There’s a lot of talk in Canadian golf circles - some of it bordering on cruel - about Mike Weir’s problems, given that he hasn’t made a cut in any of the eight PGA Tour events he’s played this year. He’s trying to sort out the issues he’s having with his swing, he’s working himself hard while doing so, and, as challenged as he is, he still relishes the effort to find his game. That goes without saying, given the mental toughness that he’s demonstrated in the past. But there, I’ve said it anyway.
Meanwhile, it’s important to take a close look at what he’s accomplished: a lot. It’s too easy to ignore the fact that he’s had a very impressive career, and that this will be the case even if he doesn’t make another cut.
Weir, who turned 42 on May 12th, has won eight PGA Tour events, including the 2003 Masters - a singular moment in Canadian sports history. His win is a big part of why he was presented the Order of Canada. Only the late George Knudson, of Canadian male golfers, won as many tournaments. But Knudson, as brilliant a ball striker as he was, never won a major. His best finish was a T-2 in the 1969 Masters.
Weir’s Masters win remains the pinnacle of his career. But he’s also won other big events, including the 2000 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship in Spain. He won the 2001 Tour Championship in a playoff over Ernie Els, David Toms, and Sergio Garcia. He won the 2003 and 2004 Nissan Opens on the storied Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
Those are significant events. But before he won a tournament, Weir showed what he was made of. He’d entered the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship at the Medinah Country Club just outside Chicago tied for the lead with Tiger Woods. Weir had finished second a month before at the Western Open in Chicago, where he played in the final group on Sunday with Woods. He shot 70 while Woods shot 71. Woods won by three shots, but Weir showed he was progressing in important ways.
I wasn’t at that 1999 PGA, and was heading to Stratford to see a play on the Saturday night when I learned that Weir and Woods were tied. I decided to fly to Chicago first thing Sunday morning.
I followed Weir as he shot 80, while Woods shot 72 and won. I remember Weir saying immediately after the round that he would learn from the experience. While bloodied, he was unbowed. Weir shot 64-64 on the weekend three weeks later to win the Air Canada Championship, his first PGA Tour win. Seven more, including the 2003 Masters, followed. He wasn’t won since the 2007 Fry’s Electronics Open in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Four and a half years after that win, Weir is trying to find a swing that he can count on and that will put him in play - especially off the tee. His struggles are evident; he’s in another landscape and time from where and when he controlled the ball and contended regularly. Maybe it’s because of these factors, and that he’s Canadian and still so closely followed in the country of his birth, that it’s easy to forget how much he’s accomplished.
Weir has won those eight tournaments, the same as Zach Johnson, who won the 2007 Masters and last week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational in Ft. Worth, Tex. Sergio Garcia has won seven PGA Tour events, and still lacks a major. Retief Goosen has won seven PGA Tour events, including, to be sure, two U.S. Opens. Bob Charles and Stewart Cink have six PGA Tour wins on their resume, including one Open Championship each. Tom Lehman won five PGA Tour events, including the 1996 Open.
In all the years that records have been kept, only 118 golfers have won more than eight PGA Tour events. Weir is in exalted company, whether or not he wins another tournament, whether or not he makes another cut.
Weir is playing this week’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. His efforts to improve, little by little by little, continue. His record stands on its own, at the summit of the game when it comes to what Canadian men have done. Nobody has accomplished as much. Nobody.
Let’s not forget that.
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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 email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein