Approaches have never been much a problem for Mike Weir, so when asked about being on the eve of his 50th birthday the Canadian golf legend handled it like he would a 100-yard gap wedge.
“The interesting thing in pro golf is you look forward to your 50th birthday, instead of dreading it,” laughed Weir, who hits the half-century mark Tuesday.
“We have this great, second kick at it. Golf is a sport we can play for a long period of time at a highly competitive level, unlike other sports.”
After more than a decade of battling injuries while struggling to regain the form that saw him win eight PGA Tour events, the 2003 Masters champion is now poised to embark on a new chapter with the PGA Tour Champions.
Waiting for word this week on when the senior circuit will attempt to start a modified season schedule, Weir said Monday he’s fully committed to playing the bulk of the season there.
“It’s great to have that outlet that we can still keep the competition going, while at the same time being able to give back a little more,” said Weir from his home in Utah.
“It’s amazing really – I sense a lot of gratitude from myself for Arnold Palmer to have the vision of getting this started and seeing it through. His presence was a big part of getting the senior tour, as it was called, off the ground.”
The PGA Tour Champions is now part of a natural progression for most PGA Tour regulars, who relish a scaled-down schedule that includes just three rounds a week, with a focus on charity and being more accessible to the fans.
But don’t kid yourself, these guys are still good.
“It doesn’t mean just because you turned 50 and you’ve had success on the PGA Tour, that it’s going to translate to the Champions Tour,” said Weir, well aware the winning score most weekends comes in around 18-under.
“You have to really put the work in and be ready to go, and that’s what I’ve really tried to concentrate on for quite a while now. Over the last year I’ve tried dialling in a lot of stuff with my game. My game is feeling really good. I know the courses are a little shorter than the PGA Tour but they’re still highly competitive and demanding. I have no illusions it’s going to be a piece of cake or anything, so I’m ready for the challenge.”
Weir admits there will be plenty of challenges for all pro golfers to get “tournament sharp” again, following the COVID-19 pause, but he hasn’t had to take much time off in Utah where the courses remained open.
Weir’s relatively new coach has identified a handful of issues in his swing he’s constantly working on, and the lefty from Brights Grove, Ont., says with pride his bugaboos off the tee are gone.
“Driving had been one of my biggest struggles, and now I feel it may be my biggest strength — I’m hitting it a long way,” Weir said.
“Now I’m trying to spend more time on my short game, because if you can’t putt on the Champions Tour you’re in trouble. I’m putting a lot of time in during Covid.”
No tournament on the Champion loop is more successful or attractive to the players than the Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary at the end of August. It has won endless awards form the tour for its large galleries, player hospitality and for raising $48 million over its first seven years for children’s charities.
While the event’s future this summer is very much up in the air due to the novel coronavirus, Weir is hoping to get a taste of what he’s been hearing about from peers for years.
“I’ve heard players rave about the event and the golf course,” said Weir, who spent 110 weeks in the world Top 10 from 2001 to 2005.
“Such a great field and community support. I just hope to get this modified season started.”
Returning to Canada has always been special to Weir, as the Canadian Tour graduate had been treated like royalty by galleries long before he became the only Canadian man to win a major.
Whether it was his first PGA Tour win at the 1999 Air Canada Championship in Surrey, B.C., his playoff battle with Vijay Singh at the 2004 Canadian Open, or his win over Tiger Woods at the 2007 President’s Cup at Royal Montreal, Weir’s success on Canadian soil has given him and his fans endless memories.
“Those are some of the highlights for sure,” said Weir, who won three times on the Canadian tour in the early ’90s.
“I remember playing the Canadian Tour across the country in smaller towns and some of the great golf courses we have with great scenery, and those are some of my special memories I still have in my mind. Having a clothes rack across the back seat of my car and kind of living out of my car for a month at a time, travelling across the country and playing the Canadian Tour.
“My first victory came at the Players Championship where Steve Stricker, myself and Dick Zokol battled head to head down the stretch and I managed to sneak out a one-shot win. That was my rookie year on the Canadian Tour and that was really memorable. I had great success in Canada and hopefully when I get up to Calgary I can continue that.”
Weir said the only PGA Tour events he expects to play moving forward are the Canadian Open and the Masters. He said he’ll also try to qualify for the U.S. Open, as he did last year.
With a long list of ailments that have long hampered his five-foot-nine, 155-pound frame the last decade, Weir said he’s working hard at listening to his aging body.
“In fact, I Just took a week off,” laughed Weir, a member of the Order of Canada who was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I was working really hard and my back was starting to tell me it’s time to slow down a little bit.
“I didn’t hit a putt, drive or chip for a week, I just stretched and did yoga and took my dog on a hike to keep moving. Just paying attention a little bit more and not pushing as hard as I did at 30. I hope I can keep well aware of that as I get out on the Champions Tour and take a day or two to make sure I can play more consecutive weeks in a row.”