What’s the worst shot I saw hit by a professional golfer this year?
That’s easy. Standing on the 9th hole at Hamilton Golf and Country Club during the opening round of the RBC Canadian Open, Mike Weir stood alongside Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair. Weir had managed to ham-and-egg his way around the course that day until he hit the 9th, a par four that was playing both downhill and downwind. O’Hair and Mahan both hit 3-woods, in the case of O’Hair it went too far, blowing through the fairway. Weir, surprisingly, pulled his driver.
At the time Weir was only a couple of months into working with former PGA Tour regular Grant Waite as a swing coach. He seemed uncertain of his long clubs.
In this case, his swing looked fine going back, but coming down it seemed rushed and forced, not like what one typically sees by pros who have won eight times. The resulting drive squirted out low and right, never getting more than 20 feet in the air and heading directly into the right trees about 220 yards from the tee. It was a staggeringly bad shot for a player who was once among the most consistent in the game. The rest of his round went a little better – still highlighting Weir’s struggles off the tee – and despite playing adequately on the second ay, he still missed the cut.
Last week Weir, who will use his Top 25 all-time money list exemption, played with Mark Calcavecchia at Greg Norman’s two-man event. They finished dead last. That’s not a huge factor, but Calcavecchia’s comments that Weir “is hurt,” doesn’t bode well:
“It was horrible,” said Calcavecchia, who has played in 19 of the 24 Shootouts, winning twice. “Dead last. Not good. We had fun. I’m hurt, Weir is hurt and we just made no putts. When you finish last it’s not that fun but I always enjoy playing this tournament. I told Greg (Norman) that. I’ve been here a lot of years and had a lot of memories here.”
So here’s your mission, Mike Weir, if you should choose to accept it — and it appears you have: Get back on the horse that threw you, compete again on the PGA Tour, prove to the ever-doubting public that you are not one of those sad cases — an Ian Baker-Finch, a David Duval — not some passing comet that burned itself out and never had the nerve, again, to put four great rounds together and make a serious move back up the long ladder.
Just how impossible is that mission?
Well, the facts are grim: 34 Canadians are listed in the official world golf ranking, down to Michael Mezei at No. 1,425. Weir isn’t one of them.
Mezei ahead of Weir? Go Mezei. But Mezei, who I caddied for this past summer, didn’t even have a good year.
Honestly, it shows just how significantly Weir has slipped. He missed the cut in all 14 events he played this year.
It must be difficult for Weir to continue to drag himself out to tournaments knowing there’s a likelihood he can’t be competitive. He’s a competitive guy by nature – and it must have been a struggle for him to head to the course knowing his game was in embarrassing shape.
But Weir told Cole he can make it back:
“It’s always been about that,” he said, on the phone from his home outside Salt Lake City. “I’ve heard since I was a junior golfer I’d never be good enough to be a college player, and then I’d never be a good pro, and then I’d never make it off the Canadian Tour …
“This is another setback I’ve had to go through, kind of the perfect storm of bad scenarios, of injuries, of getting into some funky problems, of being stubborn … but it is where I am now. I’m feeling good again and I’m sure there’s some good golf ahead of me.
“I know it’s easier said than done, because, no question, it’s been very stressful. To go out there and play that poorly is an awful feeling, there’s no joy in it when you’re used to a certain level. It’s very demanding mentally to try to keep an attitude and wake up the next day and get back to the grind, but I’ve been able to do that.”
I wonder if Weir is now trying to convince himself that he can make it back. There are no real signs his game is coming around, though discussions I’ve had with his agent, IMG’s Danny Fritz, suggests he’s hitting his driver better recently. Of course to complicate things, he’s struggled with his putting as of late.
Cole recognizes Weir’s 2013 schedule might not go according to plan, and brings up the notion the golfer has a second exemption he can use for 2014:
If it doesn’t work out, he’s still got one more career money exemption left in the bag for 2013. Mention it and there is a long silence on the phone.
“If I get to play a full schedule this year and stay nice and healthy,” he said, “I don’t think I’m going to have to use the second one.”
I’m not as convinced – and, I think Weir will face some big questions if this year isn’t a success. He recently reinked a deal with one of his key sponsors – Reuters – but others aren’t going to be as keen given his diminished profile. He’s still the best golfer Canada has produced, but corporate Canada will view a former athlete differently than a current star. Will he be part of RBC’s package come next year? Far from clear.
But beyond that, I wonder whether Weir can coax himself to continue if his game doesn’t improve. You can’t blame him. In a media world where people are either too quick to write him off in a seemingly vindictive fashion (see the Toronto Sun’s take a couple of years back), or too willing to accept his assurances that he’s improving, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
That said, look at the situation from the evidence of the stat sheet. Weir has made 10 cuts in three years – and only two in the last two (three if you count one of his European Tour event – and he was supposed to play there more frequently). He missed all 14 cuts on the PGA Tour this year. He was statistically dead last in driving distance, driving accuracy and greens in regulation. That’s golf’s Twilight zone. Coming back from such depths is more than a challenge – it might well be a miracle.
Weir’s pulled off near-miracles in the past. Heck, for many his career is improbable. He was never supposed to play on the PGA Tour, let alone win as many times as he did.
Sadly, I think he’s now the past of Canadian golf – and the future is in the hands of the likes of Graham DeLaet, or in a year or so, Adam Hadwin. That’s not to put Weir down in any fashion. He’s the greatest golfer the country has produced. That’s worth something – something worth celebrating. But it doesn’t mean he’s going to make a comeback. He can continue to valiantly try, to hold his head up while struggling, but the odds are stacked firmly against him. And they are long odds.
Of course, he’s heard that before.