Weir's winning attitudeCanada's favourite golfer savouring his dream season
By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Wayne Gretzky's mansion is perched high on one of the hills that passes for the Santa Monica Mountains, looking down on Sherwood Country Club. Generations ago, Douglas Fairbanks and, later, Errol Flynn each played the lead in different movie versions of Robin Hood filmed on this picturesque, wooded paradise in the highlands that rise from the Pacific Ocean just above Malibu.
Fifteen years ago, Jack Nicklaus put a golf course on this land, carefully transplanting many of the gnarled old oak, willow and sycamores to create a tree-lined course unlike any other on the West Coast of California.
With the golf course in place, next came the castles -- 70 or 80 years too late for Fairbanks and Flynn, but just in time for Gretzky -- clinging nervously to the hillsides.
It is, in its own way, still a fantasyland and it is here in this marvellous setting that Mike Weir's fairytale season will come to an end at the Target World Challenge this weekend.
At the conclusion of 2003, he has much to reflect upon with pride. Three PGA Tour wins. A Masters green jacket. Nearly $5 million US in winnings. A single-digit world ranking. A reputation as a go-to Presidents Cup warrior.
And a national icon in Canada.
A year ago at this time, after a mediocre (for him) season, Weir was in deep introspection about all aspects of his game. The determinations he made about practical things like his wedge play and more philosophically, about attitude, set him on course for the single most successful golf season ever by a Canadian.
"I feel like I've always been a player who responded to adversity in a good way," Weir said yesterday after shooting a three-over-par opening round 75 at windswept Sherwood. "When my back's against the wall, maybe I come out fighting a little harder. I think there's a correlation there.
"At the end of 2002, I saw my world ranking dropping and there was a chance I wasn't going to make it to the Presidents Cup. I saw these things slipping away. I sat at home, watching the Tour Championship on television, a tournament where I was defending champion. Some of those things, combined, may have given me a bit of resolve to turn it around."
At home in Draper, Utah, he worked on his short game fundamentals and he changed his attitude, determined to recapture the joy of the game. Golf had become too much like work and Weir resolved to once again start having fun playing the game he loves.
"The big thing I can take from this year is that I was enjoying competing more. I was enjoying the challenge of finding a way to get it done, even when I wasn't hitting it that well," he said.
"The year before I let myself get frustrated when things didn't go well. It's a lot easier to stay in the game when you're not fighting it."
There was a great deal to be proud of in 2003, but the focus always comes down to the second Sunday in April when Weir had all of Canada enthralled as he immersed himself in the greatest pressure-cooker in golf -- the back nine at Augusta National.
"I don't think there's any pressure like the back nine at Augusta on Sunday, as far as feeling history and feeling that anything can happen and usually does," he said. "I don't think there's anything more difficult.
"That's the benchmark. Players I've talked to -- some of them have won and some of them didn't do well at all -- have agreed with me. There's such an aura. The roars are like no other. They're magical. I think in the next few weeks when I finally have a chance to sit back, I'll be able to realize how special it was."
A part of him knew it immediately.
After making the biggest putt of his life, a seven-footer for par at the 18th, he won the playoff against Len Mattiace on the first playoff hole, the 10th. At the end of a week that began with three or four days of incessant rain, the air was soft and warm in the dying sunlight. It's a moment he grasped as his own, a place he can retreat to anytime he wants.
"The way the week had gone -- soaking wet every day -- and then to have it end so beautifully for me, to be sitting there on a warm, perfect Georgia evening with the sun going down, I just wanted to soak it all in and I did soak it all in, especially on that 10th green, as long as I could. It's that moment in time, more than all the accolades, that's what I'll recall ... the pure satisfaction of getting it done. That's the real joy."
After the euphoria of the Masters, there is a tendency to dismiss the rest of Weir's season as inconsequential. He won no more tournaments and that dry spell is probably what deprived him of winning player of the year honours. Truth is, he always was close to a breakthrough.
After Augusta, he played 12 tournaments, won nearly $1.5 million, finished in the top 10 five times, including two of the three remaining majors, then played a key role in the International Team's Presidents Cup draw. Most players would be thrilled to have all that on their resume.
"I would say that during the second half of this year I didn't drive the ball very well and that's why I struggled a bit," he said.
"But it wasn't that bad. I was in the hunt at two of the the other three majors. I'm not happy that each time a stretch of bad holes did me in, but, truthfully, I was able to hold myself in with a strong short game."
His success has kept Weir out on the road far longer than he would like, but that's the price he must pay. After he's finished here on Sunday, he is packing his clubs away and they won't come out until a day or two ahead of the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii in early January.
"I need some time off. Growing up in Canada, golf was always a summer sport. I'm used to getting a nice break in the off-season and this year it will be only three weeks," he said. "Last year, I had almost three months. The clubs are going to go into storage for three weeks. I'm not going to touch my clubs for three weeks."
But even as he relaxes, Weir will be taking stock and planning next season, in consultation with his swing coach, Mike Wilson, his sports psychologist, Rich Gordin, and his personal trainer.
"In general I don't have to do anything to my swing," he said. "Some fine tuning, but that is always a part of playing at this level. It's amazing what a year of travel does to you. With so much time on an airplane, your posture is off. It changes how you feel over the ball. I think that was why I was so fired up at the beginning of the year. My body was in great shape and my fundamentals were right. I think I was able to ride that feeling of well-being for four or five months.
"I just wanted to get into the heat of battle a little more. I missed that (in 2002). I put myself in position to win a little more and that is an important part of becoming a better player."
Aside from a steady stream of appearance requests and a greater recognition factor, even in the United States, Weir's life has remained essentially the same since the Masters, largely because that's exactly the way he wants it to be.
"For the most part, it's the same life I've had and hope to continue to have, especially at home with Bricia, the girls and I," said Weir, whose daughters Elle and Lily are 5 and 3, respectively.
Never was that driven home with more emphasis than at Hamilton Golf and Country Club at this year's Canadian Open. For most of Weir's fans it was the first time seeing him live since Augusta, even though it was five months removed. It was a mob scene of rock star proportions.
But out here in the twilight of a dream season, in a latter-day setting right out of Camelot, mixed with California cool, it's all good. This week, Weir is up there in the house on the hill as a house guest of The Great One himself.
He may not be master of all he surveys because, in this neck of the woods, that's Tiger's portfolio.
But make no mistake -- life is good.
Life is very good.