IRVING, Texas – It would be a really big deal if Mike Weir won the HP Byron Nelson Championship. An entire nation would rejoice. A terrific comeback story would have a happy ending, even if it weren’t the end, and every former star struggling to reclaim his glory days would have another reason to believe.
Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, but through 54 holes at TPC Four Seasons, all this feelgood needs is some punctuation.
Let’s roll the calendar back to 2012. Weir missed the cut in all 12 of his starts that season – he’d made two cuts in 15 starts in 2011. When you’re 42 years old and you’ve made $23,312 over a two-year stretch, you begin to do a lot of thinking.
“There were plenty of times when I was down and wondering what I was going to do next,” Weir says. “You start to question whether you want to keep doing this. I’ve got two young daughters who are teenagers now, and being away from home gets harder. If you’re playing good golf, that’s one thing. If you’re playing bad golf, that’s another.”
For the better part of a decade, Weir was the prodigal son of Canadian golf. He won seven PGA Tour events from 1999-2004, the sixth of which was the 2003 Masters. Two of his victories would come at Riviera CC, another at a Tour Championship, yet another at a premium-field WGC.
He would climb to as high as third in the world ranking and remain in the top 10 for two years. Weir was small (5-9, 155 pounds), left-handed and ultra-tenacious – the perfect representation for a country seemingly obsessed with gaining more respect in golf’s universe.
As the first Canadian to win a professional major title, however, Weir always dealt with a greater burden of expectation than most of his contemporaries. The hopes of an entire nation seemed to hinge on his every swing. Although he remained a very solid tour pro in the mid-2000s and won a Fall Series event in ‘07, a yearning to get better led Weir to the stack-and-tilt method taught by swing coaches Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer.
That wouldn’t last, nor would a return to instructor Mike Wilson, who had helped Weir evolve from a mini-tour grinder into one of the world’s best in the late 1990s. A torn ligament in Weir’s right elbow cost him distance he couldn’t afford to lose – Weir finally underwent surgery to correct the issue in 2011.
Then things got really bad.
“I’ve continued to work with [sports psychologist] Rich Gordon, and it comes down to me accepting that I still love this game,” Weir says. “I still want to compete, still want to see if I can get back to the level I once was, or even exceed that. Bottom line is, I love being out there. That’s enough to keep me positive, keep me working hard.”
What makes this week different from all the others in recent years? Weir leads the Nelson field in putts per GIR and is second in strokes gained on the greens. In an interesting switch last month, he ditched the fat grip on his putter so many golfers have found helpful and returned to a normal-sized one.
There have been intermittent signs of life in his career in 2014. A T-44 at the Masters was greatly undermined by a third-round 79. A T-57 at Quail Hollow was equally derailed by a closing 77. Decades of data show that players who are Weir’s age – he turned 44 at the beginning of the week – struggle to put together four good rounds of golf.
To this point, he’s put together three of them. You certainly don’t have to be a Canadian to be pulling for him Sunday afternoon.