The Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and Nissan Open, both in February, and then the biggest win of his career, The Master’s in April. Many a Canadian golf fan can remember where they were on April 13, 2003, when Weir sunk a 6-foot par putt on 18 to tie Len Mattice and head into a playoff. Weir parred the first playoff hole to become the first Canadian to win the Master’s and the first left handed player to win a major on the PGA tour since 1963.
One bonus of that win for Weir (and there were many) is that he got to drop the puck at a Toronto Maple Leafs-Philadelphia Flyers playoff game at the Air Canada centre (as it was known back then) the day after his Master’s title.
“It was not planned at all,” remembered Weir. “I was just invited as a guest of Bell (one of his sponsors at the time), so when I got invited to go do that (drop the puck at centre ice at the start of the game), it was really quite special.”
Weir defended his title at the Nissan Open in 2004 and then won his 8th, and to date, final PGA tour event when he beat the field at the Fry’s Electronics Open in October, 2007.
By the way, the eight wins that Weir has on the PGA are currently tied for the most by a Canadian born golfer. Sandra Post and George Knudsen both won 8 times on their respective professional tours during their careers. However, that record is in jeopardy as Brooke Henderson of Smith Falls recently won for the 8th time on the LPGA tour and most likely will win for the 9th time some time in the near future.
“I have not even met Brooke before,” said Weir when asked what he thought about the 21-year old golfer. “We’ve chatted once. I love watching her game, she has a great game, a powerful game and she is fun to watch.”
Right now, Weir has limited status on the PGA tour, getting special invitations into certain tournaments. He is also a member of the Web.Com tour due to a special exemption for tour members who are age 48 to 49. Next May, Weir will turn 50 and he may enter a new phase of his career as he will be eligible for the Champions tour.
“My game is good,” said Weir. “Today was not indicative of how I am playing. I just need to tidy things up around the green.”
Weir was paired with two other Canadians today, David Hearn and Nick Taylor. Hearn was 4-under par and Taylor finished 5-under for round one. They are just two of the many Canadian male golfers who are
having success on the PGA tour. Mackenzie Hughes, Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners are three other Canadians who have won on the PGA tour in the past few years.
“It’s good,” said Weir when asked about the state of Canadian men’s golf. “Both David (Hearn) and Nick (Taylor), they played some good golf today. We’ve got a lot of talent in this country and guys are playing some good golf. Yeah, compared to when I was coming up and in my early 20’s, there’s a lot more guys with a lot more opportunity and a lot more potential.”
A few other things worthy of noting about Mike Weir:
--He was awarded the Lionel Conacher Award for Canada’s male athlete of the year in 2000, 2001 and 2003 (the first golfer to win the award since 1932)
--He was awarded Canada’s highest civilian honour in 2009 as he was given the Order of Canada; he was also awarded the Order of Ontario in 2004
--He was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 2009
--He set up the Mike Weir foundation in 2004 that is dedicated to advancing the physical, emotional and educational needs of children
--A winery in Lincoln, Ontario, started producing a wine for Mike Weir in 2005
--He played in the President’s Cup in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, with the highlight being a 1-up victory over world number-one Tiger Woods on Canadian soil in 2007
--He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2017
--He currently lives in Draper, Utah and has two daughters, Elle Marisa (21) and Lili (19)