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Nick Price (Luis M. Alvarez)
Nick Price (Luis M. Alvarez)

Rubenstein: Lunch with Nick Price and Mike Weir Add to ...

Hobe Sound, Fla. - For a golf writer keen on the finer points of the game at the highest levels, there’s nothing like hearing tour golfers talk, really talk, about what they do. I had that opportunity on Tuesday when I sat down for lunch at the McArthur Golf Club before a game. Who walked in but Nick Price and Mike Weir?

Price and Weir are long-time friends and colleagues in trying to make the golf ball behave as they want it to behave. They were playing in last week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. Price invited Weir to spend some time with him in advance of this week’s Honda Classic a half-hour south of McArthur, the excellent course that the three-time major champion designed with Tom Fazio. Price lives on Jupiter Island. Weir was over at Price’s house, and then they came out to McArthur.

I was there for a game with Wayne Branthwaite, a low-handicap golfer with a terrific swing, and Duke Butler, the president of the Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif. Weir won the 2007 Fry’s Electronics Open, sponsored by the same company. Branthwaite works for Price on the golf course design side of his world. We were pleased, and surprised, to see Price and Weir. Talk about serendipity. They joined us for a lunch that lasted an hour.

The conversation soon turned to the help Price was offering Weir, who has been struggling mightily with his form as he tries to find the game that brought him the 2003 Masters and seven other PGA Tour events. He’s just getting back into action after elbow surgery last August.

Price has plenty of compassion for Weir. The 55-year-old won the 1992 and 1994 PGA Championships, the 1994 Open Championship, the 1991 and 1994 Canadian Opens, and 13 other PGA Tour events. He’d held the number one ranking in the world, but he had also lost his game for a few years, and, with it, his confidence. That happened, Price said, when he decided during his mid-40s that he needed more length to compete. Eventually Price recovered the speed in his swing without losing his precision. He’s won four Champions Tour events.

“I got position-oriented and lost the speed in my swing,” Price said. “It’s easy to do. You think that if you get your club in certain positions, that you’ll get what you need. But you can lose the flow at the bottom,” Price said, as he stood up at the table and demonstrated with his arms the motion and flash through impact that a golfer needs.”

Price and Weir had just come in from the back of McArthur’s range, and planned to go out again. He’d been helping Weir focus on hitting shots and flying through the ball, rather than thinking about specific positions. Over lunch, Price talked about a shot that Weir had hit during a Presidents Cup match in which they’d teamed up. It was clear that Price thought Weir could get back to hitting such shots, if, and it’s a big if, he could move away from thinking about his swing so much.

Tour pros can be very hard on themselves. Price had been that way, and Weir’s certainly fallen into that trap. I asked Weir when he had had the most self-confidence. By that, I meant when he had played without thinking about his swing in so much detail, and when he had simply seen the shot in his mind’s eye, dialed it in, and hit it.

“I’d say the first five months of 2003,” Weir answered. “I finished 10th in Phoenix, and then I won my second tournament (the Bob Hope, in Palm Springs. Then I won L.A. (the Nissan Open then, now the Northern Trust) and the Masters. The game felt pretty easy for me then.”

Weir didn’t think highly of his 2004 season, when he again won in L.A., and felt his game deteriorated from then on. Now he’s in full recovery mode. His self-confidence is dented in a big way, there’s no doubt about that.

The other factor, here, of course, is that players working intensely on their swings tend to neglect their short games. Tiger Woods has done this.

“I certainly have increased my chipping and putting to where I now have my full swing,” Woods said Tuesday during his noon press conference at the Honda Classic after his pro-am round. “That’s where I know I’ve been lacking.”

Price and Weir fell into the same trap of neglecting their short games while emphasizing their swings. Price offered a telling story on the matter.

“I was swinging well enough by 1988 to win more tournaments,” Price said, referring especially to the big events. Seve Ballesteros beat him by two shots at the 1988 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in Lytham, England. He was in the final group with Ballesteros, who nearly holed a tricky chip shot from behind the last green to win. It was there and then that Price realized what h he needed to do.”

“Flying home, I told Sue (his wife) that I really needed to get to work on my short game,” Price said. He concentrated on that, and went on to become a major champion and one of the game’s elite players.

As I listened to Price, I could see Weir focusing intently on what he was hearing. The advice was all about scoring, and worrying less about swinging. Weir said that he won many tournaments, including the Masters, with his short game and putting. He won it by thinking less about his swing, and more about getting the ball in the hole quickly. That’s easier said than done, of course, when a golfer’s swing is better than Weir’s has been.

Lunch was over. I went with my companions to warm up for our rounds. Weir and Price went to the other side of the range. I could see Price from 350 yards away demonstrating to Weir the importance of impact, and less about positions.

The Honda Classic begins Thursday. Whether or not Weir starts to show improvement this week, it has to have been helpful for him to spend time with Price.

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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