Mike Weir is not the best golfer in the world. He's not the biggest or fastest or longest. And he knows it better than anyone.
"I wish I was a lot better, but I am what I am," he says with candor surprising for a Tour pro. "I think my grit puts me over the edge."
That grit, of course, helped the 37-year-old break through in the first place, rising to 5th in the World Ranking after winning the 2003 Masters. All of Canada stomped its heels for its native son, but he barely had time to enjoy the view from the top before his game dipped south.
At the 2004 Canadian Open, a fan slapped him on the back, causing an injury that would plague him for three years. He missed six cuts in a span of seven starts in 2005. He played well in spurts but couldn't close in 2006, shooting a final-round 78 at Pebble Beach (T3) and a 79 at the Players Championship (T22). Critics said he wasn't working hard enough. It seemed his best days were behind him.
He defeated Tiger Woods at the Presidents Cup last fall, sending his grateful nation back into delirium, then went on to break a three-year winless streak with a late-season victory at the Fry's Electronics Open in Scottsdale.
His confidence and health restored, Weir weighs in on Tiger's trash talking, his Augusta beer blast, and why '08 could be great.
Golf Magazine: You had a great 2007 and you're starting the climb back to the top, but you slipped to nearly 50th in the World Ranking in 2006. What happened?
Weir: I had two compressed discs in my lower neck. (So) I started making compensations in my swing. I developed some bad habits and wasn't able to practice much because it hurt. I've always been a guy who likes to practice a lot, who needs to practice a lot. (But suddenly) I could barely turn my head to the right.
GM: And this happened because some fan in a hockey jersey slapped you on the back in the last round of the 2004 Canadian Open, right?
Weir: He didn't really slap me. He kind of grabbed me around the neck and my right shoulder. I was slightly jogging down a hill, and my momentum was going forward, and he grabbed me by the neck and shoulder area and pulled me back. I could feel it getting worse just standing there.
GM: Then you three-putted from 10 feet on 16, missed a five-foot birdie putt to win on the second hole of sudden death, and lost the '04 Canadian Open to Vijay Singh. Any lessons learned?
Weir: The thing with the fan broke my concentration more than anything. I learned to be prepared for anything.
GM: Got a message for the guy?
Weir: I couldn't pick him out of a crowd. The guy had obviously had a few too many adult beverages. I'd made a birdie on 10, and he got caught up in the moment and thought it was football or hockey. There are a lot of my friends that he probably wouldn't like to see.
GM: Isn't it true that your back got so bad that your wife had to tie your shoes?
Weir: That's when it started creeping into my lower back, toward the end of 2005. The toughest part for me was not being able to practice. In hindsight I should have taken six months off and sought out the appropriate rehab with chiropractic, which I do now, and massage therapy, and get an MRI, which I finally did at the end of 2006.
GM: Your back is feeling better, but is there mental scarring?
Weir: I don't think so. You have great moments, like Augusta, and some others, like the final round at the '99 PGA, playing in the last group with Tiger and shooting 80. I put it behind me and three weeks later I won my first event (at the Air Canada Championship). I've always been able to move on from setbacks. (Losing the 2004 Canadian Open) wasn't any tougher than some of the Q schools I missed by one or two shots.
GM: Winning Q school in 1998 was an obvious high. What was one of your lows?
Weir: Playing in Australia in the mid- '90s, when I had no money, I missed six cuts in a row, four by only one stroke. I didn't even know if I was good enough to be playing professional golf. To be in Australia for three months and come back with no money and all your stuff in a storage unit, that's tough.
But I met a lot of great people — tournament volunteers who would say, "If you need a place to stay, I've got a room." I remember leaving my bags with a bunch of surfers and wondering if I'd ever see my stuff again.
GM: Some of your slump can be explained by the fact that golf is just plain hard, right?
Weir: I know it better than anybody. It took me seven years just to reach the Tour, and when I turned pro I wasn't very good. With my size, if I don't have everything firing on all cylinders I'm going to have a tough time competing against the best players in the world.
GM: What part of your game suffered most during your slump?
Weir: I was struggling with getting it in play off the tee, always playing from the rough. I can't do that. I need to keep the ball in the short stuff. I'm not powerful enough to hit the ball out of the rough we play in. My whole career, my whole life — it's never been easy. I had to really dig deep and think about how I was going to get better.
GM: Speaking of challenges, you've won seven of eight Tour titles coming from behind, and critics called you the token Canadian as a captain's pick at the Presidents Cup. Do you thrive on proving everyone wrong?
Weir: I think there's some validity to that. I've always been not the fastest, not the biggest, can't hit it the farthest. Even now my game doesn't have one thing that stands out. I wish I was a lot better, but I am what I am.
I think my grit puts me over the edge sometimes, and that comes from growing up playing hockey, and having two older brothers. I was always hanging out with them, and I was always the smallest guy, trying to prove myself.
GM: You said recently, "Nobody on Tour is in my situation. Wherever I play it's, 'Go Canada.'" Does having the weight of a nation help you or hurt you?
Weir: For the most part it's fantastic. The highs are higher. The lows? Even when I'm not playing well I get letters that encourage me — I don't think other guys on Tour get that. I even get putting lessons and swing lessons in some of the letters and e-mails.
GM: When you stopped winning critics said you were doing too much off the course, weren't working hard, didn't care. Did you take note of that?
Weir: People saying I didn't care and didn't work hard — it's laughable. They don't know when I'm up at 5 a.m. working out, doing what I need to do to get better.
For a year I was injured and couldn't do those things. I work much harder now than I did in my first few years on Tour. I'd be hard-pressed to find any athlete in any sport who works as hard as I do.
GM: You've been working on a new swing — the so-called "stack and tilt," which involves less weight shift through the ball. Yet before you could reap the benefits, you took heat for your drought.
When you fell out of contention at the Deutsche Bank last year, a guy wrote on MikeWeir.comthat you'd never win again and you were a choker. Do you read that stuff?
Weir: One person's comment does not reflect or do (pauses) anything. People can have their own opinion. It's a tough game. There are going to be times you come through and times you don't. I've come through in a lot of big situations.
GM: Like beating Woods in singles at the Presidents Cup. Woody Austin later told Tiger, "I thought you had him," to which Woods responded, "It was LOUD." If Tiger Woods thinks it's loud, that says something.
Weir: Oh, yeah. It really echoed.
GM: How did you keep it together to birdie 17 and win the match 1-up?
Weir: Experience. I've heard Tiger talk about it many times, knowing how his body feels down the stretch, and I have a few things to draw on like that, too.
GM: What kind of sense of humor does Tiger have?
Weir: If I make a putt he goes, "You make everything." He gives you the needle, and you've got to give it back and say, "Look who's talking." (Laughs)
GM: Last fall, you posted a final-round 68 in 30-mph winds to win the Fry's Electronics Open. How sweet was it to win for the first time in almost four years?
Weir: I played well all week. And to do it by making two great (par) saves on 17 and 18, it was very satisfying.
GM: Your most satisfying win had to be the 2003 Masters. We hear you and some buddies raided the Augusta clubhouse fridge for beer late Sunday night.
Weir: I got done with the interviews, and we were going back to the house and needed a few more adult beverages. We cleared out the refrigerator of all we could find. They were nice about it. They helped me find a box to put it all in and load it into the car. We had about 20 people back at the house, most of them were Canadians, so we had to load up pretty good.
GM: You left the Augusta parking area with your windows down, hollering. What were you saying?
Weir: I got out by the gates, left the course in the dark, rolled down the window and just yelled "Yahoo!"
GM: So you raided the Augusta clubhouse for beer. What else would our readers be shocked to learn about you?
Weir: I like to go fast. I ski really fast. I love river-rafting, and I love the adrenaline rush of my little sports car, a Ford GT. Golf (only) gives you that rush when you're in contention.
GM: Who's your hero?
Weir: Jack. He really got me enthused about the game. He played an exhibition at my home course when I was 11, and he was larger than life.
GM: If all the money and fame were gone tomorrow, what would you miss most?
Weir: The competition. That'd be it.
GM: Finish this thought: "If there's one thing I know for sure, it's ..."
Weir: Perseverance gives you a great chance to let your dreams come true.