Pressure pactWeir vows to enjoy the party at Canadian Open
By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun
ANCASTER -- The strategy is a subtle variation on the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" theme.
For the better part of a century, the Canadian Open has been a wasteland for homegrown players. No Canadian-born player has won the Open since 1914 when Karl Keffer pulled it off.
Over the intervening years, thousands of Canadians have dreamed of winning the Open to the point of obsession. But no one, not even the late, great George Knudson was able to pull it off. (Pat Fletcher was a Saskatoon resident when he won it in 1954, but he was born in England.)
Knudson declared it the toughest tournament for a Canadian to win.
"There's just too much pressure," he said.
Which brings us to the eve of the 2003 renewal, coming near the end of the single greatest season, ever, by a Canadian male golfer.
Mike Weir has arrived at Hamilton Golf and Country Club with the most impressive credentials any Canadian-born has ever brought to the first tee of an Open. Masters champion, three-time winner, potential PGA player of the year, perhaps even a PGA money title are arrayed in front of him. In a couple of months, he will be one of the linchpins on the international team at the Presidents Cup in South Africa.
Because of his success this year, the expectations being placed on Weir this weekend are enormous, the pressure nearly unbearable. As he makes his way around Hamilton's impressive fairways and greens, he is getting the rock star treatment and is developing a new understanding of what it must be like to be Tiger Woods.
In the past, that pressure, or at least perceived pressure, has scuttled many an ambitious Canadian at this tournament. Weir knows that, both from careful observation and personal experience.
To combat it, this year he has a plan. Essentially, that plan is to embrace the pressure, immerse himself in it. Instead of fighting it, he's going to enjoy it and feed off it.
It's a smooth psychologial ploy, if he can pull it off.
"That was a game plan of mine at the beginning of the year, at Augusta, to enjoy myself, to enjoy my golf a little more and it seems like the results have come from that," Weir said.
"The expectations just add to the pressure and the only thing I can control are my own expectations. My own expectations are to go out there, enjoy myself, play well and not get ahead of myself. This week presents more of a challenge to stay with that and not let the expectations get too high just because everyone else's are."
Weir can literally feel the energy around him at the golf course. For many of the fans he encounters, it's the first time they have seen him in action since the Masters win.
"There's definitely a different vibe out there, a different feel," he said. "There's more energy. People are really pulling for me. It's neat. It's great.
"That's why I'm just going to try to enjoy it and not look at it as too much heat."
Weir's mental strength is one of his great attributes as a high-calibre competitor. This year, especially, he has handled and channeled pressure beautifully and his experiences will stand him in good stead this week.
Still, it can be a bit overwhelming. He has vivid memories as a kid attending his first Open, along with a group of fellow juniors from Sarnia. Later on, as a scuffling young pro, he remembers the Monday qualifiers and the joy he had when he actually made it into the field.
"I remember as a kid at university coming out and just being able to hit Titleist golf balls on the range was a big thrill; so I would hit them all day and by the time the tournament started I was all worn out."
All these memories stoke the fires of desire. This is not just another Tour stop. A victory here would be a thrill for a lifetime, even a lifetime as special as the one Mike Weir is enjoying.
"It would mean a great deal," he said.
"Obviously it would be the realization of a dream of mine to win this tournament and to do it this year, especially."
So the key will be to not want it so badly that it becomes an anvil around his neck. He must embrace the pressure and the expectations as validation for all the hard work and the many successes he has achieved.
If he can do that, then he just might go where no Canadian has gone for the better part of a century.