It was just too much for Weir

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:53 AM ET

It always seems the jackals among us want to hear the word. They don't want euphemisms. They don't want mitigating circumstances.

It's not good enough that Mike Weir lost the Canadian Open or was beaten or failed on one of the biggest days of his life.

They need to hear that he choked. The "c" word was all over the radio and TV yesterday and probably appeared in print somewhere, proudly spoken or written with proper disdain. People seem to get some sort of sanctimonious satisfaction from spitting out the word with just the right amount of venom attached, as if they were the first to figure it out.

It's true, by the way. Weir did choke on Sunday and if anybody was listening closely to what he said after failing to close out Vijay Singh, despite a variety of chances to do so, he admitted to the crime with some candor.

And without embarrassment, only regret that it happened on a day that would have brought him great honour and to Canadians, great joy.

What is choking?

Choking is a response to perceived pressure. It happens when you get distracted from the immediate task at hand, which, for Weir on Sunday, was to step into his own personal cone of silence and make each shot as it arose.

Instead, it became impossible for him not to think about becoming the first Canadian in 50 years to win his country's national championship. It happens to athletes in every sport, but golfers are particularly vulnerable because their pursuit is solitary and utterly unforgiving.

In more than 30 years of covering sports, in retrospect, I have never seen a situation so ripe for distraction and failure as the one that Weir faced on Sunday.

He was under one of the most extreme microscopes I've ever witnessed, and his opponent happened to be the No. 1 player in the world.

This is the same man who earned international admiration for his steely nerve on the back nine at Augusta National a year ago last April. But unless you were there in the centre of that cauldron of raw emotion at the Abbey, you can't begin to grasp the opportunity for him to take his eye off the ball, so to speak.

Weir's circumstances are unique in the realm of golf. No other single player in the world carries the flag for his country as does Weir. Not even Tiger Woods. Ernie Els is revered in South Africa, but there are seldom any events of major import played on his home soil.

At last year's Presidents Cup, when he duelled Woods to a draw in the playoff, Els admitted that it was the most intense competition of his life, partly because he was playing at home.

Next weekend, the Ryder Cup will be played just outside Detroit. If ever there was a choke-fest in sports, this is it. Players on both sides down through the generations have admitted they've never felt more under the gun and more vulnerable than when playing for their country. And many have failed miserably in the clutch.

On Sunday, Weir was reminded of something Seve Ballesteros said when reflecting on a putt missed by Bernhard Langer that cost the Euros the 1992 Ryder Cup. Ballesteros said it was "almost too much pressure" for any single person to have to deal with.

"I did feel like that a little bit (Sunday)," Weir said. "I wasn't able to gather my emotions and that, looking back, is probably why I didn't feel comfortable."

He also was asked if he could feel the weight of the country, and the answer was quick and precise. "Every shot," he said.

Scoff if you must. Sure, other athletes feel great pressure to produce on the international stage. Tonight, a hockey team wearing the maple leaf is putting its pride on the line and if somehow it loses to the Finns, the team will get some of the same treatment Weir has been getting. But at least the players on Team Canada will have 20-odd teammates to share it with.

People choke in sports and in life every minute of every day. Pressure does that to us all. Mike Weir has proven in the past he can handle some of the toughest circumstances.

What happened Sunday might just have been, as Ballesteros said, "too much."

So if it makes you feel better, call Weir a choker.

But be ready to look in the mirror when you do.


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