More about the head analysis shortly. Some of us had acid flashbacks. Watching the 2003 Masters Champion come second in the HP Byron Nelson Championship on Sunday May 18th reminded us of when he was ranked as high as number three worldwide, to when he was ranked in the top ten for some 110 weeks.
Heck, the sole reason he was in Byron’s tournament was through a sponsor’s exemption. But what was nearly as gratifying as watching the just-turned-44-year old scramble to almost win was hearing the gracious comments made throughout the last round by both Sir Nick Faldo and Ian Baker-Finch. The latter, especially, knows what it's like to fall – hard – from exalted golfing status.
It wasn’t, however, a case where the Canadian-born Weirsy had flown too close to the sun in the first place. He had flunked the dreaded Q school six times before qualifying for the PGA in 1998. He had more than paid his dues playing all over the world, on his own, while wife Bricia would wait to find out his scores.
Often those scores weren't good. But he kept plugging away. He never stopped believing in himself, though others did. And some probably never believed in him from the outset.
So why has he been prodding and poking his psyche and physique these past few years to turn things around? Why the need to prove himself?
He’s an unassuming sort, not a blabbermouth. If he wanted to yap the crap, he could have sat back and chewed the fat in his newly renovated home overlooking Salt Lake City. But he and Bricia - who continued her social-work career as Mike struggled early on in his - are made of sterner stuff. Plus, he’s an action man. He’s gotta keep active for the kids. As a Dad he’s involved, and undoubtedly wants to set a top-notch example for his daughters.
So outside of being daddy, what’s next for the gentlemanly player? He’ll probably keep his one-warm-up-half-swing pre-shot routine. He’s gone back to a thinner grip on his putter. He might shed the iFocusBand brain reader that he wore while practicing. (It was to help dampen left-brain conscious thought.) Most importantly, he’ll hopefully keep the confidence he’s built on , after his near win, against a competitive field.
It is a testament to his popularity with his pro peers that all were pulling for him, and this in a golfer-eat-golfer livelihood where you only feed if you make fees. Golf is not some game where the coach can play you due to sentimentality or insanity. Results keep you playing in PGA tournaments. Sure, a sponsor’s exemption may seem to contradict that assertion but they only come, in the case of a fellow like Weir, because of past great works (and over 27 million in winnings).
Watching his game Sunday was watching a lesson in body English. As Nick Faldo pointed out, a golfer only uses body English on the greens if the golfer thinks he’s got the putt made. Mike also gets every inch out of his 155-pound frame, and game. He’s not a “bomber” who is going to grip it and rip it, like John Daly used to, 300+ yards down the fairway, or into the next county. But he is, as golfers say, “sneaky long” off the tee. He can hit ‘em out there some 270 yards. And his iron game, when on, can be as precise as a jeweler cutting diamonds.
Watching Weir’s iron shot off the very tough par three seventeenth hole at Byron’s was a jewel. And a testament to his guts. He drilled it left of the pin, about 8 feet away. Granted, he had to go for the flag to put some pressure on Brendon Todd, who was two strokes ahead, but other - younger - players were playing “safe” going for the fat part of the green – far away from the pin.
Speaking of far away, try this on for size: 1,575. That’s how many days it had been since Mike Weir last had a top ten finish. And a second-place finish is a pretty classy and savvy way to break back into a top ten, huh? And taking home $745,200 dollars for four days work had to leave him with a smile extending from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
What may make for an even bigger smile, and not to get all wimpy and weepy here, is that Elle and Lili saw their Dad shoot the lights out, at the Byron, on TV. (They had been three and six years old when he won at Augusta.) No doubt they know the stories of how he’s Canada’s number one golfer, and an icon up there, but now they've tangible proof. Cheers all around.
And if you want to talk cheers, Mike Weir’s brother tells the story of the loudest ovation possibly ever heard in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. Master’s Mike was there sporting the famed Green Jacket, to ceremoniously drop the puck for the opening faceoff. The roar was one for the ages. Doug Gilmour, ex-star player for the Maple Leafs, was heard to say that that sound, that din, was the loudest he had ever heard in that venerable building. Fitting. When he came back to Canada from Georgia, Weirsy was venerated. He would have walked over water at the Gardens, but hockey’s played on ice.
So, his professional game is not on thin ice, it’s not over. Freddy Couples is 55 and still plays, especially at the Masters these past few years, like he’s 25. Ageless golf. (It’s like his right brain activity is on permanent Zen mode.) Not that Weir needs inspiration from Couples, for Mike has an inexhaustible well of inner strength and overall soul to draw upon, but should he look for a pick me up, to keep on the fairway of recovery to golfing excellence, Couples’ path is one he could try to emulate.
And with his four rounds in the sixties at the Irving, Texas, golf course, Weir has next year’s PGA tour card guaranteed. He can be choosier, picking those courses that suit his game best.
So what caused his game to flounder, exemplified by his missing every cut in the fourteen PGA tournaments he played in 2012? (Because, after his great showing at the Byron, his game, mentally, seems titanium tough.)
Blame the old dagnabbit tree root. He pranged his elbow hitting one in 2010 at Hilton Head. So physically he’s partially made of metal. He has a titanium staple in the right elbow.
With his elbow, neck, and tendon troubles, many thought Mike was daft, talking of making it back to “contention.” But after making the cut at the 2014 Masters, and after his recent second place finish, his earlier predictions of better play to come now sound, not improvident, but prescient. He hadn't put four rounds of good golf together, and he admitted same, but he knew that he was getting close.
And for his millions of fans worldwide, maybe we can, once again, like we did watching him at the Byron’s Championship on Sunday, get close to the TV, to Mike, and to our own possibilities of making comebacks -over whatever hazards and traps life has thrown in our way.
Thanks, Mike - for giving us hope.
(This just in. Mike Weir shot a 73, 72 in the first two rounds at the Memorial Tournament. He missed the cut by one shot. So close.)