Sports

A dream comes true

Canadian Mike Weir makes his first trip to the Masters

James Deacon April 10 2000
Sports

A dream comes true

Canadian Mike Weir makes his first trip to the Masters

James Deacon April 10 2000

A dream comes true

Sports

Canadian Mike Weir makes his first trip to the Masters

Sitting at home in Draper, Utah, Mike Weir was getting edgy. His wife, Bricia, was nearing her due date for the birth of the couple’s second child, and he took last week off just in case. Their first daughter, Elle, was early when she arrived in December, 1997, and Weir was kind of hoping that history would repeat itself. Some of the suspense was already gone—he and Bricia already knew she was carrying another little girl. But he was still anxious in a quiet, fatherly way.

Of course, he would have been in a state of nervous anticipation even without a baby coming. For the first time in his career, the 29-year-old lefty from Bright’s Grove, near Sarnia, Ont., had qualified to play in the Masters, being held this week at fabled Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. It is the first major championship of the 2000 season, and no other Canadian has been invited to play the event since Richard Zokol in 1993. By far the top-rated golf broadcast of the year, the Masters is the tournament Weir dreamed about when he was learning the game at Huron Oaks Golf Club in southwestern Ontario. “As a kid, on the practice green, I’d hit a

million putts,” he said. “And every one was to win the Masters.”

It would be a real surprise if he found himself putting for victory this week. When groomed for the tournament, Augusta National favours veterans who have learned from frustrating experience how to negotiate its slick, undulating greens. And practically everyone from British bookmakers to casual fans considers Tiger Woods the man to beat this week. The 24-year-old Californian is the hottest golfer on the planet—he has won 18 PGA Tour events in less than four years as a pro, he holds the alltime Masters scoring record and he has previously succeeded under the crushing pressure leaders face coming down the stretch at Augusta. If Woods slips, the oddsmakers favour South African Ernie Els, Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, or Americans David Duval, Tom Lehman, Davis Love and steely Hal Sutton, who stared down Woods at the Players’ Championship last month.

But Weir could be a factor. He has been a quick study in past majors, such as last July in Scotland. In his first British Open, he struggled with blustery conditions in the opening round, then adjusted and played brilliantly in

the second round to make the cut. At his first PGA championship in Chicago in August, he was tied for the lead with Woods through three rounds before faltering over the final 18 holes. Weir proceeded to win the Air Canada championship in Vancouver the next month, finished the year ranked among the top 50 players in the world, and last week sat 20th among Tour moneywinners. “I’m still a work in progress,” he says of his game, “but I’m pleased with how I have been playing.”

This is heady stuff. Previous tour players from Canada, such as Zokol, Dave Barr and Dan Halldorson, all enjoyed long careers and won tournaments, but Weir is the first Canadian male since the late George Knudson who seems capable of contending regularly and maintaining a place among the game’s elite. In a recent interview, Australian legend Peter Thompson, captain of the international team for next fall’s President’s Cup matches against the United States, singled out Weir as one of the rising talents on a team that is expected to include superstars such as Els, Aussie Greg Norman and Zimbabwe’s Nick Price. The reason for Thompson’s enthusiasm? Among other things, Weir, when he is on, is an uncanny putter, and it is on the greens that championships are decided.

Weir can be excused his excitement about playing at the Masters. It is a special place for seasoned professionals as well as for fans, for whom the sight of Augusta each April, its azaleas in bloom and its fairways practically fluorescent green, has always heralded the coming of a new season. “If Mike can’t make it, I’d be happy to fill in,” Ladies Professional Golf Association star Lorie Kane of Charlottetown said jokingly last week. She added: “I just hope he enjoys the experience, has the time of his life.” She needn’t fret. “I know when they call me to the tee on Thursday,” Weir says, “I’ll have a big smile on my face.” And that smile will grow even bigger if by then there are four members of the Weir family rather than three.

James Deacon