A Rare Sighting Of Past Masters Champion Has Us Asking Where He Has Been
LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA | In college there were summer jobs available for newspaper writers. They called us interns.
Any sports intern worth his Remington quickly learned a valuable lesson: Never root publicly, even if it’s golf. Keep your favorites to yourself. Objectivity or the appearance thereof, is crucial.
So here we are watching a PGA Tour golf event in the Southern California desert. It’s named the Desert Classic although it could be called the Phil Mickelson Open. Writers, young and old, are rooting loudly for Mickelson. Me, too. Everyone is unapologetic. Go Phil, go. There is no pretense of objectivity.
So much for Journalism 101.
In the first round, Mickelson finished with 10 birdies, one eagle and seven pars. That’s a 12-under-par 60 at La Quinta Country Club. If he had birdied either the 16th or 17th holes, he would have broken 60.
That was fun. But I have an admission to make. Besides Mickelson, my attention has been focused on a player who shot 1-under-par 71 in the first round of the Desert Classic, leaving him 11 strokes behind Mickelson.
My guy is 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, who is the longest of long shots in this tournament. In the second round, Mickelson shot 4-under-par 68 while Weir had 2-under-par 70. Both played the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West.
Welcome back, Mike. Many fans are rooting diligently for you. They have seen the injuries and obstacles and they appreciate your courage and fortitude.
“I’m pleased with what I’m working on,” the 48-year-old Canadian said. “My confidence is getting better. Even when I don’t score well, I feel like I’m doing a lot of good things.”
Weir hasn’t played any tournament golf for the past five months. In the entire 2017-18 season, he entered just six PGA Tour events and made only one 36-hole cut. His current world ranking is 1,693. Contrast this indignity with past glory: Between 2001 and 2005, Weir was ranked among the world top 10 for more than 110 weeks.
So what happened?
In 2010, Weir hit a tree root while making a swing. He tore a tendon in his right elbow. He hurt his right wrist. He tore cartilage in his rib cage. He was bothered by a painful back.
In 2011, he made two cuts in 15 Tour events. He broke 70 just once in 34 rounds. Eventually he had elbow and wrist surgery.
In 2015, he announced he would take an “indefinite leave of absence” from competitive golf. His injuries had forced him to alter his swing and develop bad swing habits. He missed the cut in 33 straight worldwide events.
In 2016, Weir endured a nasty confrontation with fellow player Dawie van der Walt at the RBC Heritage. Weir accepted a sponsor exemption, but, suffering from the flu, he posted a 7-over-par 78 in the first round and withdrew.
Not knowing about the flu, van der Walt blasted Weir for taking a tournament spot that could have gone to another player. The two players later became friends but initially the episode was part of Weir’s downward spiral.
“I’ve really suffered from injuries. It’s set me back. But I have kept the balance in my life and not let all my problems affect me too much. So I am very excited right now about playing in these tournaments.” – Mike Weir
Now we are happy to report that Weir is healthy, although he still doesn’t attract throngs of interns. At least not yet. “It’s a funny thing, this game,” he said. “Lots of people think they know a lot about golf. When you’re at the top of your game, people think everything you have to say is super important. When you’re down, nobody wants to talk with you. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way it is.”
Weir developed a road map to renewed physical fitness. He works with strength and conditioning coach Jason Glass. His swing instructor is Mark Blackburn. He sees instructors Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson for a balance of mental and physical golf training.
“He’s trying to remain in his play box, to control what he can control, trust his process and not be so beholden to an outcome,” Marriott said.
Weir bragged about his new irons. “They’re hot,” he said. “They’re a little stronger. I’ve gained almost a full club on every shot.”
He says he hasn’t seen any increase in distance off the tee but he does brag, “I’m hitting a lot more fairways these days.”
One reason Weir sounds confident about his golf game: He is taking advantage of a little-known exemption on the Web.com Tour.
He is playing under an eligibility category designed for current and former PGA Tour members who are ages 48 and 49. He says he probably will play 15 to 18 Web.com Tour events in 2019. He will turn 50 in May 2020 and intends to join the PGA Tour Champions.
Meanwhile, Weir has advice for amateur golfers everywhere: “Establish balance in your life. It is very, very important. I think that balance is part of life. I’ve really suffered from injuries. It’s set me back. But I have kept the balance in my life and not let all my problems affect me too much. So I am very excited right now about playing in these tournaments.”
Andrew Techmeier, who is caddying for Weir in the Desert Classic, likes what he sees. “He’s swinging great, his attitude is great and I’m not just saying that because I’m his caddie. That’s the swing that won a major championship.”
Still, some golf fans (and, I have to admit, some journalists) believe that Weir should hang it up. They say he is done at 48. Regardless, it doesn’t take an intern to see that Weir has remained serious about the game. As his injuries have healed, his game appears to have slowly returned to previous form.
In a court of law, we might argue that anybody who has won eight PGA Tour events, as Weir has, should be awarded a lifetime PGA Tour exemption. And he also has that Masters title.
Back to reality, though: Weir does not possess full-time status on any tour at present. He is golf’s version of the newspaper intern – mostly silent but growing louder.
Mike Weir during the 2017 RBC Canadian Open. Photo: Eric Bolte, USA Today Sports
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