Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Walking Eighteen With Mike Weir

I have bumped into a few famous people over the years.

I drank beer with Burt Reynolds in 1981. Me and about fifteen other people.

In 1998, I flew from Detroit to Toronto with Isaiah Thomas – a legendary basketball player for the Detroit Pistons.

In 1995, I bumped into (literally) Shania Twain at Canada’s Wonderland near Barrie, Ontario.

But my favorite experience was not so much by chance.

Also in 1995, the Ontario Open was being played in London - where I lived at the time. In fact it was being played at the Forrest City National Golf Course – which I think may now be gone. I loved that course and played it every chance I could. So we went to see how the pros would play it.

These were guys on the Canadian Tour, a stepping stone to the PGA for those lucky enough to survive, conquer qualifying school, and get their PGA tour card.

When my girlfriend and I arrived, we got a program, and looked for someone to follow.

Here’s a guy” I said. “He’s from Brights Grove, over by Sarnia, and look – he is tied for the lead. Let’s follow him!”.

My girlfriend agreed.

So we walked all 18 holes of the course I played all the time and knew like the back of my hand, watching Mike Weir play it. With us was a local radio sports announcer who I only remember by his nickname “Horney” – his real name was Jim VanHorne.

And the best part was that you did not have to stand behind any ropes - you could walk the fairway right with the players. So we did.

I had been to PGA events before in New Orleans. I had followed Greg Norman and Fred Couples back then. I followed Nick Price at the 1995 Canadian Open. But Mike Weir hit the ball so smooth and effortlessly, always hitting his target.

There is one hole on that course that is a par five. It plays around a lake wrapping as a dog-leg right to a narrow green on the far corner of the lake. The fairway is split into two sides by a long sand bunker.

If you land on the right side of the bunker you can hit a fairway wood to the green flying 200-230 yards of water.

If you land to the left of the bunker you have to play a long shot up the fairway and hope you can fade it for a nice short approach shot as your third.

If you land in the bunker on your drive, you’re dead. You will now have at least two more shots to hit the green.

Weir hit that bunker. I leaned to Horney and said “He is screwed”. Horney nodded in agreement.

Mike took out his four-wood, put the ball at the back of his stance, came down through the ball wand clipped it ever so perfect taking only a grain or two of sand.

I remember watching that ball’s flight. Straight at the pin. But I knew how narrow the green was. It would never stop within that 20 foot area. It couldn’t, not out of the sand with a wood; no way could he get the back spin.

That ball hit the front of the green bounced high, and when it came down it bit and held.

Mike Weir hit that bunker shot to within 5 feet of the pin.

I looked at Horney, and he at me. Our jaws were dropped like to yokels at a hog auction.

We hooted and yelled and told Mike that what he just did was impossible. He smiled and simply handed his four-wood to his caddy.

When we got to the green, Mike sized up the putt and dropped it.

Eagle three.

I do remember saying “Thanks” and having to explain to the group we were walking with that I was thankful to see such an amazing shot.

I still have that program at home. It became even more special when Mike made the PGA tour. And even more special still when he won the Masters in 2003.

I had played that hole so many times, both before and after that day. And I had tried to fly that water on many occasions. Once I was lucky to go over the green and get up and down for a birdie.

For all the great golf I have seen, that still stands out as the most incredible shot I have witnessed.

Last weekend, at the President’s Cup in Montreal, Mike Weir paired up against Tiger Woods on the final day. And Mike was three up on Tiger into the back nine. But Tiger caught him, and passed him. And for the first time I have ever known, someone fought back, re-caught Tiger, and beat him on the 18th hole. It was Mike Weir.

I can’t say I know Mike Weir. But I sure can say I am proud of him.

If only I had gotten Mike to sign my program that day.

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