HILTON HEAD, S.C., April 16 — All stand now for the re-emergence of the Tour character, the Tour character with game, the golfer out of an old Dan Jenkins novel. Thomas (Boo) Weekley is not a smoothie, not a schmoozer, not even a good putter. What he is is an excellent ball-striker with a hard, simple swing, an action that brings to mind another self-taught player who, like Boo, never sniffed the American college golf factories, Ian Woosnam.
What Weekley did Monday afternoon at the Verizon Heritge will live on in clips for the rest of the week, and then some. The tournament couldn’t have it’s customary Sunday afternoon finish, with the boats in the sound and the lighthouse looking all pretty, because the golf was called on account of . . . wind. When play resumed on Monday it was still blowing 30 knots, or more, but you could keep the ball on the final exposed green, so the golf went on.
Ernie Els was in the last group, paired with Jerry Kelly and Kevin Na. Weekley was in the second-to-last group — this is not the time and place to start using fancy-pants words that nobody knows like “penultimate” — and he was giving Els a run for his money, and then some.
Weekley got it to 15 under through 15, then made a bogey on 16 and came to the 17th alone in first by a shot. The second-to-last hole was played into the teeth of the wind and from the ladies’ tee and measured 132 yards. Weekley, playing in the wind all his life, punched a 6-iron. It didn’t hold the green. The birdie mini-pitch was flubbed. The par mini-pitch was in.
Then on 18, more of the same. His approach shot through a cross-wind sailed over the green. He ran his birdie chip over the green. A tuft of grass kept it from the rocks. His mini-pitch for par was in. Just your everyday par-par finish. Els made a bogey on 17 and a birdie on 18 and finished a shot back, at 13 under par.
So now in the winner’s circle there’s something the PGA Tour hasn’t had since the emergence of John Daly: an American original, one loaded with game. “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” comes straight out of him, and when he tells you that he holed those two shots with a 58-degree wedge “shaved off the back a little bit,” you can be sure he did the grind work himself. Daly, as talented as anybody who has ever played the game, has become a circus act. Weekley’s not nearly as talented as Daly, but you can see the road he’s traveled all over his weather-beaten face. He’s been grinding for years, he grinded for five hours at Hilton Head on Monday, and he’ll likely grind the rest of his career.
He’s in the Masters at Augusta National next year, a course he once played six holes on, a long time ago. Regarding the British Open, he said, “If I’m in, I’ll go.” He’s in, and what he has is something not many U.S. players have right now: the kind of game it takes to win there.