In early November, Corey Conners mentioned he was on a text thread started by 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir, where the elder statesman of Canadian golf was trying to confirm details about a Tuesday practice round at this year’s Masters.
When Conners was 11 it was Weir who captured the Green Jacket and the hearts of millions of young Canadians. Conners realized that someone from small-town Canada could go on top golf’s grandest stage and in the process Weir inspired Conners to want to be a professional golfer, too.
And now, that same champion was asking him if Tuesday morning or afternoon was better for a warm-up game at Augusta?
“Oh, it’s unbelievable,” Conners said when asked if he realized what he was saying, considering what Weir’s 2003 victory meant to him. That’s the kind of impressive impact Weir has on the current generation of male Canadian PGA Tour stars.
But for the first time in more than a decade, Weir said, he feels very good about his own game heading into Masters week.
“There’s not anything that feels a little weaker than any other,” Weir told Sportsnet in an exclusive pre-tournament interview. “I’m driving it well, putting has been very good at times… I just need to be more consistent with that. But I love Augusta greens. I’ve always putted them well.”
Weir’s confidence has been buoyed by an impressive start to his PGA Tour Champions career. He turned 50 in May and made his debut on the 50-and-over circuit in the same year as Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson.
The native of Brights Grove, Ont. has held his own on the Champions Tour through the summer schedule, with three top-10 finishes in nine tournaments. That run includes a runner-up result to Mickelson at the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in mid-October.
He said the competition on the Champions Tour has been a good motivator to keep his game tight.
“We had so many guys turn 50 in the last year – I would say three of the four best players of our generation in Phil (Mickelson), Ernie (Els), and Jim Furyk,” said Weir. “Outside of Tiger (Woods) they’re probably the best players in the last 20 years, so there is a lot of excitement around the Champions Tour and the quality of play.”
Despite Weir’s lengthy struggles, he found some rejuvenating energy once he got to 48 years old. The PGA Tour has a special category for longtime Tour members to earn starts on the Korn Ferry Tour at age 48 and 49 as they prepare for the Champions Tour and their 50th birthdays.
Weir began to find his footing competing against golf’s next generation of stars, making more cuts in the last two years on the Korn Ferry Tour than the last five on the PGA Tour.
Just over a decade ago Weir, who is an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour and to date Canada’s only male major champion, began his battle with injuries. It was a myriad of problems with his elbow and shoulder, plus his back. He went through a divorce at the same time, compounding his off-course issues.
Now, however, Weir is blossoming again as a consistent presence on Champions Tour leaderboards. It’s been a big change.
Another change for Weir has been his embrace of leading Canada’s next generation of Tour stars. Weir has always been open and has always encouraged the guys to send him a note to ask any questions they had. But this time around it was Weir who took the reigns.
Weir said he’s admired Gary Player and other South Africans who all tee off together -- Trevor Immelman, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els, and Louis Oosthuizen (major champions, all) would get together for a game.
“They got a chance to play with Gary and he saw the young guys up close and I always thought it was really cool,” said Weir. “So for me to be able to show the guys around the course a little bit and play with them, see their games, and have a chat about things will be very exciting. I’m really looking forward to that.”
The players, though, like Conners (Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor are the others in the field) are likely looking even more forward to their rip around Augusta National with a past winner.
It’s one thing to fade into the background as a mentor-type and pass the jacket to Canada’s next batch of PGA Tour winners and major-champion contenders, but what does Weir think about his chances this week? His playing partners Tuesday will become his competitors on Thursday.
Weir admitted it depends on the course conditions, and he’s already going into the week knowing if his competitors are driving it past 350 yards and are holding a wedge in their hands when he has a 5-iron, it’s “not a fair fight.” But the usual pilgrimage to Augusta National takes place in April when Weir isn’t sure what his game will give him. Now, in November, he’s had a body of work on the Champions Tour -- a body of work that gives him more confidence going into the Masters than he’s had in 10 years.
“I think the golf has changed so much so I don’t know where that puts me with my game, but, I’m feeling good. Could I contend or just have a great week or finish somewhere in the top-20, I’m not sure,” said Weir. “I just feel very good about my game. The best it’s felt in a long time.”