Cover

HOMETOWN PRIDE

JOHN INTINI April 28 2003
Cover

HOMETOWN PRIDE

JOHN INTINI April 28 2003

HOMETOWN PRIDE

Cover

In Bright’s Grove, some folks want a Mike Weir Day,

JOHN INTINI

SITTING IN THE TINY DEN of his home in Bright’s Grove, Ont., Richard Weir is still trying to wrap his head around his son’s success. “When Mike was growing up he’d be at Huron Oaks golf club every day by eight in the morning, and stay until it was too dark to see the ball any more,” says Weir, 65, thumbing through a scrapbook of old newspaper clips and photos that document Mike’s early golf achievements. “My wife and I would often have to drive over to the club to drag him home. Sometimes we’d just bring him supper to make sure he ate something. All he ever wanted to do was hit golf balls.”

The long days of chipping, putting, and practising on the driving range at Huron Oaks paid off in a big way. Weir’s playoff victory at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., not only netted the 32-year-old Bright’s Grove native a cool US$1.08 million, but further cemented his status as the town’s favourite son. Locals don’t seem to care that Weir left town more than a decade ago, having won a golf scholarship to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and never moved home. (He currently lives in Draper, south of Salt Lake City.) In fact, nearly every conversation last week at restaurants, bars or coffee shops in this tiny community just east of Sarnia on the shores of Lake Huron seemed to revolve around Weir. “What war?” joked Brian Taylor, general manager of Huron Oaks. “Hockey playoffs? Who’s playing? All people here want to talk about is Mike.”

There’s little doubt that Weir’s Masters title has increased the number of kids in Bright’s Grove, and probably all of Canada for that matter, who want to be like Mike. In between draining putts on the practice green at Huron Oaks, 14-year-old Jordan Dayman was still recuperating from Weir’s big win. “I thought I had three heart attacks during the final round alone,” said Dayman, while warming up for his fourth round of 18 in as many days. “It’s great that a guy from my small town has made it big in the world.

People at school can’t stop talking about Mike. One guy made the mistake of going around saying that golf is for sissies, and the rest of us told him to shut up. Mike is not just a hometown hero, he’s a legend.” At Tim Hortons, 17-year-old Craig James fondly recalled his brief encounter with Weir about five years ago. “I was at a clinic Mike was holding at the club, and he picked me out of the crowd,” said James, a Grade 11 student who hawks doughnuts and coffee part-time to help offset the cost of his own golf addiction. “I told him I was a lefty and he asked if I wanted to try out his clubs. I got to swing his five and seven irons. He was so down to earth. I think there should be a Mike Weir Day in Bright’s Grove.”

While that’s unlikely, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley—whose jurisdiction includes Bright’s Grove—is busy trying to find the best way of recognizing the local hero. Renaming an arena or a park in Weir’s honour are possibilities. “I want to make sure that whatever we decide to do captures Mike’s essence,” says Bradley. “It has to be something with which Mike will have an emotional bond.” Outside St. Clair’s Secondary School in

Sarnia—where Weir graduated in 1988—a sign congratulating him greets visitors. In his office, gym teacher Dan Thorner, who coached Weir on the junior basketball team back in 1985, remembers the work ethic and strong play of his sharpshooting point guard. “He had a really nice left-handed shot and was an even better leader,” says Thorner. “We had a couple of kids on the team with attitude problems and Mike would always take them aside and quietly get them back on track. The other guys really looked up to him.”

As well as basketball and golf, Weir played a number of other sports growing up, including baseball and hockey. Not everyone was excited when he finally decided to focus on golf. His Little League baseball coach, Glenn Lecour, was desperate to keep his star left-handed pitcher on the roster. “After Mike told me he was thinking about leaving the ball team, I went out and played a round of 18 with him and his father,” recalls Lecour, a 49-year-old elementary-school teacher in Sarnia. “He really struggled that day and after the round I told him that he should stick with baseball. He didn’t follow my advice, which was obviously a great move for him and I’ve taken a lot of abuse over the years for it. But whenever I see Mike we have a pretty good laugh about it.”

St. Clair’s principal Peter Robinson says that Weir’s recent success has generated a great deal of excitement among the school’s students. “When Mike’s playing in a tournament, you just have to walk down the hall a few feet before someone tells you how he’s doing,” says Robinson, who was a viceprincipal at St. Clair’s during Weir’s last two years of high school in the late ’80s. “The students are always checking the Internet to keep track of his score. Mike’s dedication is a real inspiration for the students. We’d love it if he could get back here to speak.”

Weir’s hectic schedule might make such a visit difficult, but he will definitely be back in Bright’s Grove at the end of July for the

annual Sunshine Dreams for Kids charity that he organizes with former NHL star Dino Ciccarelli. The celebrity fundraising event for underpriviledged kids is held at Huron Oaks. Organizers have already had people across Canada and the United States inquiring about the event, and celebrities are confirming their attendance earlier than usual. “We’re already making plans on how to deal with crowd control,” says Taylor. “It is going to be crazy now that Mikey’s won the Masters. We usually get a few thousand people in here for the event, but who knows what’s going to happen this year.” Considering the amount of time the teenage Weir spent at Huron Oaks—where he worked in the clubhouse in addition to being a member—you’d expect his name to be plastered on many of the two dozen trophies kept behind glass. But because the club championship conflicted with his university schedule, he only competed a few times. So his name appears only twice—first in 1988, when he won, and again two years later, when he shared the title with Brian Walker from Sarnia. It’s a tournament that Walker remembers well. “I was up by a

stroke on Mike going into 18 and birdied the last hole, so I thought I was in pretty good shape,” says Walker, now a 45-yearold processing operator at Nova Chemicals in Sarnia. “But Mike came in with the foursome behind me and eagled the last hole to tie it up. At the time I just wondered what on earth do you have to do to beat this guy. Now that he’s won the Masters I’m just ecstatic to have tied him.”

Two days after embracing his son on the fringe of the 10th green at Augusta, Richard Weir says that being the proud father of a Master’s champion was never something he could have imagined. “My only aspiration, when it was clear that Mike had a gift, was that he earn a golf scholarship to help get an education, and then maybe come back to be the head pro at Huron Oaks,” he says, adding that Mike’s been beating him on the links from the age of 12. “Mike clearly had other plans. I’m sure there were many days Mike was on the 18th green at Huron Oaks pretending he was putting to win the Masters. Now he’s actually done it.” And it’s an achievement that has turned the quiet, smalltown guy into a national hero. lil

COUNTDOWN TO FAME

10 11980—At 10, Weir is given a set of left-handed clubs from a neighbour that are too long and too heavy-not that he cared.

9 I 1983-Writes a letter to Jack Nicklaus to ask whether he should switch and start playing right-handed. The Golden Bear writes back, telling him to keep playing as a natural southpaw.

8 I 1986—Wins Canadian Juvenile Championship.

7 I 1992-Named Conference Player of the Year and second-team Ali-American at Brigham Young University.

6 ! Feb. 15,1998-Plays first PGA Tour event-the United Airlines Hawaiian Open. Finishes tied for 21st and earns US$18,000.

5 I Sept. 5,1999-Earns first PGA Tour title at the Air Canada Championship in Surrey, B.C. The victory makes Weir the first Canadian to win a Tour event since Vancouver’s Richard Zokol won the 1992 Greater Milwaukee Open.

4 I 2000—Named Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year. Highlights included being the first Canadian to play in the Presidents Cup and winning the WGC-American Express Championship in Spain.

3 ! 2001-Winsthe prestigious, seasonending PGA Tour Championship. Finishes the year 11th on the PGA Tour money list.

2 I April 13,2003-Wins the Masters and becomes first Canadian man to win a major championship.

1 ! April 14,2003—David Letterman lists his Top 10 Messages Left on Mike Weir’s Answering Machine. Number 5:

“This is President Bush. Today you made ail of us proud to be Canadian."