Eight-time PGA Tour winner Mike Weir is going well off the beaten track this week as he continues to search for his onetime world-level form. He has entered the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open.
The state championship will be held close to his Utah home and alma mater, Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, but it’s a great distance metaphorically from the PGA Tour, where he’s made his living over the past 15 years.
The winner of more than $26-million (all currency U.S.) in his career will be playing for a $20,000 first prize. But this outing is more about working on his game in a competitive setting than any monetary reward.
The 42-year-old native of Bright’s Grove, Ont., had surgery on a damaged tendon in his right elbow exactly a year ago after months of injury-plagued play. He has struggled since returning to the tour last February, missing the cut in all 12 of his 2012 PGA Tour starts. He has broken par just once this year and shot 80 or higher four times.
His dismal play has left him without a full-time playing card on the PGA Tour (he’s played mostly this year on sponsor exemptions) and he’s not eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin Thursday and stretch into late September.
Peaking at No. 3 in the world ranking shortly after winning the 2003 Masters and remaining a fixture in the top 10 for 110 weeks, he is not even ranked now, having accrued no points in the past two years.
But he has gamely soldiered on during his troubles, defiantly saying he has the potential to be competitive again.
He has hired a new coach, former tour player Grant Waite, and has recovered to the point where he can practise hard and free of pain.
“I never get to the point where I think I’m not going to do this any more because I love the game and I love working at it and I love the challenge,” Weir said at the RBC Canadian Open in July. “I still love the challenge. I’m still motivated and positive that I’m going to get this thing figured out.”
The Utah Open is his next opportunity. The 86-year-old tournament, which has a purse for professionals of $105,875 and a contingent of amateur competitors, is being held at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington, which is less than an hour’s drive from Weir’s home in Draper.
The 54-hole tournament begins Friday and Weir is grouped with a couple of Utah-based club professionals, Matthew Johnson and Ryan Rhees.
“We are thrilled to have Mike playing in the Utah Open this year,” Scott Whittaker, the executive director of the PGA of America’s Utah division, said in a statement. “We have a long and storied tradition of PGA Tour professionals playing in the Utah Open. Some of the biggest golf names, not only in Utah but also nationally, have played and/or won the Utah Open. We wish Mike all the best as he competes with a strong field this weekend.”
The home start will also provide Weir with a warmup before he heads to Europe to compete in at least two tournaments there.
His website indicates he plans to play at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, beginning Aug. 30, and the KLM Open in the Netherlands a week later.
Weir has status on the European Tour because it gives 12-year playing rights to Masters champions. (The Masters, as a major, is considered part of both the PGA and European circuits.)
Weir has played in one tournament in Europe in 2012, placing 52nd at the Open de Andalucia Costa del Sol in Spain.
He could possibly return to the PGA Tour for its Fall Series, which gets under way in October, if he gets any invitations and he could earn his 2013 card with a win.
But even if he doesn’t, he can have full-time playing privileges next year by cashing in one of his career earning exemptions.
Weir’s $26-million puts him 18th on the career list. A player in the top 50 can apply to get his card back for a year. If a player is in the top 25, he gets two years.