In Conversation with Mike Weir
On 7 October 2016, the 2003 Masters golf champion Mike Weir of Sarnia, Ontario, spoke to Jeremy Freeborn for The Canadian Encyclopedia.
MW: I played a lot of other sports. I played hockey and baseball. I like the solitude of golf. You’re not relying on teammates. You’re not relying on a referee. It is all about you and your ability to master [something] yourself. Looking back, I think that is what intrigued me about golf. I have always been a hard worker, [and] do not rely on anyone else.
JF: At what point did you first realize that you could become a high performance golfer?
MW: I think the first time was when I was 13 years old. I went to play a tournament at Seaforth Golf and Country Club. Back then it was only a nine-hole course. I won the 18-and-under division. None of the older juniors could believe that I won. They all thought that I had cheated or something. They all asked my playing partners if I had shot 70. I did of course, and that is when I knew I was pretty good and I had a passion for it.
JF: What was your most memorable moment while competing in amateur golf in Canada?
MW: My most memorable moment was my first Ontario Men’s Amateur Golf Championship win at the Mississauga Golf and Country Club in 1990. I shot a 68 in the final round to beat the two-time United States Amateur champion Gary Cowan. I also beat some other well-established amateurs. When I won my first Ontario amateur championship with a ten-foot putt on the last hole to win, that was very memorable.
JF: Discuss some of the challenges of being a student athlete. How difficult was it to be one of the top golfers at the NCAA level, and concentrate on your academics at the same time?
MW: It was difficult. It’s a balancing act. I tried to schedule a lot of my classes early in the morning to try and be done by noon, so I could have the afternoon to practice golf. I had to register early to make sure I got the classes that I wanted. I also had to keep up with my classes when I was out of town.
JF: How beneficial was your Canadian Tour experience in helping you reach your PGA Tour goals?
MW: It had everything to do with it. By playing on the smaller tours such as Asia, Australia and especially on the Canadian Tour, it is where you cut your teeth as a professional. You learn a lot about your game and a lot about yourself. You learn how to manage your time, your emotions and how to get better at golf. My Canadian Tour experience had a lot to do with my success.
Right out of college, I was not ready yet to be an elite PGA tour player. I needed a few years of seasoning on the Canadian Tour to get my game better, to get my swing better, to learn how to score and play at the professional level. It had a great impact on my career.
JF: What do you remember most from winning the 1999 Air Canada Championship in Vancouver?
MW: That was one of the highlights of my career, really. I will always remember my first PGA Tour win. For it to happen in Canada, and the way it happened by dramatically holing a shot [an eagle] on the 14th hole, making a long putt on the 16th hole, and then making a really nice two putt on the 18th hole in front of a large crowd was very special and memorable.
JF: Prior to your Masters victory in 2003, you won the 2000 World Golf Championship in Spain and the 2001 PGA Tour Championship in Houston. Both victories were different, but both showed signs of perseverance and resiliency. In 2000, you came back from eight strokes to win, and in 2001, you needed to beat three high-profile golfers (Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and David Toms) in a playoff. Why do you think you were able to win those tournaments?
MW: It was experience in Spain. In 2000, I had an OK year, but I felt I was on the verge of some really good golf. After two rounds, I was eight strokes behind. The reason I was eight strokes behind is because I made an eight, a triple bogey, on the 17th hole. A lot of players were having difficulty on that hole and making big numbers. Except for that hole, I felt I could be right in contention. On Saturday I got off to a really hot start and played some of the best golf I ever played in my life. I shot a 65 in tough conditions and made up a ton of ground [Weir moved from 14th to second]. I won on Sunday against some really good names such as Tiger Woods, Nick Price and Lee Westwood. I think it was a combination of experience from winning the year before in Canada and carrying that momentum into the next year.
At the 2001 PGA Tour Championship, I played very well in Houston. I found myself in a playoff against three great players and on the very first playoff hole was able to hit a long drive right down in the middle of the fairway. I then used my nine iron to get within eight feet of the hole. As it was getting kind of dark, I knew I did not want to give Els, Garcia or Toms another opportunity. I was able to make that putt in close to darkness to win.
JF: Looking back at your Masters title in 2003, what moment are you most proud of?
MW: The putt on that last hole in the fourth round. To make an eight-foot putt to stay alive and force a playoff, when the tournament was on the line, is something I am very proud of. I was very proud to stay focused, and not think about outcomes. I really tried to stay with what got me there with the chance to win. To make a putt like that, that was a career-defining putt. If you miss it and lose, you’re considered as the golfer that three-putted to lose the Masters.
JF: Your 2003 Masters Championship title will go down in history as one of the greatest moments in the history of Canadian sports. Along the way, you have also won three Lionel Conacher Awards and one Lou Marsh Award. How meaningful is it to be recognized as one of the greatest Canadian athletes?
MW: It is an honour. I didn’t set out for these things to happen. I just wanted to try and become a better player. I just wanted to keep pushing in the search of excellence. I guess along the way in that search, some good things happened — things I feel very grateful that I was able to accomplish. To be recognized for those awards is something really nice.
We [Canada] have had some great female players do some great things, but we haven’t had any male players win any major championships [until Weir at the Masters in 2003]. Hopefully some younger guys along the way will follow that path and break my records at some point.
JF: After your Masters victory, you played in two memorable tournaments on Canadian soil — the 2004 Canadian Open in Oakville, Ontario, and the 2007 Presidents Cup in Montréal, Québec. At the Canadian Open, you battled Vijay Singh and at the Presidents Cup, you battled Tiger Woods. How much do you think those two tournaments impacted Canadian golf?
MW: That is an interesting question. I am not sure how much they have impacted Canadian golf. Hopefully in regards to the Presidents Cup [in Montréal], I had a lot to do with getting the event to Canada. I worked with the Commissioner and the PGA Tour staff to really toot the horn of Canadian golf and try to get the event there. It was an event I was really glad to be part of and to have a match like that against Woods and win individually. It was unfortunate that our team didn’t win, but I was able to have a great match against Woods.
In 2004 [at the Canadian Open], I didn’t come out on the good end of that event. I had a memorable battle with Singh. It was a three-hole playoff, which I did not win. Singh had one of the most remarkable years in the history of golf. In 2004, he had a nine win season, including a major championship [the PGA Championship]. Singh was the number one player in the world. I almost got him [Weir led after the third round], but didn’t get it done.
I think the Presidents Cup impacted Canadian golf more than the 2004 Canadian Open because of the global and international attention that was brought to Montréal and Canada. The event was represented by golfers all around the world [except Europe] and broadcasted all around the world.
JF: Canadian golf had a significant moment in 2016 when Brooke Henderson won the Women’s PGA Championship. Do you think she has the potential to be the leader in Canadian golf for the next decade?
MW: Yes, she has the potential to do that. Henderson is so young, and so talented. She seems like such a great lady, and seems to have the talent to be the best player in the women’s game. I think Henderson and Lydia Ko of New Zealand are going to be the leaders in women’s golf. Henderson will lead the charge in Canada without a doubt. She has the talent to do that and I think the sky’s the limit for Brooke.
JF: When you received your Order of Canada in 2009, Governor General Michaëlle Jean praised your charitable activities. What can you tell me about your charitable initiatives and how gratifying is it that the programs have been positively recognized?
MW: I am super proud of that [the Mike Weir Foundation]. Recognition is not why I got into the work I have done with the Children’s Miracle Network and helping out children’s charities. I did it because the way the PGA Tour has all the players involved in giving back to their communities.
When I was a rookie on the PGA Tour, I went to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. I saw the great work they did there and I wanted to start something like that in Canada. For Governor General Michaëlle Jean to recognize me with that was a great honour. It is something I am very proud of to this day, all the work the foundation does with children’s hospitals and charities.
JF: For those young golfers who have dreams of taking the sport to the next level, what would you tell them?
MW: It is a tough road and you have to persevere. The weaker ones will try to find excuses along the way. You have to find answers and solutions and try to keep a positive attitude all of the time. You have to get up and dust yourself off. In sport and life, it is not always a one-way trajectory up. There are peaks and valleys along the way. You have to overcome those things, whatever those are. You just have to persevere and have an unwavering self-belief about yourself, no matter what anyone says and no matter how it is going. The underlying tone is that you have confidence in yourself and nothing is going to shake that confidence. That is the best advice I can give.
JF: In 2016 you did some broadcasting work for TSN at the Masters and for TNT at the PGA Championship. How has the transition to television gone for you?
MW: I am still very focused on my game and that is where most of my energies are going… towards my own game. If the odd opportunity comes along to do some television, I do enjoy it. I may pursue that at some point. I’m not at that point yet.
JF: This year golf legend Arnold Palmer passed away [on 25 September 2016] and you attended his funeral in Pennsylvania. What kind of an impact did Palmer have on the Canadian golf scene?
MW: I think he had a big impact. His first professional tour victory was the Canadian Open [1955 at the Weston Golf and Country Club in Toronto, Ontario]. Arnold was always such a big supporter of the Canadian Open. He was such a great ambassador of the game. No matter where he went around the world, people loved him. Palmer also designed golf courses in Canada [the Northview Golf and Country Club in Surrey, British Columbia and the Whistler Golf Club]. I think Canadian golf fans will never forget Arnold Palmer.
JF: What Canadian has inspired you the most and why?
MW: There are so many people I admire. If I had to say one that sticks out right now is Terry Fox. I remember as a kid, when I was in school, I was watching his courageous battle with cancer and his journey across the country. He had setbacks, but fought hard, was tough and had perseverance.I will always remember that [his journey] and in some ways I carry that with me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.