- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Mike Weir always figured if he won a major, it would be one of the Opens. The U.S. seemed doable because of his facility with mid-irons (a necessity on tight, lengthy tracks), and the British was conceivable because of his ability to fashion low-trajectory shots (crucial on the breezy links).

So it was something of a shock this past April when Weir walked away from Augusta National with a green jacket. The Masters, traditionally a long-driving contest, was conquered by a 5-foot-9, 155-pound Canadian who hadn’t cracked the top 20 in three previous visits. Talk about your career-changing weekend.

Just like that, Weir went from being the PGA Tour’s second most celebrated lefty, whose biggest accomplishments had been a Tour Championship (2001) and a World Golf Championship (2000, at Valderrama), to fielding questions about a possible Masters-U.S. Open double. And, hey, why not? He just finished third in the Memorial, putting up a 65 in the final round, and was in the hunt in the Open at Southern Hills two years ago before settling for 16th. This week’s venue, Olympia Fields, seems similarly manageable for him — long (a 7,190-yard par 70) — but not too long.

“What makes me feel I have a chance here,” he says, “is that I’m not going to be hitting 3-woods and 5-woods and 3-irons into every hole. There’s going to be a couple of holes like that, but for the most part it’s going to be a lot of mid-irons, which I think is the overall strength of my game.”

Hopefully, Weir will have recovered from Game7 of the Stanley Cup Finals by the time he tees off today. (But with Canadians you never know.) He’s big buddies with Adam Oates — Oatsie once arranged for him to practice with the Capitals — and he took the Mighty Ducks’ loss to New Jersey hard.

“Obviously, I felt for those guys,” he says. “They’d been underdogs the whole [playoffs]. And for Adam’s sake, being in the league almost 20 years, it would be great to see a guy like that who’s had an outstanding career get a Stanley Cup. … I called him [afterward]. I didn’t talk to him. I just left a message on his voice mail.”

Such is the capriciousness of the games we play. Adam Oates, a lock for the Hall of Fame, is once again denied a Stanley Cup, and Mike Weir, who isn’t a cinch for any lifetime achievement awards just yet, makes off with the Masters in his fourth try.

Weir, by the way, had a serious case of Augusta Lag for a while. Normally, he’s pretty focused on the task at hand — the tournament he’s in, the shot he’s facing. But when he returned to the tour three weeks after the Masters, he found himself “reminiscing about [it] quite a bit,” even in the middle of a round. “That made me think it hadn’t sunk in, because I was replaying shots in my mind.”

His play in the Memorial, though, showed that he has rejoined us in the here and now. He’s ready to win again, ready to add to his three victories already this year. And now he’s equipped with the confidence that comes with capturing a major championship — a major championship he wouldn’t have guessed he’d win. He looks at venerable Olympia Fields, with its quirky 36-34 layout and two par-5s in the first six holes, and thinks: I can do this. I’ve shown I can handle the most extreme pressure golf has to offer. I can be the only player on the golf course with a chance to catch the leader for four or five holes and, far from imploding, actually prevail.

“As a kid growing up in Canada, the first tournament I remember watching was the Masters,” he says. “I remember being inspired by Jack Nicklaus … and how he actually played our golf course when I was a kid. So that kind of ran through my mind [on Masters Sunday]. Maybe there’s some little boy or girl from a small town in Canada who’s watching [and being similarly inspired].”

It’s unseasonably cool here at the U.S. Open, and when the wind kicks up it can get downright cold. Some are calling it Weir Weather, claiming — tongue-in-cheek, of course — that he brought it with him from Canada. Never mind that Weir lives in Utah these days with his wife and two daughters; he’s the reigning Masters champ and, by definition, a very influential man.

In many ways, however, he’s still Weirsie from Sarnia, Ontario. His recent success certainly hasn’t changed his outlook much. It would be great to be able to rattle Tiger Woods’ cage on regular basis, he says, but “when it’s all said and done, hopefully I’m a better player at 40 than I was at 30.”

And by then — who knows? — maybe Oates’ name will be on the Stanley Cup.

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