Weir feels refreshed at Masters after challenging years

by Adam Stanley

AUGUSTA, Ga. – In 2003, when Mike Weir won the Masters—cementing his status as Canada’s greatest in the sport—it was his third win of the PGA Tour season. Later that year, he rocketed up to third in the Official World Golf Ranking and went on to win the Lou Marsh Award, the annual prize awarded to this country’s top athlete.

Today, Weir ranks 1,040th in the world, and the 45-year-old has only made one cut in the last season-and-a-half. He also recently went through a divorce.

But Weir is feeling good about his game, his life, and his chances this week. On Monday he stood under the iconic oak tree adjacent to Augusta’s clubhouse and was all smiles. He says this year’s Masters may be a starting point for a good stretch of golf to come.

“My path is cleared a little bit more of the things I’ve had to deal with the past couple years,” says Weir. “I feel better and more focused. There’s a little more excited anticipation for the tournament than there has been in the past years for me.”

The tall pines and immaculate condition of Augusta National Golf Club inspire the native of Brights Grove, Ont., more than any other course in the PGA Tour rotation. And no matter how he is playing ahead of the Masters, he has the comfort of knowing he can come back and take part in the storied championship until he feels no longer able.

“Every time I come down Magnolia Lane, it still feels like it’s my first time. It’s such a special place,” says Weir, who came a long way to get to the top of golf’s tallest mountain. “When I was on the Canadian Tour people would say I couldn’t make it because I was too short, blah blah blah. Well, I found a way to do it, and I still believe I’ll find a way to do it.”

Weir will be the only Canadian in the field at Augusta National (in 2015, he was joined by then-amateur Corey Conners and in 2014, Graham DeLaet made his Masters debut), and feels he has as good a chance as any to compete this week. “I came here to play well; my game feels pretty good,” he says.

Maybe it’s the memories that help give Weir his sense of unwavering confidence. Memories that very few in the world have.

“I was as confident as anyone in the field going in to that week,” Weir says, reflecting back on 2003. “Every week I teed it up that year I seemed to play well. I had already won twice, and even though the course was playing super long [it rained all week before the tournament began, and Weir’s first round was postponed until Friday], I felt like one of the favourites.”

As they say, the rest is history.

Weir hosted a Canadian-themed Champions Dinner the following year, prepared by his childhood friend and chef Alastair Mackay of Sarnia, Ont., who has known Weir since they were five.

Mackay says he wasn’t nervous to cook a meal for some of the biggest names in sports, he just wanted to do well for his friend. “As a chef, the person who the food is for is secondary,” Mackay explains. “Deep down they’re just regular guys that happen to excel at golf.”

Mackay served a three-course meal that featured cuisine from across the country, including roasted rack of caribou. He says 26 of the 30 guests ordered his menu. And as names like Woods, Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer noshed away, it wasn’t a surprise for Mackay to see his friend in their company.

“You have a lot of people you know as a teenager who aspire to be something and who want to do something, and for 99 per cent of them, you just shrug it off and say, ‘Well good luck to you,’” he says. “But there’s always that one person in the back of your mind you’re thinking, if someone is going to do it, it’s going to be this person. And that was Mike.”

Weir sat in between Byron Nelson and Tom Watson at that Champions Dinner, and says a highlight was to address all the past champions.

“All these guys are there, and you realize how special it is to be part of the club,” he explains. “It’s probably the toughest to get into in the world.”

Chip Shots: There was almost as much focus on who isn’t here as on those who are. Tiger Woods announced Friday he would be missing The Masters for the second time in three seasons, citing he was not physically prepared to play competitively again. “I’m really happy with how far I’ve come, but I still have no timetable to return to competitive golf,” he wrote on his website… The second annual Drive, Chip and Putt competition took place Sunday with three Canadians in the field. Vanessa Borovilos of Toronto, Ont., finished fifth in the Girls 7-9 division, Jayla Kucy of Camrose, AB. finished 10th in the Girls 10-11 division, and Elaine Giantsopoulos of Richmond Hill, Ont., finished 9th in the Girls 12-13 division… The betting favourite this week (according to Golfodds.com) is Jason Day at 7/1, while Jordan Spieth is 15/2 and Rory McIlroy is 8/1. Mike Weir is 2500/1… McIlroy recorded an ace on the par-3 16th hole with a 7-iron during his practice round Monday…